How many pairs of underwear did you take?
I took 3 pairs of underwear with me on the Appalachian Trail, which I’d rotate; one to wear, one to wash, one spare. Sometimes this method didn’t work out and I’d have to wear the same pair for more than a day, but in all honesty, this should be the least of your worries!
How did you take care of your long hair?
Actually, I did very little with my hair as it naturally does a pretty good job of looking after itself. I made a point of brushing it every night, because it would try its best to form dreadlocks during the day. I took a travel-sized bottle of dry shampoo with me, which I used every now and then when it felt like it was getting extra greasy.
When times got hard, how did you keep going when everything in your head was telling you to stop?
All hikers go through hard times on the trail, both physically and mentally. For me, they sometimes occurred when I had no option but to hike on, in which case my only real option was to endure the hardships. Other times I would be able to get off the trail relatively quickly and into a town. What all of these moments had in common, was that I was surrounded by supportive people.
Sometimes I needed a pep talk, sometimes a hug and sometimes a time-out, doing something other than hiking. As well as the support of others, I also learned to take a great deal more control over my thoughts. More than ever before, I could channel them into pushing me forwards. I would remind myself that difficult times pass and that I was there because I wanted to be.
What would you do differently?
I’d hike at my own pace and not let myself feel pressured by others. I would eat and drink more, because I was definitely malnourished and dehydrated. There are a few bits of gear I’d change and I’d figure out a better way of avoiding bug bites!
If you could only ever eat rice or potatoes, which would you pick?
One of my staple meals on the trail was Mexican rice. I’d add vegan cheese and an avocado and mush it all up into a wholewheat tortilla. I tried making instant mash once and it was like eating cement. I’ll stick with rice!
What luxury items are worth their weight?
I decided to take my Olympus PEN E-PL8 camera with me on my hike. It’s chunky, heavy and can’t be charged via USB, meaning I had to lug around its bulky battery charger, so I would consider it a ‘luxury item’. If you have a passion for photography, I think taking a camera other than your phone is worth it.
Taking a sit pad is an absolute must in my opinion and I used it every single day. It saved me from sitting on the cold, wet ground and helped to keep me at least a little bit cleaner. You can check out all of my other gear items here: Appalachian Trail Gear Review | Post-Hike.
Would you ever come back and finish it?
Never say never. I think if I have the time and money, I would like to attempt the whole thing again in the future, instead of just starting from where I left off.
Is an umbrella worth its weight?
I took an umbrella in the beginning. I soon found that carrying it whilst trying to see where I was going and use my trekking poles at the same time was just too much of a faff. In the end I opted for a cheap Walmart poncho and would wear my cap over the hood to shelter my face and keep my head dry.
How long did you hike before it all started to fall into place with skills, trail-legs and trail family etc?
Personally, I found it relatively easy to adapt quickly to life on the trail; you are living it day in and day out and in doing so, become an ‘expert’. I had friends from day one and I got to grips with my gear before I even set foot on the trail (see, Planning your Appalachian Trail Hike from the UK). Getting your ‘trail legs’ takes time, its hard to know when you gain them exactly, but it’s definitely easy to know when you lose them!
How did you avoid getting dehydrated?
Unfortunately, I didn’t. I think dehydration was one of the reasons why I got so poorly in the end and had to end my hike. Even though I lost so much water through sweating, I found it really difficult to replace it by drinking such large quantities. My main tip would be to stock up on electrolyte sachets. I’d take them throughout the day and flavouring the water somehow made it easier to drink. I would also drink them just before bed to help rehydrate me overnight.
What was it like having Norovirus on the trail?
Absolutely dreadful. It forced me to zero at a shelter and then struggle to walk three miles through a torrential storm the following day, giving me a terrible chill. I ended up in a motel room for the good part of a week feeling very unwell, unable to stomach food and wanting to go home. Some hikers I knew who caught it forced themselves to hike on, but for me, plenty of rest and comfort was the only option.
What was your biggest struggle?
I went through many struggles during my hike; pain, discomfort, catching Norovirus, feeling fearful and unsafe after the murder of a fellow hiker, separating from people. But through all of that, it was probably my allergic reactions to certain bug bites – which in the end forced me off the trail – that was the hardest thing to deal with.
Any tips for being a vegan thru-hiker?
Overall, I found being vegan on the trail fairly simple. What helped was the fact that I had nearly two years of experience and practice before setting out on my hike. Sometimes the vegan food selections were limited, and this did put a dampener on things. I’d often rely on food for a huge mental boost; but a new town is never that far away on the AT. Check out my post, Vegan on the Appalachian Trail: What I Ate, for all of my tips.
What was the hardest section and why?
Physically, the very beginning of my hike. Nothing could prepare me for hauling my 38 pound pack up the Approach Trail steps and beyond. Mentally, it was the days surrounding having Norovirus. I felt weak, like I was a failure and wanted to give up and go home.
Did you offload much weight from your pack during your hike?
On the whole, my pack weight didn’t change dramatically. As time progressed, I got much better at keeping the weight down when resupplying, but it was during the warmer months that I was able to shed the most weight, by sending some winter gear home.
Was it what you imagined?
I had no idea what to expect, as the entire concept was completely new to me. Visually, yes, it was as beautiful as I had pictured. As for the things I learnt about myself along the way, especially physically – no, I never imagined I’d get so far. I talk about this a lot in my blog post 22 Reasons to Hike the Appalachian Trail.
Did you see any snakes?
Yes! Especially as the weather got warmer. I saw numerous black snakes and rattlesnakes, all of which had no interest in me whatsoever. I think the one that gave me the biggest fright was the little guy below, who I noticed under the privy AFTER I used it!
What did you use to track your mileage?
I took The A.T. Guide (2019 NOBO edition), but found that I relied on my hiking buddies Guthook app a lot more.
What was the biggest home comfort you missed?
Probably indoor plumbing, especially when I was on my period. Also home cooked food and a comfy chair to sit in.
Favourite and least favourite trail food?
I loved the fruit squeeze pouches because it wasn’t always easy eating fresh food on the trail, and also occasionally treating myself to one of the ready-made dehydrated backpacker meals. After my Norovirus episode (and to this day) I couldn’t even contemplate couscous, because it was the last thing I ate before I violently vomited it all back up!
The weirdest thing you saw on the trail?
Probably a crashed Jeep, which somehow wound up in the middle of nowhere on the trail!
Logistically speaking, what planning and preparation was the hardest?
Pre-trail, I went through the long process of organising my visa, cancelling various contracts and sorting out the general life admin tasks which nobody particularly enjoys doing. Check out my blog post, Planning your Appalachian Trail Hike from the UK for more examples.
Did you lose anything?
On the very first night I lost a tent stake. I managed to break my Fitbit within the first week. I also lost my mind and dignity on several occasions!
When and how did you get into hiking?
I’ve always loved the outdoors, but my true love for hiking first came about in Tasmania, when I hiked the Three Capes Track!
If you have any more questions, please feel free to leave me a comment! Alternatively, you can visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy‘s website.