“How do you eat an Elephant? One bite at a time.” – Desmond Tutu
2,183 miles. Well… sort of. What am I getting myself into?
That was the answer I saw when I first googled “How long is the Appalachian Trail?” “How can they not know?” This seemed like an easy answer to get. Point A to point B. BUT then I started to see some things. Some calculators don’t count the 8 miles from the parking lot of the guest center to the trail head in Springer Mountain. 8 miles? From the parking lot?? Oh boy.
The trail seems to change a little every year. Areas are rerouted. Reopened. Cleared by the volunteers who maintain it. It travels through 14 States. 5 to 7 months to complete. 8 National Forests. 2 National Parks. Highest point is Clingmans Dome in North Carolina at 6,643 ft. Low point is in Bear Mountain State Park in New York at 124 ft. Total elevation changes if 515,000 feet. For comparison Mt Everest is 29,029 feet tall.
This is going to take a lot of planning. How do I do this?? What is my first decision?
The first thing I learned is that are two ways of doing this. Thru Hiking and Section Hiking. Thru Hiking means you do the entire trail in under a year. Nope. Still have to work. Next.
Section hiking. You do pieces of it at a time that cover the whole trail. Yes please!! Decision made. I’ll be section hiking the trail and try to do each piece in order until I reach the end. I like the idea that this means I can try and time the weather and seasons to make the hiking more ideal.
The next big decision I found out I had to make was which direction to go. Go from Maine to Georgia and you are a SOBO (South Bounder). Georgia to Maine and you are a NOBO (North Bounder). I started reading and quickly saw that 75% of all hikers are NOBO’s. The books didn’t really say why though. I got my answer at REI COOP in King of Prussia.
I stopped in one day after work to check out the innovations in gear that have happened in the last 25 years since I’d camped. There will be lots more on that later. I told one of the associates there what I was planning and she said “Oh we have Dave who has done it three times and Bob who has done it both NOBO and SOBO. They loved it” Blank stare from me. I then learned that the reason so many people NOBO is the trail gets more difficult as you go north. You need a far greater degree of skill to traverse the 100-mile wilderness in Maine than you to cross through Smokey Mountain National Park in Tennessee. The trail gives you time to hone your skills for when you need them the most going North. I like that idea a lot.
NOBO it is. Second decision made. This isn’t so bad. Right?!