I’ve always been drawn to long trails you could say. Yearly trips to North Carolina with my family to visit my grandparents when I was young had me facing trails that I couldn’t see the end of. To small to follow them far, left wondering where in the world their finish line was. I remember going up Albert Mountain with my father to see a fire tower, and him telling me that if I continued north on this trail it would take me all the way to Maine. I didn’t know what trail I was on, and I sure didn’t know where Maine was, but I did know it was very far away!
That was the Appalachian Trail, and I was just a child, unaware of the true distance being spoken to me. I was told brief stories about people who would follow these trails all the way through. I couldn’t yet fathom a trail going on for thousands upon thousands of miles, let alone that people would walk from one side of the United States to the other. Now here I am in my 20s, one of those fools. Placing one step in front of the other, looking for that trails end.
When I was a kid hiking in the mountains were the best parts of my year. I would always look forward to the time when I could return. It seems as though nothing has changed. From those first experiences on the Appalachian Trail in NC maybe something inside of me was born. A dormant memory. Something that overtime developed into what would now be an obsession. An obsession with pursuing, and learning everything imaginable about this lifestyle less followed.
I’m 23 now and I’ve been thinking…
The Eastern Continental Trail
The ECT is a 6,000 mile route starting at the southern most tip of Key West, Florida. Ending at the northern most tip of Newfoundland. It traverses 16 states, 3 Canadian Provinces, and they seem to be constantly adding more to it(now to Europe and Africa!) Every year a few hikers attempt the entire thing. Maybe one or two actually finish. This is very different from the thousands of people who attempt the AT each year.
I’m starting in the north and going south, already not the typical way of travel. Most go north from Key West who do this, and for the Appalachian Trail alone only 10% of all thru hikers are SOBO. Mostly because the north is extremely technical, involving trail which borderlines rock climbing. I’ve heard Maine and the White Mountains described as “3rd class unmaintained trail.” This is comparative to having food, help, and humans available 30 miles into the opposite northbound hike. I may be over stating the start of a southbound hike, when in reality there are trails a hundred times as difficult.
One of the upsides of going south is starting in the summer, thus needing less cold weather clothing than those starting around March in Georgia, or January in south Florida. Which are the most popular times to begin heading north from those respective locations. So at least I have one thing going for me! Right off the bat I’m carrying less gear. Carrying less, for those that know me, is something I very much enjoy. It will be somewhat chilly, especially for a Floridian such as myself, but nothing as bad as the northbounders face at the beginning of their hike.
The biggest difference in a southbound hike versus a northbound hike is the people. There’s a lot less of them who choose to travel north to south. And I mean, A LOT less of them. As one who has spent the majority of his time hiking alone, the extra solitude is very appealing. With a trail that is overcrowded like the AT It’s nice not having to see, hear, or deal with the tom foolery that goes on in the large crowds of people “thru hiking.” Always remember, LEAVE NO TRACE. To put this in perspective, imagine you have 2,500 people(NOBO) all attempting this same goal, on this same trail, and all starting within 3 months of each other. That’s not a pack I want to be a part of. I want to go out there for a bit more solitude. By the time this pack gets to me in the north about 70% of them have quit. At that point I am seeing those that are truly about it, this is what they want to do, this is what they must do. For a comparison if about 3k start in the south, only about 300 people will be starting with me in the north. There’s something interesting about that and other statistics involving this trail.
Starting in July vs January also happens to give me the opportunity to save a lot more money 🙂
When will I be starting?
The beginning has been something of much research. Starting at the most demanding half of the trail. It’s something I don’t want to go blindly into. One of the biggest questions I began with was, when exactly to start? Most start going south in either June, or July. This is the best time because in the north, winter is ending, and summer is beginning. I’ve decided on an early July start. I’ve done my required reading, and this is when I feel is most beneficial to me. Starting in Canada when it’s not snowing, finishing in Florida during regular hiking season. It’s actually amazing how well this time frame works for a south bound hike of the ECT. Regardless, the conditions of a 6-7 month hike are going to vary widely, so in reality it doesn’t matter all that much. Regardless I’m aiming to over-plan. Even if it doesn’t do anything for me. It’s not like I don’t enjoy thinking about this! By starting in July I hope to be finishing in Key West around January of 2017 after 6 months and 4,800 miles.
Things I’m looking forward to
Spending 6 months backpacking! Under my own power, with my life on my back, walking, and experiencing the entirety of the east coast. Feeling the mountains, tasting the different minerals from the streams, and springs. Being one with the trail, the rain, my cadence, my gear, and the overall experience. Seeing all of the different shelters, and towns the AT is known for. Camping under my tarp with the stars above. Hearing the rain pitter-patter on my poncho while hiking or sleeping. Seeing the sunrises, and sunsets on a daily basis. To rise and fall with them for months on end. To meet people who have similar goals as me, who are on a similar path as me. To live by the code of eat, hike, and sleep.
I have day dreams of coming back to sections of trail I’ve hiked before. To once again walk through Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Gerogia. See the same sights I saw many years prior, and experience the same towns. I believe that will be a very big pull for me to make it to the southern Appalachians. My section hikes have been amazing and wonderful, and to experience those areas again will be a real treat. Similarly to reach Florida, my home state. To walk the areas I’ve seen driving. To be making my way not just back home, but further, to the ever so beautiful Keys. Florida will be one of the greatest parts of all. Knowing what it’s like here, holding the nature, and this state very dearly.
To finally be doing what I’ve been thinking about for so long. Whether I’m having a good time or a bad time I feel ready. Mentally I’m there. It’s a very happy feeling to be approaching that start date. The research, the training, and my experiences all coming together at this point. I only have 7 months left until I leave.
Here I am…
Playing the waiting game. Working until my sanity is in question, taking mini vacations into the woods, and onto my favorite local trail to bring me back into reality. I’ve been watching trail documentary’s, one after another, after another. Then repeating that process, and those same movies monthly. Youtube videos about the trail, trail journals kept by thru hikers, and I’m about to dive into M.J. Eberharts book on this very adventure I myself am embarking on. Time seems to go much faster these days than when I first started planning this 2 years ago. I now have all of my gear, I have a lot more experience under my belt, and a hiking style unique to me.
One of my biggest tasks ahead of me now is planning food. I’ve decided on doing mostly mail drops to make being vegan on the trail easier on myself with questionable options in the local towns. It’s a lot of work but I think it to be fun, and useful information to know. I’m able to do research on eating healthy, and planning food that is truly nutritional for what I’m doing. This being good knowledge to have for future hikes where mail drops are more necessary.
I still need to buy maps and guidebooks. The 2016 SOBO guide for the AT hasn’t been released yet to my knowledge, so that is the first one I’ll need. I’ll be ordering the Florida Trail guidebook, but am seeking guidance on whether I should get maps for the trail or not. Maybe my friend Bush or Sandy could point me in the right direction. The Benton MacKaye, and the Pinhoti are somewhat a mystery, and again I’m not exactly sure what I require for those trails. For sure, I’ll be buying the maps. All part of the fun, all in due time. So now I sit here, and I wait. I plan. I continue to train. I continue to obsessively scan the internet for information potentially useful to me. My time approaches, and I am very excited to get going!
They say your first thru hike is the most difficult. Then again most don’t take on this for their first thru hike.