Rather than asking questions on WhiteBlaze.net or BackpackingLight.com, I figured I would create a post that virtually nobody would see where I kick around my thoughts on hiking the AT. If you happen to actually read this, please bear with me. Like my blog, this is intended to help me remember planning and executing the hike. This post in particular is probably not going to be of much use to other people.
I don't know how other people think, or what they use to motivate themselves. I'm not a humanities or soft-science kind of person, so I haven't done much reading in this area. My approach is to first envision an action that will either enhance my skills, provide me with knowledge on a subject that is of interest to me, or that will provide a sense of enjoyment (recreation).
With enhancing skills, I usually approach the action by convincing myself that this is the right thing to do. It may not be fun, or it might involve something that causes me fear or trepidation. But it is the right thing for me to do, and I need to do it. Once I commit, I will only bail if the cause is out of my control.
Taking an action that results in new knowledge on a subject of interest is usually accomplished only when time permits. I will read a book, do some informal research on the Internet, or take an online course. Sometimes this is part of accomplishing another activity such as skill enhancement or recreation. I seldom make an internal commitment to acquiring new knowledge, it's usually just something that comes along or that I do as part of my daily relaxation.
And then of course there is recreation--those activities I accomplish because they are fun. These usually require a commitment of time, and so often will be postponed or the time will be spent in some other fashion. Only when early scheduling or paying ahead of time is required will a recreational activity be considered a firm commitment.
Hiking the AT involves all three types of activities. It provides me the opportunity to enhance my skills at backpacking and endurance hiking. The planning process involves all kinds of ways to acquire new and interesting knowledge. And finally, I consider backpacking a lot of fun. And an AT thru hike definitely requires a commitment for scheduling and an investment for both on-trail costs and avoidance of income I could have made if not hiking.
So, when I became dissatisfied with my job at work, and my finances were in good shape for retirement, a decision to do a thru-hike of the AT was practically a no-brainer.
That doesn't mean I made the decision without a lot of thought or without reservations. For my profession, I've got a pretty good paying job, and several years yet till a traditional retirement. But I just wasn't getting assigned the tasks that I wanted. I needed to make a change, even if my wife would have preferred no change. It was actually tough just telling her what I planned and trying to get her support.
That fear, of making a major change, was probably the biggest concern I faced. Kind of related to that was having to tell my bosses that I was leaving. My background and experience is pretty unusual, and it will take a while for a replacement to get up to speed. The possibility that I would disappoint my bosses is my biggest regret.
Then of course, there was the fear that I was not up to the task. I'm in pretty good health, but I'm not as young as I used to be. Could I hike for several months without breaking down? Even if I could, could I avoid accidents for that distance and time? Except for once when my trekking pole got caught during some rock hopping, I've not gone down through tripping in a long time. On the other hand, I have slipped and fell a handful of times on wet rocks or in mud near streams, but haven't had any broken bones or other major damage. But accidents are bound to happen, especially on the reportedly difficult areas of the AT. Then there's Lyme disease, noro-virus and other maladies you can encounter on the trail. This just makes a thru-hike of the AT a challenge! And I like challenges.
Finally, you get down to the point of considering how you are going to execute the hike. Here, there are a number of nagging items that generate a feeling of fear or trepidation. I'll try to give each a small paragraph, then wrap up this post.
First, I'm not a very sociable person. I enjoy talking to people one-on-one, but in a group, I usually just shut down, unless its a work setting where my participation is required. Hence, I'm not looking forward to shelters, hostels, or potential group hiking. I can pretty much avoid the first and the last by using my tarp for shelter and hiking my own hike. I could have minimized this concern by hiking the PCT or CDT, but wanted to do the thru-hike on the 'shortest' of the trails.
Hostels deserve their own discussion. I like quiet and dark to get to sleep. Voices and talking are particular problems when trying to doze off. And I've never been able to get earplugs to fit comfortably or to actually cut out much sound. I can stay in motels in some places. I'll just have to do my best to avoid hostels.
On food, I've tried to use a Paleo diet the last couple of years (sometimes even successfully). But there's no way to do a Paleo diet on the trail. You just can't get enough calories from the protein and fat available. Large amounts of carbs are required. This suggests that using on-trail resupply is a satisfactory approach for most nutrition, but supplementing through mail-drops will be a good idea. But will my digestive system be happy?
But mail-drops raise another concern. I don't want to stay at hostels when I can avoid it, but the post offices have limited hours. It would be way too easy to have to wait to pick up a mail-drop at the post office either overnight or over-the-weekend. Which would typically require either extra hostel/motel stays or potentially slowing down or speeding up on the trail to arrive when a post office is open. So the solution seems to be to minimize mail-drops.
Next, I need to address how to handle cold temperatures in GSMNP and in the Whites. My usual practice is to use my 30 degree quilt plus layering to handle cold weather. I've been very comfortable down to about freezing with a 9 or 10 pound base weight (I sleep warm). But I haven't had the opportunity to test my backpacking kit at colder temperatures--I live in a flat region of a southern state. I believe that wearing all of my layers under the quilt ought to be good down to about 20 degrees, but I cannot be sure. I really don't want to spend the money to get a 20 degree quilt or bag, or carry additional insulation layers. I can eat extra, use a heated water bottle, and/or do exercise if needed--maybe night hike. And if I'm wrong, I won't be far from a road where I can get off and get additional insulation. The approach here may still change...
Journaling and photography is my last concern. I've got an AT&T phone. Will I have enough connectivity to regularly post journal entries and contact my wife? Will I have enough energy at the end of the day to write the journal? Do I have the patience to use the touch keyboard on an iPhone 5s? I also take a lot of photos; I don't seem able to resist. I need to get some of them onto my iPhone for journal entries, from my Ricoh camera. Eyefi will do that. But what about the rest of the photos? Eyefi has an online cloud for a fee, but that's a lot of data, even for an unlimited account. Should I plan to ship SD cards back home? But I cannot see buying a lot of expensive Eyefi cards, and non-WiFi cards won't provide a means of getting photos onto the iPhone. Maybe I can get a few EyeFi cards and ship them home, then back to the trail via mail-drops? This is something I still need to test before hitting the trail. Obviously I haven't made a decision here yet.
Well, that pretty much wraps up this post about my thinking on the AT. I'm sure there are things I've forgotten. But enough for today--more than enough! Is anybody still reading? :-)