Questions and Answers
On this page, I hope to answer some common questions about my trip and about the
AppalachianTrail. Please email me at
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want to know more.
- Where did you hike? I hiked on the Appalachian Trail from Damascus, VA, to Manchester Center, VT. Damascus is on the VA-TN stateline and Manchester Center is a little south of the center of the state. This is an official distance of 1177.6 miles.
- How long did it take you? How many miles did you walk per day?
I left Damascus on May 9, 2004 and reached the outskirts of the road to Manchester Center on June 25, 2004. This is a total of 48 days, which makes for an average of about 24.5 miles per day.
- Is this normal? Most hikers seem to average about 12-15 miles per day by the time they get to Virginia, even if they start out in the 8 mile area on Springer. I did meet several other hikers in 2004 who were hiking at about the same rate I was, and heard of something that were hiking further each day.
- How many days off did you take? None. In trail terms, a day off is called a Zero (as in Zero Mileage Day). A day in which you hike for an hour or two is called a Nero (Near Zero). A Half Day is usually on during which you stop hiking sometime between 11 am and 2 pm. I took several neros and a few half days off. I just didn't feel like I needed them physically, and by the time I was tiring mentally there was nowhere I wanted to stop.
- Do you feel you missed something by hiking so many miles a day?
No, not really. On of the reasons that I have a higher than normal miles per day average is because I didn't take much time off. Towns along the AT, with a few notable exceptions, did not interest me very much. I got to see the same things as other hikers, and indeed think I saw more than most. I start hiking around 6 am, when most people are sleeping. The day is at its prettiest at this time and I really enjoyed hiking between the hours of 6 and 8 or 9. I also liked hiking in the early evening, but since the AT doesn't have a lot of easy to spot campsites (like the PCT), I tended to stop earlier than normal. As a result, my days were long and full. I found that many hikers were simply going from shelter to shelter, sometimes as little as 4 miles in a day, and then sitting around doing nothing. Personally, this isn't very attractive to me and so I didn't do it.
- What is the whole "smelling the roses" business?
Smelling the roses is a phrase used by hikers to describe spending their time in such a way as to enjoy the terrain and land they pass through, get to know the people they meet, and contemplate or think on their own. In short, smelling the roses means that you are hiking in such a way as to take time to do the things you want to do. I used it pejoratively in my journal because the people who frequently said they were smelling the roses were sitting at shelters or in towns most of the day, and telling me that I was not smelling the roses while hiking.
- Did you hike alone? Mostly. There was a handful of hikers that I saw for more than one day. Rock Steady and Wild Horse were as close as it came to hiking companions, and even then we merely hiked around each other, rather than with each other. Most days I was hiked alone, even if I was rarely Alone. There are a lot of people on the AT, although it thinned out considerably by the time I got into mid-Pennsylvania.
- What about those silly names? Frequently hikers go by "trail" names,
instead of the real names. On the AT, most hikers choose a trailname for themselves, frequently
before they even walk a mile of trail, and try to make it stick. Sometimes this works, but these names
usually don't fit very well and are many times rather awkward. The more traditional way for people to get trail names is for others to give them.
The name usually reflects a trait or habit of the hiker, or something that they
may have done or had done to them. You do not have to take a trail name simply because some one else gives it to you. I've heard many awful trail names that various communities gave out.
- Did you get a trail name? I had one (Suge) from the PCT and just kept that.
- How did you treat your water? Mostly I didn't. I usually found a good source and drank straight from it. With the exception of Little Crater Lake in Oregon on the PCT (a few thousand miles away from the AT), no lake water is a good source. Baring these, there are plenty of good springs and streams. When I was in doubt as to the quality of the water, I hiked on. If I had to have the water, I would treat it with Polar Pure (iodine) and hike on.
- What about bears? I saw more "bears" on the AT than on the PCT. I put bears in quotes because I don't consider the things I saw wild animals. This isn't to say that they are not dangerous, rather that they resemble actual bears as much as pet dogs resemble wolves.
- What about bear bagging? When away from a shelter, I would bear bag about 75% of the time, depending on where I was. My theory was that the bears on the AT are used to looking at humans as food sources, and I wanted to prevent a brawl with an opponent that I could not hope to overpower.
- Did you get lost? How easy is it to stay on trail? Very, very easy. There are blazes every 10 feet at times, and usually every 1/8 of a mile. Junctions are marked.
- What books do I need? Maps? If you have to ask whether or not you need maps, you need them. At least buy the maps to get you from Springer to Damascus, or Katahdin to Williamstown and then re-evaluate. You can buy the maps from the ATC.
I would not buy the state-by-state guidebooks if you are going to be hiking long distance. However, if you live in an area and do a lot of short hikes, get the guidebooks and enjoy learning more about the area. For distance hikers, I would either recommend buying Wingfoots, "The Thruhikers Handbook" or getting the ATC Data book and the ALDHA Companion. Although I would never have thought so before hand, I used Wingfoot for a long stretch this summer and like his book best.
- What permits do you need? None for the region I hiked.
- What was your favorite place on the trail? This is not a good question, as it has multiple answers. But, I liked Cold Mountain, in Virginia, a lot, as well as the Palmerton/Lehigh Gap area in Pennsylvania. It would be truly awful in bad weather, but I had good stuff and so liked it alot.
- What was your least favorite part of the trail? Another unfair question. However,
let it be known that I can never conceive of hiking in PA, NJ, NY, or southern CT ever again, with the exception of the Palmerton area.
- Where can I get more AT information? The single best resource on the internet is Whiteblaze. Be mindful of what you read there, as there are a lot of varying opinions. Also, ignore anything political or that doesn't directly relate to hiking. If you get sucked into a "Wingfoot Sucks!" thread, you will regret it. Another good place to learn is Trail Journals, where you can read all about people's journeys on the AT. I would highly recommend reading the first few weeks of a journalist's trip to see what you should do to prepare for the AT.
- Will you finish the AT? I have no plans to do so unless I have a spare 3 weeks sitting around some summer. I would like to see Maine in September, and that might draw me out there at some point, however.