My awareness of the Appalachian Trail first came about in my early twenties, after reading Bill Bryson’s book, A Walk in the Woods (cliche, I know). In true ‘me’ fashion, I quickly became obsessed with the idea, but university and other adventures were to come first, and I pushed the fantasy to the back of a lengthy queue, where it quietly faded from consciousness for a little while.
Years; in fact, went by, and it wasn’t until I returned from two years in Australia, that thoughts of the trail began to stir once more in my head; like a bear waking up from a long, dark winter’s slumber, driven by foggy memories and undeniable instinct.
And so once more, I delved deep into the world of the trail. I followed countless hiker’s journeys across social media, re-read Bryson’s book and immersed myself and others in hypothetical conversations, until in 2018, something finally went pop in my head and I found myself scheduling my visa interview down in London.
What is the Appalachian Trail?
Before I lose you in a whirlpool of hiker lingo, I should probably explain a few things: The Appalachian Trail is a marked public hiking trail stretching approximately 2,190 miles across 14 of the Eastern United States of America (the distance can vary from year to year, depending on trail modifications and rerouting). Extending between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine, it takes anywhere from 4 to 7 months to hike.
How I plan to hike the AT
Now, organising a hike of such magnitude takes a great deal of research and planning, and contrary to Bryson’s book title, this will not just be a walk in the woods.
Like many others, I plan to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail NOBO. In other words, I want to walk continuously north-bound, beginning my journey in Georgia and finishing in Maine. Some hikers choose to begin in Maine and hike SOBO (south-bound), whereas others ‘flip-flop’ and hike a section and then loop back to hike the remainder.
Whatever the method, as long as you hike the entire trail within 12 months or less, you are considered a thru-hiker. It’s worth noting that only one in four thru-hikers actually successfully finish their hike *silently poops pants*.
Being a foreigner is sure to pose a couple of extra hurdles along the way. Some of which I’ve already thrown myself over head first; like going through the rigmarole of obtaining a B-2 visa, for instance.
Why I want to hike the Appalachian Trail
So I guess I should talk about why I want to hike the Appalachian Trail. The majority of people I know have been very supportive in my decision, but can’t really comprehend my motives and desire.
I don’t really have a simple answer. The longest hiking trip I have done thus far was the Three Capes Track in Tasmania, but even then there was a pretty swanky log cabin and attractive park ranger to welcome us at the end of every day.
The challenge is so appealing to me. I know how difficult I’m going to find certain aspects both mentally and physically; the discomfort, the inconveniences, the bugs! Without a shadow of a doubt, it will be the biggest personal challenge I have ever faced.
I hope to find a little piece of me on the trail that I never knew existed. I want to feel comfort in discomfort. I want to simplify my life and feel gratitude in a way I’ve never felt before.
I also hope to meet some fascinating characters and experience a new environment; from its trees and peaks, to the wildlife that calls it home.
What I fear most
Of course I’m scared of what the trail will throw at me; hungry bears, angry rattlesnakes, ticks riddled with Lyme disease, injury, severe weather, gear failure; my body and mind failing me.
Uprooting my life also gives me mild anxiety; yet not enough to extinguish the need to hike for 6 months in a foreign land. I believe I will adapt, but I’m not an experienced camper by any stretch of the imagination.
Another worry I have is food. Being unacquainted with American food (having never visited) and the supermarkets available along the trail, I’m unsure of how easy it will be to follow a substantial vegan diet.
As a foreigner, I am unable to send myself re-supply boxes containing specialised foods, like a lot of hikers do. This means I will be relying completely on the food available in the towns along the trail.
The very first step after making the decision to hike the trail was to obtain a B-2 visa, which I take about in detail here: How to get a B-2 Visa for Hiking the Appalachian Trail.
I’ve also began the lengthy and pricey task of buying my gear, which takes a lot of research. My aim is to have the majority of my gear by late September, so I can test it out on my two week camping trip around Iceland.
It’s super important to test your gear before you embark on an adventure that relies so heavily on the equipment you plan to carry on your back. I can then adjust accordingly; or in hiker terms, ‘dial’ it down. It’s much better to spot weaknesses and add or remove items now, than in the middle of the AT’s vast green tunnel, miles from civilisation.
Later in the year I will pin down a start date, book flights and accommodation and organise travel insurance. It’s then just a case of saving as much money as possible and hiking with a full pack as often as I can, until next year rolls around and I set about on an adventure of a lifetime!
Have you hiked the Appalachian Trail or are looking to do so in the future? I’d love to hear from you with any advice or questions, and stay tuned for more about my adventures!