Aren’t You Afraid of Bears? And Other Questions I’ve Been Asked.

When friends and family hear of my plans to walk through the woods from Georgia to Maine, some of the first responses I got were questions.  Actually, almost all were questions. So before I set off on my journey I thought I’d run through a few of them to provide a better understanding of my upcoming adventure.  These have all been questions I’ve gotten over the last 6 months so if answering some of these helps put some of you at ease, then that’s exactly what I was hoping for!

Are you hiking alone?

Well yes, I do plan to hike alone.  I’m setting out on this adventure alone but I do intend to meet up with some friends and family along the way (if they make it out to the trail like they’ve said, that is). But trail life is not as solitary as you may think, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, in 2016, 3,377 hikers began a northbound thru hike attempt in Georgia! It is estimated that about 20% of hikers finish. So even with those numbers, I’ll be making plenty of friends along the way.

Are you seriously hiking alone…as a female?

Well once again, yes.  I can’t say this as a fact obviously until I hike but the trail has be said to be a very comfortable and trusting place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware I’ll be in the wilderness all by my lonesome but I’m not scared.  I personally see it as me taking a step towards more females feeling comfortable to hike the AT.   Only 25% of 2,000 milers are female.  I plan to be one of those one in four female 2,000 milers. But I hope, with a rise in hikers setting out on the AT these days, that in future years there are more and more woman believing they can do this!

How long will it take you to hike the (nearly) 2,200 miles?

I’m planning on 5-6 months with a Mt. Katahdin summit sometime in early to mid- September.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have a workplace that is fully supportive (and boy am I thankful for that!) but obviously I’m not going to plan to be gone too long!

I’ll take some “zero days” (non-hiking) days in trail towns or relaxing along the trail.  Ultimately the final deadline to attempt the finish line is October 15th as that is the day the state park in ME closes due to weather conditions.

Is someone tracking you? Can you be tracked? Can you talk to people?

I’m hiking through the woods, not shutting myself off from all walks of life!  I don’t plan to carry a GPS tracker (although some people do) but cell phone service is generally pretty good throughout the trail. There are some spots with no reception but that’s okay with me.  I’ll plan to be in contact with family and those that choose to follow along with my journey every so often, but I also like the idea of checking out for a few days here and there to just be one with the woods.

How do you carry all your food?

I won’t be carrying all 6 months of food on my back at once.  Generally, I’ll carry 3-5 days of food at a time. I’ll be resupplying along the way in trail towns or occasionally pick up a mail drop (pre-mailed boxes I’ve sent myself in towns that may not carry much).  In addition, most towns along the AT are prepared for a constant stream of dirty “hiker trash” or thru hikers to chow down on their local cuisine of large pizzas and several servings in one sitting.

Where will you shower?

I’ll be honest, the days of showering every day….or really every couple days, will be gone for a while. I’ll grab a shower when I hike into town, when I plan to stay at hotels, motels or hiker hostels.  During those times, I’ll also be able to do my laundry, but everything in between expect me to blend in nicely with all the other “hiker trash (nice nickname we’re given)!”

What if it rains or snows while you are hiking?

Well luckily I am not made of sugar and won’t melt since this is not so much an “if” question but rather “when.”  When it rains or snows, I’ll be wet or cold. But embrace the rain, embrace mother nature because sometimes it can get a little crazy!  I’ll have rain gear and a cover for my pack but I fully expect to have numerous days of feeling wet and cold.

So where do you sleep?

My plan to is tent camp but there are also plenty of shelters along the way that people take advantage of. But first, let me clarify what an AT shelter generally is. Most of what you’ll find along the AT is a 3-sided building with a roof and floor. Shelters offer protection from the elements but they do have their drawbacks, most notably sharing space with possibly lots and lots of hikers…and mice.  I’d prefer to to set up my tent and have some moments of privacy, change into warm/dry clothes, and feel at home. Not to mention, I’m not one to want to have the “feeling of mice running across you throughout the night.” No thanks.

Could you hike to a hotel each night?

As said above, I’ll spend most nights along the trail. And I like it that way. I’ll enjoy some down time or zero days in town maybe once a week or every two weeks.

Should I even ask, what about bathrooms? Do you carry toilet paper, etc.?

Well, I’m in the woods – so there’s that.  To put it simply, I’ll carry bandanas and toilet paper for certain purposes. Just know that whatever is brought in, must be taken out so toilet paper must be “packed out” and for those easier times, I can rinse out and wash the bandana. Happy to talk about this further but figured that answer gives your imagination enough!

What will you do for water?

Filter. Filter. Filter. I’ll gather water, as needed and as available, and I’ll purify it using my Sawyer Squeeze filter. Water is heavy so at a given time I’ll probably have 1-1.5 liters at a time when I set out for the day, and fill up as I hike through certain water supply areas.

How much will your pack weigh?

My hope is to have total pack (including food and water) that weighs no more than 30 pounds. Let that sink in… everything you NEED to survive can fit in a 30 pound pack on your back.  Obviously the incentive is to have less so I’m not carrying so much but as you may guess, it’s hard! Goal is to have a base weight less than 20 pounds with gear, and 10 pounds left to spare for food and water for 4-5 days at a time.

Will you carry a knife or a gun, for protection?

No.  And if you know me at all, you could probably have guessed my face when asked this.  I’ll have a type of swiss army knife, for you know, opening food and what not but other than that NO! Besides all the obvious reasons why I would never carry a gun, I don’t feel the need to carry something like a large knife or gun for protection while hiking. This trail is a community, people take care of one another. I’m not guaranteeing that nothing bad ever happens but between common sense and the community looking out for one another, I believe I’ll be just fine. Plus guns and weapons are heavy, who needs that additional pack weight when I could use that for food!

What will you miss most while out on the trail?

From what other thru hikers have said, I’ll be missing fresh fruits and veggies! But obviously if anyone were to ask me directly, I’d probably say family and friends.  A month here and there, sure, but we are talking 5-6 months here! I’d like to make a point of saying that this hike isn’t about getting away or running away from home/work, or needing a major change in my life.  This hike is about realizing a longtime dream and taking the step towards accomplishing that dream.

Oh, and to answer the big question, “Aren’t you afraid of bears?”

Actually no.  Not so much the bears. Bears on the AT are described as just large raccoons, harmless unless you do something stupid.  I’ll be honest and say that the ticks and rattlesnakes/ copperheads…or really, any snakes are really the few things that I’m not a big fan of.  But I’m going out there anyway, I guess I’ll just have to figure out a way to live among the snakes, ticks, giant raccoons (bears), and all the other offspring of mother nature.

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