Happy trails

What it’s like to hike the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,190 mile stretch of maintained hiking trail from Georgia to Maine. Each year, thousands of people attempt to backpack/hike the entire thing in what is known as thru-hiking; only one in four who attempt the whole trail will make it to the end. 

Thru-hiking often requires years of planning, a large savings account, and six months of immense grit and determination. This summer, my mother, grandmother and I hiked a 20 mile section of the trail to get a taste of what it would be like to truly make your home in the outdoors. 

For a little bit of background; it has been my dream to hike the Appalachian Trail since I was 14-years old. I am also a very experienced backpacker. In October of 2020, I spent a whole month canyoneering and backpacking Robbers Roost Canyon in Utah. For 30 days, I carried all my belongings, food, and gear, in a single backpack. While it was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, it also gave way to one of my favorite passions: backpacking. 

The trip was originally my mom’s idea. Which is surprising, given she would rather spend vacation somewhere on a sandy beach and she had yet to experience the joys of outdoor bathroom exercises (if you catch my drift). My grandmother wanted to join in as well, pretty impressive for a 73-year-old if you ask me. The trip took several months of research and planning, we were obviously not going to be able to do the whole 2,000+ mile trek, so we settled on a three day trip doing a small 20-mile section in North Carolina.

  The most complicated part of the planning process is gathering gear and deciding what you will eat on the trail, after all, there is no refrigerator. Some of the things we brought included; tortillas, peanut butter and jelly packets, StarKist chicken packets, and we also bought some (expensive) dehydrated food packets like beef stroganoff and scrambled egg skillet. Food is a huge concern  while hiking because you do not want to overpack but you also want to avoid underpacking. 

Gear is another big one. For instance, one thing we ran into on day one is my mom and grandma had bought insufficient sleeping bags and ended up being cold in the 40℉ temperatures.  The problem with backpacking gear is that  it can get really expensive really quick (and not everything on Amazon is good quality). Luckily, it warmed up significantly the next night. Other gear included: a camping stove, fuel, tent, sleeping pads, bear bags (or the bears will eat your food), extra clothes, etc. It’s all about balancing how much weight you will carry on the trail. Everything you do not eat/use is dead weight that will slow you down and tire you out. 

We started our first day at Max Patch, we hiked 7 miles that day. The most notable thing to say about hiking in North Carolina is the immense amount of hills. You might be thinking to yourself, “What’s the big deal about some hills?” It’s a lot bigger deal when you are also carrying a 20-40lbs pack. We were tired and our feet were sore by the time we made it to the first camp. After a lovely dinner of dehydrated beef stroganoff, we turned into bed. Day two was even harder than the day before, coming in at a total of ten miles, we were completely exhausted by the time we made it to the shelter. I had blisters the size of half-dollars on both of my heels and I had never been more grateful to lie down in my entire life. Day three was our easy day. 

Most of it was downhill and it was a total of 3.4 miles to the town where we would be ending our journey. When we finally got to Hot Springs, we stopped at a small family owned diner and ate a huge breakfast. We toured the cute little town for a while stopping in at many of the unique artisan craft shops. 

Overall, while the trip was difficult, it ultimately was a great opportunity to connect with nature. I would definitely recommend backpacking the Max Patch to Hot Springs section to anyone who is interested. While it was a difficult section, it helped me to realize how far I could push myself. If my 73-year-old grandma can do it, so can anyone else. As the thru-hikers say: Happy Trails!