Just doing the research may not enough to prepare you for the Great Outdoors holds in store.
Ihad always been interested in hiking the Appalachian Trail (or AT, as the cool kids call it). I had heard stories about the amazing interactions people had on the trail, with both hikers and nature, and I had heard about the great perspective others had gained by hiking the AT. And, after a few years of putting on a little weight, hiking the AT seemed like a great way to get in shape, too.
So, in late May 2007, I decided to plan my trip to hike the AT for 40 days straight to Massachusetts. (Thirty was too short in my mind.) So there I was — out of shape and without a clue.
I got an all-encompassing guide to the Appalachian Trail from the perspective of a “through-hiker” (someone who has hiked the trail in its entirety). It listed water, shelter and post-office locations along the trail. I read it twice. I mapped out the section of the trail I would be hiking, located the shelter and water spots, and thought I was done.
Then came the gear purchases. I bought my stove, pack, boots and tent, plus some other little trinkets for the trail that I thought I might need. I even bought $500 worth of pre-made meals and PowerBars. (Because that’s all I would need, right?) I made boxes of food that I would mail to post offices to put on hold, I said goodbye to my friends and family, and I was off.
I started at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and hiked north like a mad man. I had my iPod, with a sweet audiobook on, and was trekking at a very unreasonable pace; before I knew it, I was at my first day stopping point. This couldn’t be! I wasn’t supposed to get here in three hours! But I was.
Instead of stopping, though, I figured I would get to my next point and get a head start on tomorrow. Four hours go by, and I’m already past day two’s marker. I am killing this trail! I’m thinking that I will be in Massachusetts in no time. I actually made it to my day-three stopping point, when my body breaks down. I had just hiked 21 miles in one day with a 60-pound pack on. (My pack was extremely heavy because I packed tons of unnecessary items, like three pairs of “night time shorts,” two changes of “day clothes” and a bunch of other random things, like an iPod.)
Luckily, I had my cellphone and made a call to get picked up somewhere in Western Maryland. I was done. As many through-hikers and other AT hikers whom I have told this story to have said, there are many parts of my story that describe how unprepared I actually was for this trip. Some say that I was completely “book ready” for the AT. But in no way, shape or form was I “trail ready.”