If you’ve ever backpacked at all, you’ve probably thought about hiking the most famous long distance hiking trail in the world, the Appalachian Trail, or AT. Of course, that thought might have been, “no way in hell,” but you thought about it nonetheless. I’ve thought about it as well. I’ve even gone so far as to do a little research on what hiking the AT would entail. Beyond a little Internet study I’ve read a couple books about hiking the trail. As of right now, my Kindle contains 24 books written by successful AT thru-hikers.
Luckily for you, there is no need to read that many books. While the writing styles and abilities vary considerably, the information in the book is surprisingly consistent. Nearly every book makes the same main points. Here’s my take on every book ever written about the AT.
- The author was woefully unprepared for the rigors encountered.
- The hiking was much more difficult than imagined.
- The shelters were often crowded, dirty and full of mice.
- Privies along the way can be nasty.
- It rained…. A lot. Plan on being wet for days at a time.
- At times, the mosquitoes or other bugs were unrelenting.
- There’s a significant chance you’ll get Lyme disease and/or West Nile disease.
- There are some amazing views, but much of the time you’re hiking in a “green tunnel.”
- Six months of hiking can get surprisingly difficult on a psychological basis; also difficult on any relationships back home.
- There will be tough times when it takes tremendous willpower to keep from quitting.
- It was a wonderful experience.
And these are people that finished. Not many books have been written by those that quit the trail. You have to wonder if their viewpoint would tilt more towards negativity.
As an alternative to what was starting to appear to me to be a 2,000 mile plus slog, I started looking at the Colorado Trail; 500 miles through mountains from Denver to Durango. For me, at least while I’m sitting in my warm, dry house, the Colorado Trail (CT) offers the challenges and benefits of a long distance hike while avoiding some of the hardships of the AT.
- Only about 150 people attempt the CT each year (compared to 3,000 on the AT), so crowds on the trail or at prime camp areas should be non-existent. (Downside – Don’t get hurt; you may be on your own. Fix that snapped femur with duct tape and a stick. You did bring duct tape, didn’t you?)
- There are no shelters to be disappointed in. (Downside – There’s no shelters to use for things like…..shelter. When it rains, you’re getting wet.
- There are no privies to be disappointed in. (Bonus – your leg muscles will get stronger from squatting.)
- Much less rain and bugs. (Hard to find a downside there, other than it may snow instead.)
- The highest point on the AT is Clingman’s Dome at 6,625 feet. The average elevation of the CT is over 10,000 feet. You’ll spend significant time above tree line with amazing views nearly every day. (Downside – There’s a lot less oxygen up there. At its high point, 13,271 feet, there’s 40% less air than at sea level. Also, when it does rain/snow that high, there’s typically lightning and you’re the tallest thing around.)
- The plan is to be done in 5 weeks. A long hike to be sure, but short enough to see light at the end of the tunnel during a bad day. (Assuming the bad day isn’t Day 2.) Of course, that’s still plenty of time to see how I look with a neck beard. Plus, at my age, that may even be enough time to grow a nice crop of ear hair. We’ll have to wait and see on that one, but I’ll let you know if I’m successful.
And, it would be hard to beat singing John Denver songs to myself as I hike in the Rockies; provided I can suck in enough air to do anything beyond panting and wheezing.
“I guess he’d rather be in Colorado
He’d rather spend his time out where the sky looks like a pearl after a rain…”
While it appears the decision has been made, perhaps a test hike on the AT would sway me. Here’s how it went.