The Appalachian Trail, or AT, is a footpath that runs parallel to the much of the Eastern Seaboard. It is, at the current time, 2185 miles long. By the time I start hiking it, I understand that it is possible that it will be 4 miles longer. Every year, the trail undergoes changes, rerouting for damage due to storms, overuse of the trail, or possibly the trail maintainers just get bored.
The Trail runs through fourteen Eastern states, starting at Springer Mountain in Georgia, and ending up on top of Mount Katahdin in Maine. As the name implies, it follows, as much as possible, the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern US. And as that further implies, the trail spends a lot of time going up, over, and around many of the mountains in the east. Now, compared to the mountains here in Colorado, the Appalachians aren’t all that impressive, but climb them day in and day out, for five to six months and you’ll get a bit of a workout. The highest mountain on the trail tops out in the six thousand foot range. Which is still fifteen hundred feet lower than our house, but now I’m just bragging.
The idea for the AT was conceived back in 1921. Here’s a link for a concise history of the Trail. I won’t bother repeating it. The interesting thing though is, although the Trail was conceived as a continuous footpath from Georgia to Maine, no one really thought about hiking the whole thing in one shot. Cause that would be crazy.
Hiking the Trail in one uninterrupted journey, now known as a thru-hike, was first successfully accomplished in 1948, by a fellow named Earl Shaeffer. And, up till the 1970’s, considerably less than 100 people had thru-hiked the trail. Then, during the same decade that gave us the twin scourges of Watergate and disco, the popularity of backpacking exploded, probably because of those damn dirty hippies, and thru-hiking the AT became a thing.
Thru-hiking the AT normally takes between four to six months, in total. Even at six months, or a half year, to hike a 2200 mile trail a hiker will have to average 12 miles per day, every day. For comparison, the average American walks just a little over 2 miles per day, and they aren’t carrying 20-40 pounds of gear and food on their backs, every step of the way. Some people can finish the trail in less than 100 days, and times of 90 days are not unheard of. We call these people, deranged.
This year, something like 3000-4000 people will attempt to thru-hike the Trail. Perhaps 25% will succeed. There are lots of reasons why people don’t complete a thru-hike. Lack of time, injuries, running out of money, home-sickness, disease, and many other impediments will crop up to trip up the unwary or wary hiker. Personally, I think my crisis point will probably come one night, when I have to face yet another pot of soggy rehydrated cheesy noodles. But we’ll see.