As someone who has only recently decided to undertake a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2020, the bulk of my preparation so far has involved fielding the questions posed by my family, friends, and co-workers. As I’m sure many of you are aware, these questions tend to repeat themselves and you find yourself giving the same responses over and over. Therefore, I decided to summarize the questions I’ve been asked about my hike into my “Big Three” of pre-hike questions.
1. You’re doing it alone?
Yes, I am a twenty-something female and yes I am starting alone. I specify “starting” because as most know, starting the AT in March, you won’t be alone for long. Already there are about 30 other people registered with the Appalachian Conservancy to start on the same day as me, and that’s not counting those who don’t register (it’s voluntary don’t worry, but also REGISTER @ A.T Camper Registration)
Honestly, I am more nervous about the over-socialization aspect then I am about being alone. I picture the first few nights at camp something like the first few days at college. I am a bit introverted but historically outdoor activities have brought me out of my shell and I’m cautiously optimistic that this pattern will hold as I start my hike.
2. Is it safe?
For me personally, I find this question silly. I bike about 30 miles everyday in and around Washington, DC/Baltimore and in the past six months, I have been hit by cars three times. Yet my mother has repeatedly asked me how I plan to protect myself against bears. I like my odds of not being attacked by a bear a lot better then my odds of not being hit on my bike again. This is assuming I take the same type of common sense precautions I do when I bike, like properly storing my food.
Living in the city I find there to be a lot more things to be afraid of (cars, thieves, 10 creepy people at the bar) then in the woods (animals, getting lost, 1 creepy person at the shelter). At the very least, I try and convey to people that the trail is no less safe then the “real” world, even if statistics indicate it’s actually safer, as long as you do you due diligence.
3. Six months??
While I’m not set on any length of time for the trail, the number I’ve been telling people is six months. The first thing I had to do was tell my boss than I would not be continuing on to do another year for my research fellowship. Instead I would take a year off before heading off to grad school for Public Health. Having somewhat of a plan for my post-hike life has made it a bit easier to explain to people.
I’ve been describing it as a gap year to make it more easily conceptualized by those not familiar with thru-hiking. What’s more crazy, sitting in a chair in front of a computer for 12 months, or walking for 6? I’ll let you decide. But for me, I feel as though hiking is a better use of my time preparing myself for my “adult” life then another year doing the same work I’ve already become proficient in it.
I consider myself lucky that I am in a position where my job has defined lengths and I don’t risk much by choosing to leave one year early. So I know for many of my family and friends, the idea of taking six months off sounds crazy and risky, but for me, the time is perfect and the logistics of it just makes sense. And yes, I have thought it through.
Other than learning to answer these types of questions about my upcoming hike, the most prep I’ve done is change my Instagram handle to reflect my hiking philosophy, @waiting2pee. 4 months and change to get it together!