by Brother Blood
They say in a 4-day golf tournament, you can’t win it on the first day…but you sure can lose it.
You can’t complete a thru-hike in the first couple weeks…but you sure can end it.
Before my 2016 thru-hike, I had a rough plan for the miles I would do on a daily basis: an average of 10 a day for the first month, then average 15 a day for the rest of the journey. That would have me finishing the trail in 5 – 5 ½ months.
When I mentioned this plan to my friend “Maps” who had thru-hiked in 2013, she just shook her head and said “no.” “Don’t have any plan,” she told me, “just hike.” It was the best advice I received about thru-hiking the AT.
In the conversation, she also gave me the second-best piece of advice I got: don’t worry about getting in shape…you’ll hike yourself into shape. I wanted to be able to jog two miles, and hike about 10 miles before hitting the trail in late March. She said that all she did was gain 10 pounds knowing she would lose it once she hit the trail. I then took and easy…and gained 10 pounds.
The first few days of a thru-hike are quite interesting. I met people who had a plan for the miles they would hike every day on their way to Maine. Some had an arbitrary goal such as 5 months, or making Katahdin by the end of August. But as Maps did for me, I caution hikers against making such plans.
I suggest thru-hikers use Georgia to adjust both physically and mentally to life on the trail. It will take time getting used to hiking every day, and living in the woods, no matter how many shakedowns you conduct with your gear, how many videos you watch, or trail books you read.
Enjoy yourself. If you use Georgia to figure out how many miles are comfortable, and what gear really is important to keep, and which you might want to add, you’ll improve your chances of success far more than if you concentrate on doing miles.
Hike Your Hike…Every Day. I know when many people say “hike your own hike,” it really means, “do it my way or you’re an idiot.” So use Georgia to figure out what your hike is. One of the biggest mistakes I saw early on, was people comparing miles, and believing they should be doing more. That’s a great way to hike someone else’s hike and not enjoy yourself.
I was 50 years old when I thru-hiked, so my body needed a little more adjustment than the many 20-somethings that seemed to knock out 20-mile days from the beginning. We’re all different. Doing short days as you adjust to life on the trail won’t keep you from Maine. Pushing too hard early, just might.
It will probably 400-500 miles in before you really feel like you have the famed “trail legs.” So relax.
And one suggestion I would offer. Get comfortable stealth camping early on.
Early on most hikers plan their days around arriving at a shelter for the night. Let me lay out a scenario why being comfortable stealth camping might help. Let’s say it’s day 5 or 6 of your journey, and you made a trip to Hiawassee, GA for resupply. For whatever reason, it took longer than expected to get back to the trail. So it’s 4:00 pm, your pack is heavy with resupply, you’re body is aching, and you still have 4 miles to the shelter. Oh yeah, it’s chilly, and rain is coming.
Now in our society, we love to admire the go-getter that puts their nose to the grindstone and stays with their plan. After all, No Rain, No Pain, No Maine. Well I say Fuck That.
Go ahead and push it to the shelter, arrive cold, wet and miserable. OR, if you’re ok with stealth camping, just fill up with the water you’ll need for the night at the next water source, and set up camp at the next primitive site you find. And in Georgia, there’s a lot of primitive sites.
When the rain comes, you’ll be dry in your tent or hammock, reading, writing your journal, or just letting your body rest and recover. You’ll wake up refreshed and have dry clothes to hike in!
Throughout the journey there will be times when you hit the proverbial wall. You’ll reach a point of greatly diminishing returns. At these times just finding the next decent camping spot and calling it a day will pay dividends in the end.
Let the journey come to you. You can’t “hike your own hike,” until you figure out what is your hike. Use Georgia to figure that out. They’ll be a lot of time to make up miles in the next 13 states, trust me.
It’s not when you hit the Georgia/North Carolina that matters, it’s how you do it that matters. If you push miles, and hit the first state line beat, having no fun, and wondering how the hell you’re going to do this for another 13 states. It might be a tough journey.
But if you relax, take it easy, and just let the hike come to you…you’ll hit the state line feeling pretty good, and confident.
At that point, SMILE…you have 2,113 miles of the incredible journey of your life ahead of you !!!
I thru-hiked the A.T. in 2016, Georgia to Maine, March 28th – October 4th. Soon I will be releasing the book about my journey; “Brother Blood on the Appalachian Trail: Thru and Through.”