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So you think you want to thru-hike- part 3

So you think you want to thru hike.  Planning.

I am going to limit my talk of planning to the aspects of whether or not you
should draft a hiking schedule.  Planning can involve what you want to
make out of it.  You can spend months and months plotting and planning
your days or you can simply get out there and get to it.  I'll cover the
extremes and then give my recommendation for what you should do.

I went hog wild with my trip planning.  I created a spread sheet with daily
mileages, mail supply drops, etc.  My mail drop locations were selected
months before my actual trip.  Why?  I dehydrated all of my meals for the
trip.  Also, I had my dog with me and decided to give him a special diet. 
So, I thought it best to know in advance, how much of what I'd need. 
Another benefit, I thought, was to ease the amount of work my support
person would have to do.  Here's what went wrong with my plan...  I
thought I'd carry 10 (yes 10) days of food at each supply drop.  Wrong!  I
recommend getting resupplied as often as you can like once every 3 to 5
days.  Ten days wouldn't even fit in my pack!  By the time I ate that last
days supply of food, I felt like I expended much more energy carrying it
than I got eating it.  My schedule also failed because it is very difficult
anticipate how fast and far you will hike day in and day out for 6 months. 
I found myself speeding up or slowing down as I hiked with different people
along the way.   I learned early on in my trip to use my schedule as a guide
only and to laugh at it and ignore it as I moved ahead and eventually behind
my planned schedule.

The other extreme are the hikers who just get out there and hike.  No
schedule and no deadline.  They usually resupply by heading into town and
shopping at the local grocery.  They hike as far and as fast as they feel
like it at the moment.  There is some planning involved here as well, but it
is done on the trail.  You only need to figure out how many days it will take
you to get to the next resupply spot.  Then go and buy the right amount of

If I were to thru-hike again, I would adopt a strategy in the middle of the
two extremes.  First off, I would arrange my hiking schedule as I hiked.  How
far in advance?  Figure out how long it takes for your mail drops to get to
the post office.  I liked my hiking partner's method.  She had her packages
sent first class so she only had to plan 1 week in advance.  Then as she
neared home in Maine, her packages would arrive literally overnight.  What's
the benefit?  As you hike the trail, you will speed up and slow down as the
weeks pass.  Not only from the changes in the trail, but from your mood and
emotional state at the time.  Your schedule will more closely match your
hiking speed.  

How do you determine how long it will take you between supply spots?  I've
seen two methods.  My method was to look at the maps and the elevation
profiles on them.  For each night I figured out where I would be camped.  I
based my daily mileage on: the amount of food in my pack, the elevation
changes, rumors about how tough the trail would be ahead, how hard I felt
like pushing, and whether there were spots to stop for hours on end just to
have fun.  I found this worked best for me.  I tended to be conservative in
my estimated distances so I wouldn't run out of food.  I never did!  The
second method I've seen involves doing a quick calculation.  Take the miles
between supply spots and divide it by your estimated daily mileage to get the
number of days of food you need.  Your estimated daily mileage can also be
based on the factors I listed above...

However you plan keep in mind the following things.  First, start slowly.
 Don't plan 20 mile days until you are in shape.  Second, remember that if
you are going to thru-hike, you do need to do a certain number of miles a
day.  If you want to hike the trail in six months, you need to average 12
mile days.  I met several hikers who were not meeting this average on any
days!  They either did not finish or (seeing as though they were going
North), had to skip to Katahdin and hike South to beat the approach of Winter
(called a flip-flop).

Well, that's it for now.  Hope I'm not too winded and am not boring the
pants off of people.  If anybody has any questions, feel free to contact me
directly or send a note to the group.

-Steve Lund
"Uncle Wolf"
GA->ME '95