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Re: 96 thruhikers


Haven't been on the Net in 4 months and am finally reading 800, yes 800,
pieces of mail (since 10/7). 

I have read many of you entries since this one (see below) and have many
questions. I am planning a hike to begin in 6 weeks. My two main questions
  1) how did you hike change you emotionally/mentally? what have others said?
     (read in one of your entries that you have spoken w/ MANY thru-hikers)
  2) did you hike while married and if so, how did it affect your marriage?
     again - what have other hikers said?
My wife and I have a strong relationship and she is supportive, but I know
I will worry about her (back home) a lot. I'm concerned that this will adversely
affect my hike. Any thoughts?


> Hi   
>       I'm Jim Owen - relatively new to this menagerie - I've been reading the 
> messages for the last 2 weeks but haven't had time to write anything.  I'm an 
> engineer, trail maintainer and AT thruhiker (Bald Eagle, Class of '92).  It's 
> good to see that there are others out there with the same kind af addiction 
> as myself.  And I'm about to throw my unsolicited 2 cents in here.  So - some 
> thoughts on recent posts from AT thruhikers-to-be.  
>       Let's start with what time to start - Anytime you want.  There are 
> problems associated with any starting time - in either direction - but I've 
> met thruhikers who started on Jan 1 and others who started in Oct.  What you 
> need is a realistic appraisal of the risks and problems with any given 
> starting time.  For example, starting at Springer earlier than mid-March 
> means a cold, wet walk through the southern mountains with snow in the 
> Smokies.  Starting after mid-May means those same mountains will be overgrown 
> (reputedly with large patches of poison ivy).  On the other end, Baxter State 
> Park (Katahdin) closes on or before Oct 15. That means you don't get to climb/
> finish if you get there too late - unless you're carrying winter 
> mountaineering gear and can convince the rangers that you're qualified to use 
> it. Southbound presents other problems - the blackflies should NOT be 
> underestimated and there aren't very many others headed in your direction so 
> it won't be the same kind of social experience.  Starting from Maine isn't 
> recommended before mid-July, but I know people who have - and finished.  The 
> choices are endless.  Best if you can talk to someone who's done it the way 
> you want to do it - so call the Appalachian Trail Conference in Harpers 
> Ferry, WV (304-535-6331). They have a list of thruhikers who are willing to 
> talk about the Trail - and it's classified by age, direction, starting time,  
> etc.  They also have books, videos and planning worksheets.  And if you're 
> going to hike the AT you need to support them - they support you.
>       Another consideration is that the number of northbounders is increasing 
> at a geometric rate.  Unofficially, there were about 3000 starters in '95.  
> My personal estimate is that, considering the publicity this year, there'll 
> be about 5000 starters in '96 - mostly in March and April.  
>       Regardless of how you feel about sharing your "wilderness" experience 
> with that many people, take a tent.  The shelters are crowded under the best 
> of conditions and '96 won't be any better.  Besides, for those who are 
> worried about being cold, a tent is at least 10 degrees warmer than the 
> shelters - and it doesn't have mice.  Speaking of which,  before you start 
> find out about hantavirus.  It's spread by mouse droppings - and EVERY 
> shelter has mice.  The mice are relatively quiet in the shelters that have 
> skunks or snakes - but they're still there.  If the mice weren't there the 
> skunks/snakes wouldn't be either.  Incidentally, don't believe those who say 
> that the AT shelters have no problem with hantavirus - SNP has moved some of 
> their rangers out of the trailers they were using for housing because the 
> mice in them tested positive for hantavirus. If the trailer mice have it - so 
> do the shelter mice.  
>       Next is speed and weight.  The southern mountains are tougher than you 
> believe - a lot of ups and downs - don't underestimate them.  More than half 
> of those who start at Springer have gone home before Damascus.  The most 
> common cause is physical problems, largely knee, tendon and back problems 
> caused by carrying too much weight and/or trying to make too many miles.  
> Rule of thumb - if your pack weighs more than 30 pounds (without food and 
> water) - you're in trouble.  Rule #2 - if you're planning on big mile days (>
> 12) in the south - you're in trouble.  Like all rules there are those who can 
> break them and get away with it, but if you're a serious thruhiker and really 
> want to finish, increase your odds - go light and plan your mileages for the 
> long term.  You should be doing no more than 8 - 12 miles per day (with 
> occasional 14's) up to Watauga Dam.  After that anything goes.  I did 18's 
> and 19's from Watauga to Pearisburg and then 20 - 27's into Mass.  When you 
> get to New England you'll slow down again.  Not many people make a 2 mph pace 
> through the Whites - and who'd want to - you'd miss too much.  By Maine, 
> you'll slow down because you won't want it to end.  
>      Use at least one hiking staff/stick/pole.  Two is even better.  They can 
> be a pain when you're in the Whites trying to get down a rock face, but 
> they'll  save your knees.  And there's no dog alive that doesn't respect a 
> stick !!   
>      Ah yes - winter gear.  NO - DON'T SEND IT HOME FROM DAMASCUS !!!
> It gets cold on Mount Rogers - even in the summer.  And you're not likely to 
> be there in the summer if you're following the usual thruhiker schedule.    
> On 9 May 1992 we had 14 inches of snow on Mt Rogers.  Send it home anytime 
> after the Grayson Highlands.  And pick it up again at Glencliff, NH.  The 
> Whites are cold too.  For winter I used a 20 degree bag and had no problem, 
> but it depends on your metabolism.  I know people who used a 0 degree bag in 
> the south and were cold.  For the Mid-Atlantic states I used an overbag 
> (about 45 degree rating).  Experiment before you go.
>       Don't plan too little time off.  Your time off in towns is important 
> for a lot of reasons, mostly related to mental and physical health.  But if 
> you're planning less than 14 days off the trail (and most of them in the 
> North) you're not even in the ball park.  Most thruhikers that I know took 
> off at least 20 days - and some as much as 30 -40 days.  It depends on 
> nutrition, injuries, weather and a lot of other factors.  All of which means 
> - plan the financial end of your hike liberally.  Town visits cost, and lack 
> of funds is a frequent and unfortunate reason for getting off the Trail.  If 
> your thruhike is intended as a "once in a lifetime" experience, then enjoy it 
> - don't spend it worrying about money.  
>       There's a military adage that says "No battle plan survives first 
> contact with the enemy".  Likewise, no matter how much planning you do, 
> your plan is likely to fall apart once you're out there.  Don't let it upset 
> you - you're out there to hike the Trail, not to prove how good a planner you 
> are.  So hike the Trail. 
>     Speaking of which, the paramount rule on the Trail is "Hike your own 
> hike".  Don't let groupthink take over your life.  If the group you're hiking 
> with doesn't want to stop when you do, or wants to stay in town for an extra 
> day when you don't want to, or wants do more - or less - miles than you, then 
> maybe you don't belong with that group.  HIKE YOUR OWN HIKE !! 
>      The Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) has a lot of info about the 
> Trail.  Join.  It's good for you, for the ATC and for the Trail - and it can 
> save you some money at some of the hostels and the huts in the Whites.  
>       Go to the uncle-wolf-tips page at this location - he hiked this year 
> ('95) and he has a lot of good advice.  
>       Last thought  - After the Trail,  go to the Appalachian Long Distance 
> Hikers Association (ALDHA) Gathering at Carlisle, PA on Columbus Day 
> weekend.  The ATC people will give you information about it if you ask.  
> Why go to the Gathering ??  Because it's tough coming off the Trail - 
> mentally, emotionally and physically.  Most of you will have changed - 
> and your friends and family won't understand.  Some of you will need to 
> talk Trail to someone who understands - and the Gathering is a good place to 
> find other thruhikers - including some of your Trail "family".  
>       Enuff - that's my mini-course on AT thruhiking and I'm having more fun 
> than the law allows, but I'm out of time and some of you are out of 
> patience.  Hope this helps someone out there - and if you want to talk, just 
> holler. 
> Jim Owen (Bald Eagle, Class of '92)