What have we gotten ourselves into?

Who was that guy who coined the Appalachian Trail a simple “walk in the woods?” That phrase paints a picture of a beautiful, level, happy-go-lucky, birds-chirping, sun-shining, leisurely stroll through the woods. Not a boulder-climbing, stream-crossing, mountain after mountain, panting, heavy-breathing, can’t talk to your partner, have to watch your feet at all times (so as not to twist your ankle on roots or rocks, or slide down a steep drop off), type of hike. Yea, thanks Mr. Bryson.

The truth is, the Appalachian Trail is HARD. It will, I’m sure, be the hardest thing Greg & I have ever done. And frankly, this is also why we want to do it. It is a mammoth challenge – one of stamina, physical exertion, and most of  all – mental fortitude.

The elevation gain/loss of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail is the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest 16 times.

Here’s a picture from the AT in Pennsylvania. PA is one of the toughest state’s the trail goes through, we hear walking on these boulders all day can really tear up your feet. Photo by: Ryan Johnson
PA rocks

A lot of our friends are already starting out on their thru-hike this year, and while it’s painful to see their posts and pictures from the comfort of our warm and comfy couch, we have to remind ourselves that this was always our plan. We wanted to wait until the end of March so as to experience as little of a “full” harsh/cold winter as possible, even though we will be starting in the “bubble” of thru-hikers.

A friend of mine recently said to me, when I was talking about my fears, “Hey – remember when you quit your jobs, sold everything, and moved to Costa Rica? If you can do that, you can hike the Appalachian Trail!”

Well, not necessarily. The AT will be SO much harder than quitting our jobs and moving to Costa Rica. Regarding Costa Rica, YES, that was a hard decision to make back then, but after we did our research and got our budget in order, it was actually quite easy to implement our plans. Quitting our jobs went smoothly, and after researching and planning out what would be the hardest things to tackle once we got to Costa Rica, actually living through those things went without a hitch. A positive attitude can go a long way. Maybe I can say all this because I’ve “been there, done that” now, but Greg and I both believe that the AT will be so much harder. Here’s some of our reasoning:

1.Physically, it will be hard. As I mentioned, it is not just a “walk in the woods.” It is a lot of PUD’s – pointless ups and downs. The Appalachian Trail is on a mountain range and goes up and down hills and mountains – a LOT. And not just little mountains. Sometimes the elevation increases rapidly, other times slowly. There will be rocks and roots and leaves and streams. The beginning alone will be hard. We have chosen (foolishly?) to start with the Approach Trail, which isn’t even PART of the Appalachian Trail, but lots of “real” hikers do it. And well, we want to be real hikers. It is 8.8 miles uphill, including a little section of 604 steps to the top Amicalola Falls.

The Approach Trail has a total elevation gain of 3,165 feet:

Everyday will be a bit like this, several up and downs, some days harder than others. There has been a lot of rain and thunderstorms lately, and we are hoping that we can at least start Day 1 with no rain.

Approach trail at Amicalola Falls.  Photo by: @TwoCooksTakeAWalk

2. The monotony. Day after day we will be hiking, all day, every day. In Costa Rica we didn’t have to do anything physical if we didn’t want to. On the trail we need to hike almost every day. And we want to end in Maine before Oct. 15th, as they start closing the summit of Mt. Katahdin (the northern terminus) due to the winter season.

3. Mentally, it will be hard. On Costa Rica, I feel like we did our research, and we were prepared for everything that was thrown at us. Sure, some things were hard, but we remained positive and were able to deal with things as they were thrown at us.   On the AT, there’s so much that could happen out of our control (well, I guess this was similar to Costa Rica) – injuries, diseases, animals, crazy weather… We could also just get so bored and tired of walking (people quit for this reason all the time). We’ve heard that the trail is 90% mental, which amazes me, because it is so physically challenging. Just goes to show how much your mind and attitude can make or break you. Can you imagine what it takes, mentally, to get through a part of the trail like Mahoosuc Notch?  It’s labeled “the most difficult or the most fun mile of the AT.”  The guidebook reads simply “make way through jumbled pit of boulders.”

Mahoosuc Notch. Photo by:  Ryan Johnson

There’s a reason 25% of the people that attempt the AT each year going NOBO (northbound) quit by the time they even get out of the first state of Georgia. It’s hard, you guys! And Georgia starts out hard right away with a rollercoaster of mountains. And it’s made even harder with cold rain (sometimes snow), blisters and sore feet, heavy packs, and aching knees and hips.  No matter how much you train for the AT, you can’t really feel what it’s like until you’re on it and hiking every day.  Everyone out there will be in the same boat – getting used to their gear and how everything works.

The most likely reasons people quit are:

  • Boredom/loneliness:  Believe it or not, it just gets boring for people to hike 10-20 (or more) miles a day and see the “same scenery” day after day.  The majority of thru-hikers are in their 20’s, just out of high school or college, and miss their friends and family desperately.
  • Injuries: People get inured (knees give out, sprained ankles are common, fractured foot, broken legs even) or they may get a disease (Lyme’s disease, Giardia).
  • Money runs out:  Lots of thru-hikers are not able to manage their money well, or party too much along the way.

She makes this thigh-high mud look fun, doesn’t she? Photo by:  @hikes.camera.adventure

Despite all of the hardships the AT will throw at us, none of this detracts from our desire and dream to hike the whole Appalachian Trail (all 2,189.8 miles of it!). Both Greg & I are determined to do this. In fact, we’ve already pledged to each other that the only way we would quit is if one of us has a severe injury (preventing further hiking) or there is a family emergency. This has been our dream for a couple of years now, and we are doing it! This is not to say that we don’t need help – just knowing you guys are thinking of us and sending us positive thoughts will help us tremendously (especially on the hard days), so please don’t hesitate to like or comment wherever you are following us (here, YouTubeInstagramFacebook)!

Can we even picture ourselves on the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine? Honesty, it’s hard to think about without getting emotional, but yes… YES WE CAN.  

We want this feeling!  Photo by:  Ryan Johnson (who thru-hiked last year):

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