When I announced my plan of hiking the Appalachian Trail alone as a solo, single, 23-year-old woman, everyone wanted to tell me what to do and what not to do. But there were some things that either no one ever mentioned, or they completely led me astray!
1. I would never be alone.
Even though I started hiking alone, there were so many other hikers around, especially at shelters, I never felt alone or was alone!
Now, you can be a little more strategic and avoid the crowds to get some alone time in, if that's what you're looking for. I was just going with the flow and ended up enjoying other hikers company and was actually relieved to not be alone.
2. It hails in the South.
And gets just as cold as the North sometimes. I grew up in Pennsylvania, then lived in New York state, then Maine. I was used to the cold. But, never having spent time in the southern part of the U.S. I imagined this hot, sunny vortex where fresh peaches and daisy dukes can be found on any given day of the year.
I couldn't have been more wrong! I started hiking on the second to last day of March, and expected some cold nights, but wasn't prepared for a full 8 hour sideways hail storm coating every surface in ice.
3. Don't trust anyone who sleeps with their food.
Having many summers of backpacking trips under my belt, I had only ever hung my food, far away from my sleeping body. And I only camped with other people who hung their food to protect themselves and the wildlife around them.
I never even heard of sleeping with your food until researching thru hiking the Appalachian Trail on the interwebs.
One night, a tree ate my bear bag line and I couldn't get it down. So I thought 'Oh. Other people don't hang their food, maybe it's ok here.'
And then a bear stole almost all my gear - backpack, cook set, and food!
Long story short, please take precautions against bears, whether that's hanging your food or getting an Ursack or other bear canister.
4. The community on the Appalachian Trail (and the rumor mill!) is one the strongest you will ever find.
OK, people say you find your 'tramily' or trail family, but I never really understood what 'tramily' means or looks like until I experienced it.
"We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, scared to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiousity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit."
-E. E. Cummings
5. Giardia isn't just having diarrhea for a while.
Even though I always treated my water with either iodine tablets or Aquamira drops, I still got the bug somehow. And it is true what they say, it never leaves you. (Or at least almost 4 years later, my guy isn't healed yet after Giardia and the subsequent Flagyl regimen.)
When I told non-hiking folk about my plan to go backpacking on the Appalachian Trail for several months, I was bombarded with unsolicited advice - 'Watch out for strange men!' 'Take a cell phone! There are criminals out there!' and 'Don't get hurt!' but I never got any real, raw, useful insights for life on the trail.
For more psychological insights on hiking the AT, check out these posts:
- Why Some Hikers Quit Their Thru-Hiking Dream, and Tips For Your Success
- How To Identify Your Comfort, Growth and Panic Zones
- Why Hike The Appalachian Trail?
Any hikers want to share what you wish you knew before your first big trip?? Please do leave it in the comments!
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