Tag Archives: Shenandoah National Park

5 Anchors for the Appalachian Trail

Photo courtesy talksrealfast at Flickr

Photo courtesy talksrealfast at FlickrWill you anchor hold in the storms of life,

An anchor is defined as “a person or thing on which something else is based that can be relied upon for chief support, stability, or security; a mainstay.

The greatest anchor is Katahdin, whose looming summit entices when you first see it.  If the spirit of this summit doesn’t burn within you from the time you leave Springer Mountain your chances of becoming a thru-hiker diminish.  This is the “grail anchor,” and its majesty is compelling.  But Katahdin is many footfalls distant.  One needs other anchors — other goals — to guarantee a successful hike.  Let’s look at other anchors you can use to propel you to Maine

Towns.  Whether it’s to resupply for the next stretch of trail, or to find that all-you-can-eat restaurant you’ve been reading about in the trail registers, towns are significant anchors along your journey.  Town post offices also offer another drawing power as effective anchors.  Once I hiked 7 miles before noon to reach one in Stratton, Maine.

States.  The wonderful, bucolic hills of Virginia.  The rugged character of Pennsylvania.  Entering the magnificent Green Mountains of Vermont.  The remote north woods of the great state of Maine with its 100-mile wilderness.  Looking forward to hiking the trail through the wonderful terrain and characteristics of specific states is something to anticipate.

Peaks or mountain ranges.  I was passionately looking forward to climbing into the Great Smokies and standing atop Clingman’s Dome.  Being a native North Carolinian was one reason, plus I spent some memorable childhood summers vacationing there.  Mount Washington in rugged New Hampshire was also appealing for its volatile weather, grand views, and legendary history.

Parks and national forests.  Beside the Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia can be a great anchor.  Thru-hikers often simply cruise through the park  due to the agreeable grade of the trail, but Shenandoah offers great views, Civil War history, and abundant wildlife.  I enjoyed the Green Mountains of Vermont so much I later went back and hiked the Long Trail through to the Canadian border.

Geographic features.  Rivers and stream crossings, like the mighty Kennebec in Maine, were things I looked forward to.  The waters of the Kennebec were low enough for me to ford on foot early one morning.  I’ve never forgotten that experience.

You get the idea — so look at the map and guidebook and considering drawing up a list of “anchors” to galvanize your journey to Katahdin!

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking, Timothy J. Hodges

Will you hike The Appalachian Trail in 2013?

View From Clingman's Dome

View From Clingman’s Dome (Photo credit: Ken Rowland)

Will you hike the Appalachian Trail this year?

When most hikers and backpackers consider hiking the Appalachian Trail, they usually take the “thru-hike” perspective, thinking a legitimate hike must begin in Georgia and end in the state of Maine on Katahdin.  This not so, of course.  The Appalachian Trail is there to hike as you wish.  An overnight

Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive

Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive (Photo credit: numbphoto)

hike or weekend might be ideal for someone just warming up the idea, and should your outing be in the high season spring and summer months, you’ll likely meet thru-hikers you can pepper with questions (don’t say I said to!) about their experiences.  This might be the decision point, where you glean enough information to decide whether you want to stretch your legs a bit further.  Maybe a week-long trip or two-week walk along the famous footpath comes next.  Should time allow, a month-long expedition might be next.  The important thing to remember is that you do not need to walk the entire trail end-to-end in one season to spend worthwhile time there.

blue blaze

blue blaze (Photo credit: happy via)

For example, the journey might be enriched by using the Appalachian Trail as an “axis-trail” for further exploration.  Pick one of the famed national parks, like Shenandoah or the Great Smoky Mountains.  Plan your trip to include taking time to explore the wonderful side trails (usually blue-blazed) off the high ridge line of the Smokies or rolling Shenandoah National Park slopes.  There’s a lot of history and natural wonder to see once you venture from the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail to adventure.

Whatever your backpacking plans for the new year, allow yourself the flexibility to chart your exploration and experience of the Appalachian Trail in a way that fits your abilities, time schedule, and desires.  As for the long-haul end-to-end hike?  Relax!  The Appalachian Trail’s not going anywhere.

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

Thinking about…your mindset before you hike the Appalachian Trail

Mountain hiking

Mountain hiking (Photo credit: arnybo)

Discouragement.  Disappointment. Physical pain. Exasperation.  Dreadful weather.  Slick trails.  Mail-drops that aren’t at the post office when you get there.  Blisters.  Humidity and heat w

hich sap your hardiness and hinder your hiking until the cooler part of the day.  Mobbed shelters.  Difficult people.

These are some of the dynamics you will (yes, I said will) meet when backpacking the Appalachian Trail.  Even so take heart, and know this before you set about your journey; there will be joy.  Days of elation and striking beauty.  Nights of amazement under the stars.  Spectacular moments that are lifetime blessings.  Look for them.  Trust that they will come.

Here are some techniques you may find useful to adopt before you strike out for the Appalachian Trail:

The image shows a sign on the Appalachian Trai...

The image shows a sign on the Appalachian Trail at the northern trailhead of the 100-Mile Wilderness giving the following warning: “CAUTION. IT IS 100 MILES SOUTH TO THE NEAREST TOWN AT MONSON. THERE ARE NO PLACES TO OBTAIN SUPPLIES OR HELP UNTIL MONSON. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS SECTION UNLESS YOU HAVE A MINIMUM OF 10 DAYS SUPPLIES AND ARE FULLY EQUIPPED. THIS IS THE LONGEST WILDERNESS SECTION OF THE ENTIRE AT AND ITS DIFFICULTY SHOULD NOT BE UNDERESTIMATED. GOOD HIKING! MATC” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perfection does not exist on the Appalachian (or any other) Trail.  Hardship is part of the price paid for the glorious experience of hiking it.  If you’re susceptible to black-and-white thinking, realize that each mile and each day will bring a combination of arduousness and delight, and regardless of the difficulties, when you finally complete your hike it will be with a deep sense of attainment and reward.

Release the following expectation: hiking a specific number of miles per day.  A wise backpacker has said, “begin slowly…the 20-mile days will come.”  In my case, there were just two high-mileage days and both were triggered by necessity.  One was a 17 mile push to retrieve a Saturday mail drop in Maine; the other was simply because I missed some trail blazes in Pennsylvania.  By the end of that day I had walked 23 fatiguing miles!  Even if you’re in the best of shape you can expect about 7 to 10 mile days in the southern Appalachians.  As you reach the 10-percent trail grades in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, doing a 20-mile day is easier.  Even so, who says you have to?  Who is looking over your shoulder?  What person has hitched a pedometer to your pack belt?  This trip is for enjoyment and personal growth.  “Hike your hike” cannot be repeated enough.

Remember, during despondent moments, that you can do this.  A setback does not have to become something which derails your hike.  I once heard “if you’re sick and tired of hiking, go into town and get a motel room for a few days.  Kick back, rest, decompress.  If you’re not missing the trail in two or three days maybe you need to set your sights on another goal.”  There is no shame in this.  Besides, the Appalachian Trail is not going anywhere.  Never abandon your desire to hike it while the fire still burns inside you.

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