Tag Archives: Appalachian Trail Conservancy

How to know you’ve arrived…on the Appalachian Trail


Hiking in the Rain

When the first blister forms.

When cold rain storms soak you to the bone.

When the lightning sends adrenaline surging through your body.

When a buzzing rattler alarms you.

When the drumming of a ruffled grouse surprises you, sending your heart into your throat.

When the black bulk of a bear rears before you.

When you slip and fall on wet leaves or rock.

When the pestering bugs will not go away.

When the snoring keeps you awake.

When your trail mates gripe and grouse around you.

Finding the Trail

When you keep getting passed by for a hitchhike into town.

When the sun burns you.

When you’re throat-parched and the spring you struggled to reach is dry.

When it’s too hot to sleep.

When your shoulders hurt from the weight of your pack.

When you can’t seem to arrive at the top of a challenging peak.

When you can’t see the cairn through the fog.


When you realize you’ve not seen a trail blaze for twenty minutes and you discover you have to backtrack.

It is then — you’ve earned your stripes

It’s important to remember — this, too, shall pass.

Keep going!



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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Writing

How far is it? Tips on mileage and time on the Appalachian Trail

Photo courtesy Nicholas_T at Flickr

Photo courtesy Nicholas_T at Flickr

Not long into my hike on the Appalachian Trail I met day-hikers and southbounders asking me a common question: how far is it to _____?  (campsite, shelter, road crossing, etc.)  I would provide my best estimate, they’d be on their way, but I was left feeling a bit incomplete about the encounter, as if the information I had given was not of much use.  Later on I learned that a mile is an easy hike for one person and a grueling trek for another.  In those cases, distance has less meaning that time.  As a result, I would tell someone “how far” based on how long it had taken me to leave that particular point.  For instance, I would say “It’s about half an hour,” if it had taken me that long to walk from the requested landmark.  I would modify this advice depending on what the person carried.  If they had a full pack like myself I would say 30 minutes; if they had a light daypack I might say 20 minutes.  Also, when I asked someone about a destination I was walking to I would ask “How long since you left _____?”  I found that the time estimates were more accurate and useful to me than a statement of mileage distance.

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Reasons hikers and backpackers leave the Appalachian Trail

Photo courtesy asafantman at Flickr

Photo courtesy asafantman at Flickr

The initial magnetic draw and appeal of an Appalachian Trail thru-hike can dissolve into a decision to leave the trail altogether for some backpackers.  Here’s a few reasons why:

The money runs out.

Some realize that they simply don’t enjoy walking long distances with a heavy pack.

Physical injury (stress fractures, tendonitis, falls, etc.).

An emergency on the home front necessitates ending the trip.


Getting homesick.

Conflicts with a hiking partner.

Hiking in cold, wet weather.

Hiking in hot, humid conditions.

Simply getting tired of walking.

Time constraints.

Emotional stress: depression, loneliness, anxiety.

The romance of hiking the trail wears off.

Hope for an epiphany or spiritual awakening has not materialized.

Expecting a hike along the A.T. would be a “cure” bad relationships, job loss, aimlessness in life, etc.

Poor planning.

Inadequate gear.

Carrying too much weight in the pack.

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Decision making, Long distance backpacking, Timothy J. Hodges

The Appalachian Trail New Year’s Questionnaire

Rather than offer you a set of resolutions for the New Year, here’s a list of questions I hope will prove useful to you as a hiker and backpacker.  Happy New Year!

Aircrew Survival Course - May 2010

Aircrew Survival Course – May 2010 (Photo credit: WSDOT)

What one item would most to increase the enjoyment of your hikes this year?  (New knife, candle lantern, whistle, etc.)

What new outdoor skill would be the most useful to learn this year?  (How to build a fire without matches, wilderness first aid, what to do if you’re caught in a snow or lightning storm, etc.)

What familiar trail would you like to explore further?  (Side trails off the Appalachian Trail: see my earlier post.)

What are the biggest hurdles you come across when hiking the trail (slow pace, too much pack weight, etc.) and what can you do to surmount them?

How can you improve your physical condition and stamina for better hiking?  (Increasing muscle mass, strengthening the legs or body core, cardio workouts.)

What pack items can you leave behind and still enjoy your trips?  (Do you need the extra pair of heavy socks, the spare bandana, etc.)

Are you ready for assisting someone should they need help on the trail?  (Offering tips and advice for better hiking, giving information about trail conditions, etc.)

What trail, or section of trail, would you like to hike this year that you haven’t hiked before?

Appalachian Trail approaching the summit of Th...

Appalachian Trail approaching the summit of Thunderhead Mountain (el. 5,527 feet/1,684 meters) in the Great Smoky Mountains. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are your first-aid skills up-to-date?  If not, consider a Red Cross refresher course.  Medical expertise in the field benefits not just you but others who might need assistance in a medical emergency.

Is there someone you would like to have as a backpacking partner this year?  Invite them on trip to your favorite trail?

Do you need to consider “going solo” on a trip.  This will boost your confidence as a backpacker and test your self-reliance.

Do you want to consider joining a hiking or backpacking club to hike with a group of others?

How about joining an organization devoted to the welfare of trails, such as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, American Hiking Society, Green Mountain Club, Appalachian Mountain Club, or Sierra Club?

Memories fade after a hike, even if you have taken great photos.  Consider keeping a hiking journal while on the trail, soon after you return home, or start an online blog about your hiking and backpacking adventures.

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Writing