For almost ten years now, I’ve been dreaming about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’ve read many, many books on it, read online forums, and avidly look forward to meeting “real, live thru-hikers” on my weekend hikes. It’s become possibly the largest obsession of my life.
However, a thru-hike is quite life-destabilizing and I’m a pretty stable guy. About six months ago, because of various outside forces, I realized that I was most likely not going to be hiking the AT for at least five more years. This made me sad, so I set my sights on a smaller goal that could be fit more into my lifestyle, the Long Trail.
The thing with the AT is, I’m not merely obsessed with thru-hiking it. For some reason, I’m obsessed with thru-hiking fast. Like really fast. Like I want to set a record fast. This doesn’t stem from reality in pretty much anyway, but obsessions often suffer from that problem. Anyway, this desire for speed also translated to my desire to hike the Long Trail fast. It has the added benefit that I can fit it in to my schedule if I do it fast.
The normal hiker enjoying himself along the Long Trail does the trail in 3-4 weeks, which is a bit long to be out of work and away from family casually. My original plan was to do it in 9 days. This is not totally insane. The record for hiking the trail unsupported is six and a half days. But it’s a bit of a stretch for a guy with a non-Ironman fitness level and only some moderate dayhike accomplishments to speak of.
Eventually after much soul searching, test hiking, and running book time numbers I revised my goal to about ten and a half days. I theoretically can accomplish that with the pace I normally set but there isn’t much wiggle goal. I’ll be hiking 12 hours a day at over 2 miles an hour. That probably seems really slow if you’ve never hiked over mountains with a pack on. And on flats and gradual downhills I can really turn on the speed. But 2 miles an hour up a steep mountain with poor terrain at the end of a long day is a reach goal.
Anyway, about six months ago I set my sights on this goal and started training. I did all sorts of crazy things, like running to work with my pack on for several weeks, running my first 10k, my first half marathon, my first trail run, and taking off of work and several weekends to run up and down some White Mountains. This was all good stuff and I can honestly say I’m in the best shape of my life right now, at least with regards to leg and heart strength.
I also did all sorts of logistics planning. I bought tons of gear, I tested it, I catalogued each piece of equipment I had and its weight, and I reviewed all sorts of freeze-dried food. The last week or two I spent many, many hours packing and repacking my pack and planning and boxing up my food for the trip. I’m planning on two different resupply points where I send ahead boxes of food so I don’t need to carry it all. The first is at the Inn of the Long Trail and the second is in Jonesville, VT.
Finally, after all this planning and recent anxiety to get on the trail, this afternoon I will be leaving civilization behind and walking into the woods in North Adams, MA and crossing over into Vermont tomorrow morning around 6:30am. I’m not sure what will happen and I’m realistic enough to know I am not guaranteed success but I know it will be an adventure.