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  1. #1
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    Default Is this a feasible thru-hike?

    Hello all!
    I am currently a freshman in college and I am very interested in thru-hiking the appalachian trail the summer after my sophomore year. Between the end of the term and the start of the new academic year I would have 119 days to hike the trail, around 18 miles a day. I am a former cross country runner and I am in pretty good shape. I could also start training before the hike if necessary. I have never attempted any sort of long distance hike before, but I have a positive attitude and really believe I could make it. Is averaging 18 miles a day a feasible goal for a first time hiker?

    Thanks,
    Noah

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    Yes.

    I believe experience counts for more than fitness level. That experience teaches you how to manage your time on the trail, carry less weight so it's easier to go faster and further, and to spend little time resupplying.

    You could start training now. Throw 25 pounds on your pack and go for a walk. Keep your pace up. Walk hills and mountains if you can, but you can do very well without them. Training will be more about getting some of your soft tissue ready for the weight, and teaching your body the dynamics of walking quickly.

    Again, fitness level is a small part. 18 miles a day isn't all that hard if you have great time management on and off the trail.

  3. #3
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    If you're an athlete that should be between doable and very easy.

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    Hiking that pace is diffent than HAVING to hike that fast.

    If one HAS TO hike that pace, it is unlikley they will enjoy the compnay of familiar faces for much of thier journey. That could be a good thing or bad, but is something worth thinking about as you make your plans.

    An unspoken reality of the Trail (I think) is the day-to- day pressure of the callendar. All feel it to some extent and it can take a psychic toll. Your plan has the potential of magnifying that toll from day one if your HAVE TO hike that pace. Might not be a big deal, but is something to consider, I think.

    If you have a chance, check out this classic (its short but could be invaluable). I ttink the part about establishing a contract withyourself might apply-- at least as I remember it.

    http://www.spiriteaglehome.com/THP_top.html

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    The 18 a day may be very doable, but that ;leaves no time for zeros and little time for laundry runs and resupplys. You would probably have to average more like 25 to fit that other stuff in.

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    Young, fit, determined = very doable.

    Is it the hike I would choose? No, I like relaxed, smell the flowers, enjoy occasional zeros or neros, no pressure.

    If you are like me though, I find I hike much longer days more consistently when I hike alone. I take much shorter and more infrequent breaks. As Mags (a VERY knowledgeable and reasonable contributor here) often espouses, reasonable pace and smelling the flowers does not mean low mileage. Total daily mileage is mostly dependent on early morning starts and evening ends to days as opposed to sleeping in until 9 and quitting at 5. You can smell the flowers AND hike high mileage days.

    You will have to guard against becoming embedded in a party group with a less demanding schedule. Anyway, if you don't make it all the way, what's the harm? You get to come back for a few more weeks next year or for winter break or spring break to finish up. How terrible would that be? :-)

  7. #7
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    It would help immensely if you could get out this summer for a couple of weeks on the trail. Getting your gear and habits dialed in now means less time figuring it all out when you have to meet that sort of schedule.
    Ken B
    'Big Cranky'

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    If I could do it, you can do it. I hiked the AT in 106 days when I was 51, and my partner was 63. Along with everyone above, I will stress again that time management and experience were more important than physical fitness. And consistency--we averaged 20 miles per day, yet our longest day was 29 and we seldom hiked more than 25. Average hiking speed nearly every day was less than 2 mph, but we hiked 12 to 13 hours per day (plenty of flowers to smell at that pace, as Lyle notes). We only took three days off. That meant our gear was tried and true and nothing broke down, we knew what shoes and socks worked, we knew how to avoid common pitfalls like blisters, rashes and sunburn, we never had to wait for a post office to open or a box to arrive, we kept our body weight and strength up with a decent diet, we kept going safely through some nasty storms when most others bailed to town, etc.

    It was a very fun hike. One side benefit of a fast hike is cost. Fewer days means a less expensive hike.

    Near the end of our AT hike, we met a few younger, first-time long distance hikers who had found a good pace and were going to be finishing the AT in 4 months or so, when they'd planned on 5 or 6 months. You may find a similar group. Good luck.
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

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    if the kid's a XC runner. He's going to want to do big miles.


    He's not some fat out of shape old man who will suffer doing 18 mile days.

    My 'just for fun' average on the PCT was about 25 before KM, and about 30 after (including zeroes).

    My 'just for fun' average on my last' years AT section hike (I started about 6 weeks after I was allowed out of bed after a major surgery) was around 18, including my zero.


    I listened to people like the above from whiteblaze and on the trail for my AT thru. Lots of people saying you can't/won't enjoy going fast. Ignore them and hike your own hike.

    You'll find people to hike with as long as your average doesn't get into the high 20s, and if it gets that high you'll be so zenned out that you will be having a blast no matter what.

  10. #10

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    As others have said, this works out to 18.3 miles per day (or thereabouts).

    Hiking 18.3 miles is no big deal, really it's not. But averaging this distance is another story. Very few people hike 7 days per week, most long-distance hikers would hike about 6-6.5 days per week on average. Also, you will be limited by things like camping restrictions, shelter and town locations, plus the weather and your overall mood. It's easy to say all your have to do is average 18 miles per day, and this is easy on a 5 day hike, but as time goes on it will be more difficult.

    Another way to look at it...119 days is 17 weeks, figure you will hike 6 days per week on average (conservative approach). This means you would need to average around 22 miles per day, on 6 days of the week. This does change things, but in my experience, even 22 miles is not that tough in nearly every area along the AT outside of NH and Maine.

    Hiking is completely different to other forms of exercise, so while running and the gym will help you get in shape overall, and build cardio, it won't do anything to build your trail legs. I'm in very good shape at the moment from running and walking on a treadmill, but took the pack out this past weekend for a short, but rough hike, about 3 miles, straight down 1400 feet, stop and turn around....1400 feet back up to the car with about 18lbs on my back. My legs and ass were sore for 3 days! Training by hiking is very important, if nothing else...doing stairs with a pack on can build tremendous strength.

    I think it's quite feasible, no worries. You will have to train, attempt to get some experience beforehand, and remain disciplined. Experience is the key factor here, not fitness. Hiking is mostly a mental thing, and while things like fitness, money and good gear certainly helps.....nothing knocks more hikers off the trail than what goes on between the ears.

    Go for it, get out there and hike a few 15 mile days with a pack on, things will get real clear, real quick!

  11. #11

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    Hi Noah,
    There is no doubt that it is doable but it would be tough. Others have done it faster. I would suggest that you wait until you have the time to can "enjoy" your hike; 5 months or more is ideal. The greatest parts of a thru hike are the people you meet, experiences you have and places you visit. If your goal is to just "do" the trail, then I say go for it. Everyone has to "hike their own hike". You may want to do 1/2 the trail this year and finish it another time. This way, you will be able to really enjoy the time you have on the AT and you will have had 2 great adventures in life rather than 1 adventure that may or may not work. Best of Luck and Godspeed, Stray Cat

  12. #12

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    There is no such thing as "very easy" on the AT. Anywhere, anytime!

  13. #13

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    Definately get some experiance first. Lots of collages have outdoor clubs and you can either go on one of thier outings or borrow some gear. hiking and camping isn't rocket science and doesn't take much to learn, but there is a learning curve. Best to do that now so your ready to rock and roll when the time comes and not wasting time figuring out a system when you start. You'll also find out if this is really something you enjoy or not before commiting a lot of time and money into the venture.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  14. #14

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    Yep - it is totally doable - remember that most folks that are posting are naysayers by nature - - most folks couldn't possibly do this but from what you have stated, you probably can. It will help you a LOT to go to an independent outfitter store - NOT REI or one of the big box sporting places to help you get properly outfitted - try to identify the person in that store that really has the most backpacking experience (where do you live b.t.w.?) and then you need to practice your camping skills a bit. My suggestion (assuming the end of your sophomore year would be around May?) would be to southbound - the start is harder (for most) but all the speed records on the trail have been done SOBO - I think that the elevation gains / losses are a tiny bit easier overall this way (someone is going to disagree about this though). Probably the biggest thing that would mess you up would be some sort of injury - you should probably plan on doing a week of so of just 10-11 mile days - this might seem very slow to you being that you are going to be doing a lot of 25 mile days but easing into the thing is best - you'll need to average 20 miles or so per day. To do this, your "average day" should probably be about 24 miles - - this will give you some breathing room for re-supplies and maybe one or two "nero / zero days" Enjoy!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noah Danielson View Post
    Hello all!
    I am currently a freshman in college and I am very interested in thru-hiking the appalachian trail the summer after my sophomore year. Between the end of the term and the start of the new academic year I would have 119 days to hike the trail, around 18 miles a day. I am a former cross country runner and I am in pretty good shape. I could also start training before the hike if necessary. I have never attempted any sort of long distance hike before, but I have a positive attitude and really believe I could make it. Is averaging 18 miles a day a feasible goal for a first time hiker?

    Thanks,
    Noah
    If your in that kinda shape,you'll likely have no trouble with the miles.Ya know how you get that floaty feeling after a certain amount of time when running?same thing with hiking.Now I don't hike big miles,but still get that floaty feeling,the threshold or (second wind,floaty feeling)it's different for each of us.Personally I like sail boats,not speed boats,and acoustic guitars not electric,walking vs running and backpacking vs.car camping.But you have over looked one thing....Dec 21st 2012 have a great hike!and hike your own hike
    I hike for hikin'

  16. #16
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    Thanks to everyone for the advice, it is greatly appreciated! I spend my summers in Iowa City, IA so if anyone knows of any good backpacking/outdoor stores or people to talk to, their contact info would be nice to have. I want to have as light a pack weight as possible as well, maybe around 20 lbs? Any suggestions on reliable lightweight gear would be great. Also as a college student I am looking to spend $2000 dollars or under on the hike so I am definitely interested in any tips on saving money. I think I will definitely get out and start training soon as some of you have suggested. Thanks again for all of the wonderful tips, it's nice to know all of you experienced hikers are willing to help out a newcomer like myself!
    Noah

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    $2,000 is too tight to be doable, but you probably have time to pick up some extra work and save up some cash

  18. #18
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    My personal experience is from the White Mtns northbound a 15 miles day is tougher than a 20 mile day anywhere else. If you're hiking northbound you need to be way ahead of pace before you hit the Whites.
    Pain is a by-product of a good time.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by fredmugs View Post
    My personal experience is from the White Mtns northbound a 15 miles day is tougher than a 20 mile day anywhere else. If you're hiking northbound you need to be way ahead of pace before you hit the Whites.
    Very good point. I haven't hiked New England yet, but this advice seems very consistent with what I'm expecting.

  20. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lyle View Post
    .... often espouses, reasonable pace and smelling the flowers does not mean low mileage. Total daily mileage is mostly dependent on early morning starts and evening ends to days as opposed to sleeping in until 9 and quitting at 5. You can smell the flowers AND hike high mileage days.
    Exactly. Get on the trail by 7 or so and end at around 7pm. Do a casual 2 to 2.5 MPH pace, take breaks when the views are nice or you just want to sit down, and it is no big thing to get in ~20 MPD.

    Don't spend a lot of time in towns, enjoy the hiking part and camp away from the shelters. Pick spots that work for you and not what is chosen to be a camping spot. (A little more difficult in NH but still doable)

    The other advantage to hiking all day? I honestly believe that the best times to be hiking are in the early and later hours of the day. The world is quiet, the lighting is the best, and everything seems peaceful. Many times wildlife is spotted at this time, too.

    Don't hike hard and fast. Hike long and casual. I am not an athlete, not particularly fast, on the short side and nothing special in terms of abilitiy. Yet, by hiking all day, I've manged roughly 25 MPD on the long trails and even on my weekend solo backpacks.

    Enjoy!
    Last edited by Mags; 04-16-2012 at 15:07.
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