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  1. #1
    Registered User Mimic's Avatar
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    Question A. T. SOBO: Home before Christmas?

    Hello hikers! First post, glad to be a part of the community.

    I have scouted through many threads on this topic, and created a topic on /r/AppalachianTrail, but I would like to establish certainty in this, rather than set myself an unrealistic goal.
    I am from Denmark, and I have been in love with the idea of thru-hiking the A.T. for six months or so. I am done with school this summer, and after reading AWOL's 2003 novel,
    I have to agree with him that no time is going to be perfect to pause your career for 4-6 months. However, given that this is a transition, I figure that now is the best time - And I am
    excited.

    I initially planned to be part of class 2016, starting in February. A very traditional approach. However, due to certain coming events in my life, I would rather do it now. Now, as in, RIGHT now -
    2015. So I have been looking into SOBOing, which brings us to this single obstacle that is yet still preventing me from dedicating 100% of my time to preparing for the hike:

    Will I be home in time for Christmas?

    I can start no sooner than August 9. I am not an experienced hiker, but I have outdoorsman experience (pitching tents, starting campfires, going no. 2 in the woods), and I am good shape.
    I am 25 years old, and if life has helped me learn one thing about myself, it is this: I finish what I start. The only reason I have to be through by Christmas is that my family
    plans a Christmas/skiing/New Year’s Eve vacation, of which I simply cannot miss. We will be hosted by my sister, in New York City, so the date at which I must be in New York City is, at latest, December 25.

    I have gotten a few positive replies on my reddit post, telling me I am good, as long as I put in the miles, but from reading 2k miler listings, and from general forum posts from other late-SOBO
    hikers, I might not be through before February.

  2. #2
    Registered User Mimic's Avatar
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    I just realized that there is a thru-hiking specific Q&A subforum that is more appropriate for this question.

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    Welcome Mimic! You can definitely be home before Christmas, but there are so many variables to a long-distance hike. One can only point to what others have done in similar situations and maybe compare your starting point to theirs. I started a sobo hike August 19th, and finished December 19th. Like you I considered myself in very good shape, with outdoors experience, but not an experienced hiker. It was a challenging hike, but it was enjoyable and I didn't have to push myself to the ends of the earth to make it to Georgia. You can do it. Go for it!

  4. #4
    Registered User Mimic's Avatar
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    I have been looking for a hiker to do this before me, but without any luck. Most who start in August seem to tend to finish in January/February! Would you mind if I relied on you for other inquiries, regarding such things as temperatures and itineraries?

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    ME => GA 19AT3 rickb's Avatar
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    By way of background, I sobo'd at your age between 13 July and 1 December -- just a bit slower than the pace you would be needing to maintain. Many folks have gone quicker and some significantly so.

    Some things to consider are:

    Days get shorter towards the end.

    Hiking relatively quick is not the challenge -- having to hike relatively quick is. To my way of thinking a person who hiked the trail in 120 days without a set deadline beforehand is much less "impressive" than the person who hiked the trail in 135 days with a non-negotiable schedule.

    My personal deadline was a soft one, and it still impacted my trip in profound ways. A hard deadline would have impacted it even more-- and not in a good way. The pressure to make miles can take a toll.
    Last edited by rickb; 05-15-2015 at 06:23.

  6. #6
    Registered User Mimic's Avatar
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    Sage advice rickb. Optimally, I wish I didn't have a strict schedule, as I am all for letting oneself get sidewinded by whims, but I find myself invited to NYC this summer. Thus, it is financially beneficial to do it now, instead of having to procure another ticket. That aside, I plan to apply for police academy sooner rather than later, and not only would waiting for a NOBO in Feburary delay this, I estimate that the AT will have a serious impact on my upper-body strength. I have weighed my options, and I feel like the SOBO route is the way I must go

  7. #7
    Peakbagger Extraordinaire The Solemates's Avatar
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    If I were you I was start NOBO on labor day (first weekend in Sept in the US). That puts you at about NYC by christmas on a more leisurely pace. continue on to ME if you have time...if not, come back later.
    The only thing better than mountains, is mountains where you haven't been.

    amongnature.blogspot.com

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    ME => GA 19AT3 rickb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mimic View Post
    Optimally, I wish I didn't have a strict schedule, as I am all for letting oneself get sidewinded by whims....
    Not so much by whims, but by things that you can't control or perhaps have not considered.

    Like a stomach bug or strained knee. Or perhaps you come upon a fellow SOBO you have been following for weeks in the registers and really want a bit of SOBO company, but he is about to take a zero. Do you burn a day or two in your schedule or plug on?

    If you are not on a tight deadline you just roll with the flow. Or, perhaps you are a naturally fast hike and you will have days in the bank, so not an issue.

    There is a solution to all this, of course. Give it you best shot, but with understanding going in that if you don't make it all the way it will still have been a great adventure. Not a failure at all. Besides, at age 25, it is what you do after your hike that matters most.

    Out of curiosity are you and ex pat, or are you from Denmark? If the latter, how did you learn about the AT?

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    Sure Mimic - you can send me questions via the private messages (PM) function. I can talk about that hike 'til I'm blue in the face. If stats will help you prepare then I kept track of my progress (miles/day, number of rest days, etc.) on Trailjournals. Just google "trailjournals reese".

    rickb is right on all counts. I started with the desire to end before Christmas, knowing full well that bad things happen. In the end I made good time in the south to make up for a rough start.

  10. #10
    Registered User Mimic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rickb View Post
    Not so much by whims, but by things that you can't control or perhaps have not considered.

    Like a stomach bug or strained knee. Or perhaps you come upon a fellow SOBO you have been following for weeks in the registers and really want a bit of SOBO company, but he is about to take a zero. Do you burn a day or two in your schedule or plug on?

    If you are not on a tight deadline you just roll with the flow. Or, perhaps you are a naturally fast hike and you will have days in the bank, so not an issue.

    There is a solution to all this, of course. Give it you best shot, but with understanding going in that if you don't make it all the way it will still have been a great adventure. Not a failure at all. Besides, at age 25, it is what you do after your hike that matters most.

    Out of curiosity are you and ex pat, or are you from Denmark? If the latter, how did you learn about the AT?
    You are right, of course. I think the plan will be "as far as I get", even though wrapping up at the 1900-mile mark, for instance, might be bitter.
    I am Danish, born and bred, through and through. I learned about the A. T. from a very ordinary "GUIDE TO THE U.S.A.", under the hiking session. I was browsing aimlessly, and had no prior interest in hiking at all. I was reading the guide because I was visiting my sister, who is greencarded, in NYC.
    On the spot, I decided to hike it two weeks out. A few days later, I came to realize the scope of the journey, both time investment-wise and from a financial point of view. But a seed was planted that day. And the damage was done.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Solemates View Post
    If I were you I was start NOBO on labor day (first weekend in Sept in the US). That puts you at about NYC by christmas on a more leisurely pace. continue on to ME if you have time...if not, come back later.
    NYC and NOBO through VT, NH, ME after Christmas??? OP has some experience, but not THAT kind from what he said, nor would I imagine Arctic conditions are what he's looking for. SOBO to wherever he gets is the best plan.
    I was self employed once, but it proved too stressful. My boss was a jerk and my employee was a slacker - I didn't know whether to quit or fire myself.

  12. #12

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    If you start the trail in good shape, you should be able to complete the trail in 4 1/2 months. The hardest miles are in New England. You'll do those while you are still fresh but after you have your trail legs. You'll need warmer gear than a typical NOBO hiker, but if you can keep your pack light by buying quality gear, that will help. Spend as little time in town as possible. Try to do some miles every day. (I.e. walk 5-10 into town, do your errands, spend the night, then do at least 10 out of town. You can have 24 hours in town, but not lose any hiking days. Plan on camping more than using shelters. If you plan to stay at the shelters, you'll find yourself sometimes stopping early rather than hiking until dusk. Camping out keeps you more flexible. You can hike from dawn to dusk.

  13. #13
    Registered User Mimic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spirit Walker View Post
    If you start the trail in good shape, you should be able to complete the trail in 4 1/2 months. The hardest miles are in New England. You'll do those while you are still fresh but after you have your trail legs. You'll need warmer gear than a typical NOBO hiker, but if you can keep your pack light by buying quality gear, that will help. Spend as little time in town as possible. Try to do some miles every day. (I.e. walk 5-10 into town, do your errands, spend the night, then do at least 10 out of town. You can have 24 hours in town, but not lose any hiking days. Plan on camping more than using shelters. If you plan to stay at the shelters, you'll find yourself sometimes stopping early rather than hiking until dusk. Camping out keeps you more flexible. You can hike from dawn to dusk.
    As far as I have read, I need to be careful going down Katahdin, when reaching the White Mountains, and Mt. Washington. The former two are pretty early on, and thus, my daily average will be off to a slow start.
    Glad for your advice- I was thinking about favoring stealth camping when no shelter is within good distance as dusk settles. Once I get into late fall, I imagine that most day-hikers will stay home, and most NOBOs have
    long since passed me, and I will have the shelters much to myself.

    Can you guesstimate the general climates? Can I expect near-freezing from the get-go, at night?

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mimic View Post
    As far as I have read, I need to be careful going down Katahdin, when reaching the White Mountains, and Mt. Washington. The former two are pretty early on, and thus, my daily average will be off to a slow start.
    Glad for your advice- I was thinking about favoring stealth camping when no shelter is within good distance as dusk settles. Once I get into late fall, I imagine that most day-hikers will stay home, and most NOBOs have
    long since passed me, and I will have the shelters much to myself.

    Can you guesstimate the general climates? Can I expect near-freezing from the get-go, at night?
    With a mid August start you won't see any freezing temps in ME, but you will likely see 40's at night at higher elevations at least a few nights. Typically August is still warm days, cool but not cold nights. In September the weather starts to change and fall sets in. By late September, you will likely, especially in the White Mountains in NH, see some mornings with frost/freezing temps. Even so, you should be through VT in anywhere from 40 to 60 days (<600 miles or so) by early to mid October, depending on your pace, before any really cold weather sets in. But don't underestimate the Whites, I wouldn't venture there in September with only 40°F summer gear except for a weekend hike with known good weather. You will be hiking above treeline during a lot of the 100 mile section from Gorham to Glencliff, NH. As fall to winter sets in, even once you are further south, I think a 20°F sleeping bag is the absolute minimum, a 0°F would be safer/better in case of any record low temps, but you can always bail out to a town if needed. You're hiking through 3 different seasons, and late Nov/early December will be when winter starts to really set in and the cold may become an issue, again particularly at higher elevations in southern VA and the Smoky Mountains. Some years it's warm in late fall, some years it's not. No one can predict. Going with a good 20°F bag (good as in high quality, conservatively rated) right from the start would probably be a good plan, but you may get cold by late Nov/early Dec, especially if some unusually cold weather rolls in.

    Try the temperature chart link here http://web.archive.org/web/200504091...plan/temp.html to get an idea of temps by month and location along the AT. Note that they are AVERAGE temps at listed locations/elevations. It's from 1993, but I don't think AGW has had that much of an impact yet The actual daily highs and lows will typically be warmer or colder, usually by +/- 10°F or so. But extremes in the +/- 20°F range or more are possible as are the even worse record lows and highs. I've hiked in the Whites in late October when it's been 70°, and on the same day in a different year when it's been 0°. To all this factor in things like that your bag will likely get a bit damp, that a good tent will be a little warmer than an unenclosed shelter, that your base layer, dry socks, and hat can help on the coldest nights, etc. Being cold sucks. Cold and wet is even worse - it's downright dangerous. It's better to have a bag that's rated 20°F warmer than one that's rated 20°F colder. It's best to error on the side of caution.

    EDIT: Overall, regarding your plan and pace, I honestly think you need a backup plan. Actually hiking Aug 9 to Dec 23 gives you 136 days, averaging 16+ mpd. But that doesn't account for "zero" or "nero" days, nor for the fact that the daylight available for hiking gets significantly shorter as fall progresses, cutting into hiking time. Because of less daylight, for example, it would be much more "doable" April 21 through Sept 4 - centered more around the summer solstice. Your plan could be as simple as just stop hiking when you need to, but you could also bail at various points and flip. For example, if you get to Hanover, NH or North Adams, MA (both with bus service) and it is apparent that you won't make Springer by your cut-off date, flip/travel to Harper's Ferry or Front Royal, VA or even Pearisburg, VA and continue SOBO, or even flip to Springer and go NOBO which would get you through the Smoky's earlier in the fall season before any early winter weather sets in. Hiking the northern AT in early fall and southern AT in late fall are pretty desirable times from most hiker's viewpoints. Not dismissing the mid-Atlantic states (sorry to all who live there and love them), but IMO the best parts of the AT are the 600 mile sections at both ends.
    Last edited by 4eyedbuzzard; 05-17-2015 at 20:36.
    I was self employed once, but it proved too stressful. My boss was a jerk and my employee was a slacker - I didn't know whether to quit or fire myself.

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    Registered User Mimic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 4eyedbuzzard View Post
    EDIT: Overall, regarding your plan and pace, I honestly think you need a backup plan. Actually hiking Aug 9 to Dec 23 gives you 136 days, averaging 16+ mpd. But that doesn't account for "zero" or "nero" days, nor for the fact that the daylight available for hiking gets significantly shorter as fall progresses, cutting into hiking time. Because of less daylight, for example, it would be much more "doable" April 21 through Sept 4 - centered more around the summer solstice. Your plan could be as simple as just stop hiking when you need to, but you could also bail at various points and flip. For example, if you get to Hanover, NH or North Adams, MA (both with bus service) and it is apparent that you won't make Springer by your cut-off date, flip/travel to Harper's Ferry or Front Royal, VA or even Pearisburg, VA and continue SOBO, or even flip to Springer and go NOBO which would get you through the Smoky's earlier in the fall season before any early winter weather sets in. Hiking the northern AT in early fall and southern AT in late fall are pretty desirable times from most hiker's viewpoints. Not dismissing the mid-Atlantic states (sorry to all who live there and love them), but IMO the best parts of the AT are the 600 mile sections at both ends.
    I am not a fan of the idea of flip-flopping any part of the trail, to be honest.
    I am still considering waiting, and doing a traditional march-start NOBO. The only reason why I am trying to make my current SOBO plan work, is that I would have something to do immidiately, and not just get temporary work while waiting, effectively "wasting time" before I can make my next career move.

    The prime pulls of doing a traditional NOBO in 2016 is that it would be less rushed and more social.

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    4eyedbuzzard's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mimic View Post
    I am not a fan of the idea of flip-flopping any part of the trail, to be honest.
    I am still considering waiting, and doing a traditional march-start NOBO. The only reason why I am trying to make my current SOBO plan work, is that I would have something to do immidiately, and not just get temporary work while waiting, effectively "wasting time" before I can make my next career move.

    The prime pulls of doing a traditional NOBO in 2016 is that it would be less rushed and more social.
    The following post from map man in another thread is kind of related to your situation. Not trying to dissuade you, just presenting the reality.

    Quote Originally Posted by map man View Post
    Since Odd Man Out has already linked to the article I wrote about typical hiking speeds for various AT sections I'll give you some numbers I compiled when doing that study. Of the 240 hikers in the study only 14 NOBO hikers finished the trail in less than 120 days -- around 6% of hikers. So if you assume that the hikers in the study were fairly representative of NOBO thru-hike completers, and if you assume that only one out of every four or five thru-hikers starting at Springer actually makes it to Katahdin, then somewhere between 1% and 2% of hikers who start at Springer with the intention of thru-hiking actually do so in four months or less.

    The odds don't look too good!

    Here are some things you can do to improve your chances:

    Show up in shape.
    Have your gear dialed in (emphasis on traveling light).
    Keep zero days to a minimum.
    I was self employed once, but it proved too stressful. My boss was a jerk and my employee was a slacker - I didn't know whether to quit or fire myself.

  17. #17
    Registered User Mimic's Avatar
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    You are the man, 4eyedbuzzard. I was looking for statistics like that. I am going to make another plan, and likely be part of 2016's NOBO class starting in Feburary on March.

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    ME => GA 19AT3 rickb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mimic View Post
    You are the man, 4eyedbuzzard. I was looking for statistics like that. I am going to make another plan, and likely be part of 2016's NOBO class starting in Feburary on March.
    The under 120 day completion rate for a Nobo is irrelevant.

    People fear cold-- at the start it is far more likely you will be hot and thank your lucky stars you have a tent with mosquito netting so you can sleep on top of your bag.

    The statistic you should pay most attention to is how many people don't hike at all because they miss their window of opportunity, or decide not to hike for all the "right" reasons. X

    A tradional Nobo hike might be best for you, but you really need to ignore a whole lot of advise-- including mine!

  19. #19
    4eyedbuzzard's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mimic View Post
    You are the man, 4eyedbuzzard. I was looking for statistics like that. I am going to make another plan, and likely be part of 2016's NOBO class starting in Feburary on March.
    No. I'm not the man. Just one of a lot of others with opinions and advice. Stats on hiking are informative, but certainly a minor point in the bigger scheme of things, and definitely not the end all. If everyone looked at the thru-hike completion stats and took them to heart, a lot of people who ultimately succeed would never hike, and even more just wouldn't hike period. What stats can do is give an idea of the realistic timeframes and to some degree, the difficulty. The reality is that very few succeed in hiking the entire trail in 4 months. But almost all thru-hikers get in 1600 - 1800 miles during that time. The biggest limiting factor is simply the human body's capability. Most just can't hike fast enough on average to do a 4 month thru.
    Quote Originally Posted by rickb View Post
    The under 120 day completion rate for a Nobo is irrelevant.

    People fear cold-- at the start it is far more likely you will be hot and thank your lucky stars you have a tent with mosquito netting so you can sleep on top of your bag.

    The statistic you should pay most attention to is how many people don't hike at all because they miss their window of opportunity, or decide not to hike for all the "right" reasons. X

    A tradional Nobo hike might be best for you, but you really need to ignore a whole lot of advise-- including mine!
    To Mimic: You have an opportunity to do a really nice 4 month long hike on the AT. Don't waste it. Get past the thru-hike or nothing mindset. Why? Most do not complete their hike, regardless of timeframe or conditions. But all who start still actually hike and have that experience. If you put it off, you don't know what life will throw at you, and risk losing a rare opportunity. Embrace the opportunity which is concrete, not the result which is unpredictable. Springer and Katahdin are but two arbitrary points on a map. The trail and the hike itself is the journey.

    The opportunity to hike 4+ months on the AT in fall weather/conditions? Ask yourself, how many ever get that opportunity?
    Last edited by 4eyedbuzzard; 05-18-2015 at 20:05.
    I was self employed once, but it proved too stressful. My boss was a jerk and my employee was a slacker - I didn't know whether to quit or fire myself.

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    Registered User Mimic's Avatar
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    Beautiful. And I am inclined to maybe do that, but I have a completionist within me that would be screaming if I had to be forced off of the trail right before it was through. It is a very hard decision for me to make.

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