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Thread: Why SOBO?

  1. #1

    Default Why SOBO?

    I'm sure this has been discussed before but I thought I would ask anyway as my search didn't find a thread just for this.

    Whether you already did your hike or it will be in the future, whether you succeeded at your attempt or not, why did you or why will you go SOBO?
    And for those of you who did start out SOBO, would you do it again? Why or why not?

    I have plans to thru in 2022. Yes, I am a long term planner. LOL.
    For the last 25+ years I always imagined I would go NOBO. It would be kind of like "walking home" as I grew up in Maine. But now, Maine, and the northeast, has not been my home for a while. Although Autumn in New England is my favorite time of year, I have begun contemplating a SOBO partly due to the fact that I really do MCUH BETTER in the heat vs the cold. Almost anything under 70 is cold to me now unless I am moving. I used to like "sleeping cold" but now I find I need warmer temps to get good sleep.
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  2. #2

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    SOBO, much less crowds. The hardest terrain is first. You probably won't be in "shape" for it, but you also won't be hammered with 1800 miles "under your feet". A later start in the year (June). You will have some cold nights in the north and you will in the south again.

    Also consider the "Cool Breeze" flip-flop. Start in Harpers Ferry or perhaps within a few hundred miles of there around early May. Spring is in that area and you are hiking north. Once you hit Maine, around mid to late July, flip back to HF. Where it will be hot but starting to cool off. Hike to Springer arriving in October.

    Notice many FKT's are SOBO. But you also will be finishing perhaps on Springer and not Big-K.

    Many who have done both, say they would do SOBO if they ever did it again.
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  3. #3
    Registered User soilman's Avatar
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    My brother and I started a SOBO on June 16, 1976. We chose SOBO because he just graduated high school and I just graduated college. We made it 1300 miles before we got off the trail. I did a NOBO in 2010. If I ever did another AT thru it would be flip-flop. I contemplated one in 2010 because I wanted to avoid the crowds. A cool breeze sounds good to me.
    More walking, less talking.

  4. #4
    Registered User Christoph's Avatar
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    I only did a NOBO mainly because I took the traditional approach. If/when I get the chance to thru hike it again, I'll probably stick to NOBO. The Northernmost section was real hard for me and I can't see me starting out that way. I don't think I'd make it too far. Haha But, once I got that far North after all the time, work I put into this thing, I couldn't give up.
    - Trail name: Thumper

  5. #5

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    There is no big party like Trail Days in Maine or NH, therefore no reason to clump up for the party. There is also not a lot of activity in trail towns in Maine. Those two combined tends to weed out the party crowd. The indefinite park opening date and the need for reservations also probably makes a dent in the crowds. Unlike GA where there are "easy outs" to town every day until the Smokies, the options of leaving the trail and getting back to civilization is lot more difficult.

  6. #6
    wookinpanub
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    My thru-hike was almost 30 years ago, but I chose southbound because I was from Florida and would be walking toward home. The psychological motivation was huge. In the beginning, being so far from home made the logistics of quitting harder and every step was getting me closer to the people I loved. The Mahoosucs and the Whites kicked my rear end, no doubt, but get through them and southward will seem like a cakewalk in some regards. One mental hurdle for me, going southbound, is that I was used to checking states off at a pretty good clip and that gave me a real sense of accomplishment...........then I hit Virginia and I never thought I would get out. I started EXTREMELY early for a southbound (May 3rd)and had single digit nights in the beginning and triple digit days at the end. It made for a diversity of experiences. Start date, direction, and pace meant that I walked with no one the entire time, which took a little getting used to. I'm sure it wouldn't be the same now, due to more people being out there and Baxter not giving any wiggle room to start dates. (I was an idiot and entered the park illegally after being rebuffed by a ranger at the Togue Pond Gate).

  7. #7
    Registered User soilman's Avatar
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    I don't think starting in Maine is any more difficult than starting in Georgia as far as terrain. With the exception of Kathadin and White Cap the first 170 miles are relatively easy. For me the bugs were more of a problem than the mountains. The black flies and mosquitoes ate us alive until we got to the Whites. Had to bathe in DEET, wear long pants and shirts, and often a mosquito net.
    More walking, less talking.

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    I went NoBo, and think SoBo is harder. I didn't want to make it harder, wanted the option of flip flopping if I needed extra time, also I wanted to enjoy the social aspect of the trail. If I wanted the opposite of these things I would ahve chosen SoBo.

  9. #9

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    Less crowds and more quiet.... it helps distribute impact on the trail more evenly.... weather (I like heat more than cold)... you go slower at what are arguably the most beautiful parts of the trail and take the time to enjoy it... when you're less fresh and more tired the hostels become cheaper further south... less competition for shelters and hostels...... plane ticket home from ATL will most likely be cheaper than Portland or Bangor when your wallet is light after more discretionary spending than planned.... Another arguable point here, but if the journey doesn't suit you, chances are you'll wash out earlier and not slog on for longer than you need to (I saw some Nobos drop out at NH or ME border, whereas almost every SoBo I met that made it to the Kennebec, I heard about them making it to Springer later)... Trail Magic had weight to it, as it was few and far between.... There's cons too obviously, but my main motivation I think was to avoid the party crowd and reduce impact on the GA starting zones.
    MEGA '19

  10. #10

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    BTW, Most of the references to the AT are "Maine to Georgia" not "Georgia to Maine"

    On the other hand much as I enjoyed many parts of the Southern AT, the green tunnel mostly ridgeline aspect of it pales in comparison to Maine, the Whites and to a lesser extent the Long Trail in VT so it comes down to, does someone want to "slog" through the south with Maine hanging out as the carrot at the end of the trail or do they want to grab the carrot first and keep the motivation up some other way heading south? I expect most objective observers will admit that the Springer summit is a pretty big step down from the top of Katahdin.

    There is also the "walking with spring:" aspect of a nobo while a sobo has to be timed to avoid missing the snow, high water crossings, mud and black flies in Maine. The flip flop options where folks start at the middle atlantic for several weeks then flip up to BSP a bit later to miss the black flies and head south has a lot to be said for it. They will get in shape during the first stretch and decide if this long distance hiking is for them and get their gear and load lightened up before heading north to BSP. No doubt unless someone injures themselves up north once they hit Mass, they are going to be in shape to put on major daily miles.
    Last edited by peakbagger; 04-09-2020 at 08:54.

  11. #11
    Flip flop, flip flopping' LASHin' 2000 miler LDog's Avatar
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    I like to say that each leg of a NOBO hike prepares one for the next leg. A sobo hike starts by climbing a brute of a mountain, then heading out into the 100 Mile Wilderness where resupply is very limited.

    Then, after passing the last of the NOBOs, one is likely to find hostels, and other hiker services closing for the season.

    And the rest of the trail can feel a little anticlimactic, and ... lonely. A sobo hike ain't quite the social experience a nobo gets. Ones gonna be the only hiker in camp a lot. There are no hiker festivals or "trail Angels. Some of us think that's a good thing ...

    Being fit going in is important to avoid over-use injuries, stress fractures, etc. If you think yer going to do the 100 mile wilderness in less than 10 days, you better be ready to bang out miles, with significant elevation gains, and with with a pack on before showing up at Baxter State Park. Or know how to arraigne a food drop

    None of that is difficult to negotiate, and there are all kinds of reasons to take this hike. Just be mentally and physically prepared.
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  12. #12
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    I did a leapfrog flip-flop last year:

    Springer to Harpers Ferry -> Franconia Notch to Katahdin -> Franconia Notch to Harpers Ferry (the reasoning behind this is injuries, recovering from them, and timing of the seasons).

    Even with over 1,000 miles under my belt, I found the Whites to be incredibly hard (not only physically but mentally). I developed a newfound appreciation for SOBOs at this point. To have to climb up and back down Katahdin on your first day, then enter the 100 Mile Wilderness on (probably) day 3. But all of the SOBOs I passed where in good spirits, while most of the NOBOs I was around up north were just ready to finish, hiking with their heads down, and doing insane miles. Which is unfortunate, because as mentioned earlier, that is probably the most beautiful stretch of the trail.

  13. #13

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    I went SOBO in 1999 at age 55 and if I was going to do it again, which I have thought about, I would go south again. The very idea of arriving at a shelter and finding 25 or more hikers around gives me the willies. In my entire hike I didn't have a full shelter but 5 times. I much prefer a small pack to a herd. I saw my first thru-hiker on day 7 at Chairback Gap shelter. Although I hiked with and stayed at the same shelter with a few wannabe thru hikers early on most of them moved on. They were young and I was going along easy, taking my time, letting my body get in shape and enjoying the moments.

    If you enjoy heat and humidity go north, you will get plenty in VA.

    I have thought about a thru that started in Harpers Ferry going south to Springer and then going to Katahdin and going south. I sort of like the idea of a finish at the ATC.

    Whatever you do, I wish you the best.

  14. #14
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    I completed my SOBO thru-hike in 2017 and LOVED IT! I chose SOBO because I don't like big crowds, wanted time to myself, and, since I was a novice hiker, wasn't sure I wanted to hike at someone else's pace or make someone hike at my pace. I started in early June at Katahdin with about 15 other hikers on the "big day". To me, that was perfect. You got to know a small group of hikers which quickly got smaller as hikers quit and fell to the wayside. However, I always had a special bond with those that I started with and we would see each other in towns and at different shelters. There were no "packs" of 5-10 hikers hiking together like I would see with some hikers going NOBO.

    I loved my interactions with my SOBO hikers and also enjoyed talking with the NOBO's because they would always be full of stories of what was to come which, as is usual with stories, were always overblown.

    Start off in fairly decent to good shape, be ready for some mountain climbing in Maine, and you will be fine. However, be prepared. It's no joke and, pardon the pun, it's no walk in the woods. You need to make sure you enjoy solitude because once you get through Maine, you will be hiking by yourself (yes!!) almost every day and only seeing NOBO's and section hikers.

    Also, don't worry or apologize for being a long-term planner. You need to be prepared and the planning is so much fun. I am also a planner and an over-researcher and planning for the trail consumed me...in a good way. Learning about the AT and the equipment and gear that I'd be using was a new education for me. I am now using those research skills for my next thru-hike which is over a year away.

    It was great!! Enjoy!!

    PCT 2021.


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  15. #15
    Registered User Last Call's Avatar
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    A southbound hike has always been considered the "red headed stepchild", the traditional method of starting on the Approach tail and "Hiking North with Spring" will always be the Gold standard...another drawback to hiking South is that one will miss much "trail magic"....
    Let's head for the roundhouse; they can't corner us there!

  16. #16
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    Did y'all know, if you're NOBO and are continuous the whole time, once you touch the Katahdin sign, hummingbirds will encircle you with a celebratory banner? You can also hear a choir in the background, and there will be a double rainbow.

    But seriously, if I were to do the trail again, it would be SOBO.

  17. #17
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    Both directions had their advantages. NOBO, I met people years ago that are still my friends today. I enjoyed the towns, events, etc. SOBO was my favorite direction though. I enjoyed the solitude more, walking with FALL, and at times feeling as if I had the whole trail to myself with no reason to rush. SOBO was a harder direction to start for me, but ultimately I would choose SOBO again.

  18. #18

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    Here is your SOBO challenge:

    You start in a very remote area so make sure you have experience. Gear changes or shipping equipment home wonít happen in the first few days.

    Your first two days are in BSP. You will likely then camp at Abol Bridge before entering the 100 Mile Wilderness. You then have 8 to 10 days in the 100 Mile since you wonít be in trail shape yet. Yes, I know you think you are training hard. Just trust me on this one. Few of the SOBOs I met on my thru appreciated the difficulty of being on trail 10 to 12 days before the first shower and resupply. Most had a very expensive food drop left for them in the 100 Mile. Most had too much weight. Most failed before exiting the 100 Mile and had a very expensive shuttle out of there.

    NOBO and flip flop means you will be in trail shape and that area wont be nearly as hard. You will go thru in 5 days and no food drop will be required. You will be accustomed to the significant discomforts or wet feet, bugs, no shower, heat, cold, etc.

    I met several people on both the north half and south half of the 100 Mile Wilderness that were turning around. Both section hikers and SOBOs. Never saw such a thing on the other 2,000 miles of the AT!

    After you leave the Whites you will hike through a lot of overgrown trail. Summer will be on strong. Many areas have poor trail maintenance. Itís much different than early spring when the trail isnít as overgrown yet. I did a flip flop and experienced that overgrowth from HF was to Springer.

    A SOBO is certainly doable. Just make sure you know what you are getting into.

  19. #19

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    If you don't like the cold, you could do a NOBO later start (eg: mid-april, or into May if you want less crowds and hike fast enough to beat the cold and closing).
    SOBO would definitely be less crowded, but it can also get old passing so many different hikers going NOBO. You chat briefly, but you know you won't see them again at all. So, if you like the idea of seeing more of the same people more than once on the trail, that's a consideration. I have not thru-hiked the trail, but have done multiple sections both NOBO and SOBO, and I have preferred going in the direction of the crowd, because I don't mind running into people I know at the shelters, etc

    SOBO August-Dec is high on my list of options, since that's a great time to do the northern sections and I would rather have snow at the end instead of deal with all the bugs and heat at the beginning, or t-storms in certain places!

  20. #20
    ME => GA 19AT3 rickb's Avatar
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    Rerun alert: I posted this a long time ago, but what the hell. Probably better than some of my drivel.

    _________

    The main reason for this post is suggest that the draw of Springer can be every bit as powerful as Katahdin. As a southbounder you get to feel a series of accomplishments right off the bat that can help give you the confidence to make it all the way. First you get to climb the badest mountain on the whole AT and report on your triumph to the hardened northbounders you meet up with. Then, you get to do the 100 mile wilderness. After that you will know that the Trail is something that you REALLY can do. (SOBOs might consider blowing off the Whitehouse Landing).

    Wow. You get to follow this up with moose and spruce grouse and the Bigalows. When you get to Gorham, you will KNOW what you are capable of and that the AT is amazing in so many dimensions. But you also have the Whites to look forward to in a matter of days. Its really cool not only to hike them, but put them behind you knowing you have met yet another challenge.

    But it gets better. Walking through pastures and up fire towers and wonderful places that just keep on coming. By this time you have probably been asked about bears 20 times and have been forced to say, no I haven't seen one. You can't wait, but are confident that your day will come in NJ or VA. You wonder if you really want to see a rattlesnake, and if the Smokies are everything that the NOBOs said they were (they are). As you move on, you walk along ridges that commond a view not of an endless sea of trees but of farms that are every bit as beautiful. Perhaps more so. The better-known hostels and AYCE places become something to look forward to in a way that is hard to understand, and are a motivation in themselves.

    Along the way you wonder about how beautiful the trees must have been in the spring, expecially the rhodadendron, but console yourself with the knowledge that only a SOBO can stop and check out Hawk Mountain during fall raptor migration, and are pleased that you started a conversation with the quiet birders because they were able to point out a couple bald eagles among scores and scores of hawks. You get to enjoy a mid-week Fall quiet along the trail that is magic, and realize how crowded the Whites and Maine really were.

    And Springer calls as to you as loudly as Katahdin ever could. When you reach your first 4000 footer down south (is it the Priest?) you laugh at how easy hiking it was. In fact, you can't help but wonder if the Northbounders hiked a different trail than you find yourself walking every day. Tough mountains down south? Yea, right ;-). The only thing that takes you by surprise is the fact that days are becoming so dang short, at a time your body has never been stronger.

    When you get to Springer you may be alone and the sky may be gray. Its hardly a spectacular place, but you walk over to the plaque and know how special it was getting there. No champagne and hoots, but a quiet satisfaction that will stay with you for a long time.

    A fine place to end a hike.

    Rickb
    ME=>GA 19AT3

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