A 2,180 mile route through fourteen states along the Appalachian mountain range
Thousands of people hike the AT each year, and the amenities may sound nice, but that by no means makes it an easy trail. The tread of the AT is gnarled with roots and rocks, switchbacks are nearly non-existent for the majority of it’s length. Every knob, bald, mountain, and peek attracts the path like a magnet, allowing the AT to feel like a walkable roller coaster track. The total elevation gain of the Appalachian Trail is about 520,000 feet in contrast with about 490,000 for the PCT. That’s like squeezing in an extra Mount Everest ascent on top of the PCT, and its packed into 500 fewer miles. The AT is a friggin workout!
Two weeks after completing the CDT I found myself standing on Mt. Katahdin in a cloud on the 14th of September, starting my southbound hike of the Appalachian Trail. It was hard not to feel the stark contrast between the wide open lonely CDT and the crowded green tunnel of the AT, and I had to fight myself to stay on the trail. By the end of Maine I decided to stick with the trail, and see where it took me. I had never been to most of the states the AT went through, the fall colors had begun to show and northbound hiker crowds were thinning. The trail towns were filled with trail friendly people and good food, and the physical challenge of the trail was beginning to grow on me. And I met Listener, a 72 year old woman who was hiking the AT solo from Georgia to Maine over the span of two summers. I met her on the last week of her hike at a shelter where she was re-warming after taking an accidental swim in an icy river in the 100 mile wilderness. Her tenacity, along with the deep passion she had for the AT provided me inspiration all the way to Georgia.
The last month of my 104 day hike was filled with frozen toes, wading through snow, and hiking by headlamp in the December darkness. I found warmth in giant gas station cups of coffee in the frequent trail towns, and the kindness of Trail Angels. Snow storms pushed me out of the mountains for over 100 miles North Carolina/Tennessee, and I had to come up with creative re-routes along lower trails and roads. My personal rule was that I had to walk the whole way between Maine and Georgia, but I battled the culture of purism on the AT (following the white blazes no matter what). In the end I decided I needed to hike safely rather than give in to the purist shame I felt. I have since gone back and finished about half of the sections that I re-routed around during my 2010 hike, and will wrap it up someday. Hiking the highest points of the AT in December kinda sucks, even though the AT covered in snow is stunning.
Finishing my Triple Crown on Christmas Eve 2010, 18 months after I had set foot on the PCT left me a little dizzy. I was happy to be done, but missed the constant motion, solitude, and adventure the trail provided. It was comforting to realize trails are always there, and I can make the time to go be on them whenever I need to. I returned to California and promptly started creating my dream route across my home state.