Three years ago I sat down with my husband and said, “I want to thru-hike the Long Trail this summer”. Well, that never ended up happening. Not because he didn’t support me or because I didn’t have the funds or time; it was because of fear. Fear and self-doubt kept me from setting out on my thru-hike, but it didn’t keep me off of the trails. In fact, in spite of not thru-hiking the Long Trail, I’ve gained a substantial amount of self-confidence in my ability to hike long distances in complete solitude. For the past three years I’ve hiked 237 mountains and in 2018 I hiked over 450 miles and 108 mountains completely solo. However, even with all of this “backcountry experience”, my desire to complete a thru-hike hasn’t faded one bit.
The Big Announcement
I toyed with the idea of setting off on a thru-hike of a shorter trail last summer (The Cohos Trail) but ended up being too busy finishing the New England 67. So here we stand, three years after joining The Trek’s blogging team, and months after pondering the idea in my head, I’m ready to say that I’m going to be attempting a thru-hike of the Long Trail this summer. Instead of going the usual route, I am going to be hiking SOBO (Southbound) and hope to finish the entire trail without taking any zeros (days off).
The Logistics (Hiking My Own Hike)
From day one of planning this thru-hike back in 2016 I’ve wanted it to be as raw as possible. I’ve told my husband many times (only half-joking), that I don’t plan on showering or washing my gear for the entirety of the hike. I plan on using the maps/guidebooks and trail signs for navigation (in lieu of Guthook), and would only go into towns to resupply my food and then hitch back to the trail. I intentionally picked hiking the trail SOBO because it would get the tough terrain out of the way in the beginning and because it would be a more solitary hike. These plans have remained the same since my original decision to thru-hike the Long Trail in 2016.
I’m still in the beginning stages of planning, however, I’m taking a much more laid back approach to my itinerary than I was three years ago. I’ve learned that even the best-laid plans go awry and you can never know for sure how many miles you can hike day in and day out until you’re out on the trail. I’m spending a lot of time hiking and walking (preferably uphill) to get my body in better shape and have been working hard at getting my base weight down to around 10 pounds (I’m at 11.5 right now). I’ve learned a lot in the past three years about gear and how far I can push myself physically. The hundreds of miles spent in the woods have paid off because I am much more confident in my abilities than I was in 2016.
The biggest change I’ve made since originally planning my hike in 2016 has been gear. I remember back then I was totally overwhelmed by all of the gear options out there and didn’t even know where to begin. I combed through gear reviews and blog posts trying to find the appropriate backpack, tent, and sleeping system. Bad experiences with an ill-fitting pack left me hesitant to go ultralight, so I ended up buying the popular Osprey Exos 48. I did a little more research and ended up with a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 tent,Nemo Rave 30 sleeping bag, and Big Agnes Q-Core SLX air mattress. Then, I went out and got some stuff sacks, a Jetboil, and a Sawyer Squeeze to finish off my “classic thru-hiker look”. The only piece of gear that I’m keeping from that original set-up is the tent. Everything else has been replaced by lighter options.
The first switches I made were small items. I tried the Jetboil and found that although it worked wonderful, it was too heavy and bulky. Instead I will be carrying an MSR Pocketrocket. On a single-day traverse of The Bonds in New Hampshire I tested out and became extremely frustrated with my Sawyer Squeeze. That experience lead to the purchase of my Katadyn Filter which I have been using for two years and absolutely love (sorry, Zach). This spring, when I finally decided I was going to attempt this hike, I started researching ultralight backpacks and sleep systems. I bit the bullet and dropped some serious dollars on a Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 and Enlightened Equipment Revelation Custom quilt. My REI dividend will go towards a lighter sleeping pad. My clothes and additional gear are all things I already use on day hikes.
Spending so much time hiking over the past three years has allowed me to essentially perform an ongoing shakedown of my pack. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t because I’ve had to. I know that I run hot and that my legs get colder than my torso. Wearing a hat makes me overheat, sunglasses fog up when you’re sweating a lot, and most importantly, you don’t need a pre-packaged first-aid kit. Ever. In fact, my gear is so dialed in, I know the number by heart (new hikertrash catchphrase?).
After spending the past three years reading many hundreds of trail journals on The Trek and spending hours in the woods hiking, I’m excited to finally get out there and be a thru-hiker myself. I’ve always felt like I’m not an experienced hiker because I don’t have a coveted thru-hike under my belt. When giving advice to people on-trail I hesitate because I’m “only” a day-hiker. The possibility of completing a thru-hike feels more real now that it ever has and I’m finally ready to make this long-standing dream a reality.