In Consideration of a Long Walk

I've been mentally planning to walk the Appalachian Trail after commencement from graduate school. I've wanted to do a long solo journey for a while, a long while. When I was still riding motorcycles I planned all of the logistics to do a Pan American ride when I turned 40. Well 40 blew by as I sat in a classroom. I started doing the actual research on hiking the AT, like, more than pining about it and now find myself conflicted.

Is hiking the AT really for me? I'm seriously up for a Long Walk, no doubt, and I'm motivated to scrape together all that's needed to take on such an adventure. I'm looking forward to some alone time in my head, mental challenges of a long solo hike, and the physical challenges of walking through the outdoors the hard way.  I'm interested in doing a long solo hike immediately after school so that I can complete it before I have to start paying down student loans, and to finish before the presidential elections.

Firstly, about me, and why it matters. 
I'm from a family of adventurers: My parents, together and individually were extreme outdoors people, my dad was a fly fisherman and did river conservation in the Pacific Northwest region and up into Alaska, often hiking hundreds of miles to go fishing, when I was a kid he took me with him, I walked a lot of rugged trail to hang out with my dad. My dad also skied, that's how my parents met. I learned how to ski before I could read or write. My mom is a sport pilot, flying to remote weirdo places since the 70's when I was wee. My mom is also a seasoned mountain climber, naturally she'd try to get me into climbing, (I wasn't into it). A friend recently said to me that I had no choice but to also be adventurous, and I think it's true. My brother is also an astute outdoorsman.

I'm a burner: I've been participating in Burning Man culture since 1999, I went to my first event in 2000 and have only missed two, one for a broken leg and last year because I was doing fieldwork in the outback of Idaho. I think most of the people reading this are probably familiar with burning man, but lets pretend this will be on the internet after I'm famous and there are readers who don't know about the 10 principles. Briefly: inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self reliance, self expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leave no trace, immediacy, and participation. Long before I was a burner, long before the 10P were codified I was already practicing most of these ideas.

When I think of a long walk, I think of decommodification, radical self reliance, communal effort, civic responsibility, leave no trace, immediacy, and participation... so like, most of them.  I think being a burner is an important consideration if the machinations of contemplation of hiking the AT for many reasons, and they may all be the reasons I don't hike the AT at all.

From my research it seems that the AT has a huge number of people through hiking during the season, so it wouldn't really be a solo adventure, I could do a southbound journey to avoid the crowds. The shelters and huts are pretty close together, they all have a privy and tables and reliable comforts, and there are a lot of towns with hostels, hotels and laundromats along the way, the longest anybody has to walk between reliable resources is 30 miles. I understand many of the resources available are designed to preserve the natural environment of the trail, I'm not contesting the importance of trail preservation.  But... none of that sounds particularly challenging, it doesn't seem self reliant at all! I saw one resource say she had an app on her phone that she used to order food delivery drops, (let's let that sink in), she didn't have to pack her own food or resupply and bounce supply boxes, she did not pack a stove and did not discuss the merits of cold cooking, leaving me to assume other accommodations.

I get that one's phone has all the things, I get it. I'm not so old as to eschew technology and it's benefits, but if you're taking a phone, kindle, rechargeable headlamp (because, handy), then you're also taking a battery bank to recharge all the things about 3 times each (3 days), recharging those things takes at least six hours at a wall socket -- solar on the AT doesn't work well because of the forest canopy. Six hours in town/hostel/motel every three days doesn't sound very self reliant, It sounds expensive, and that's not participating in decommodification in any way at all.

Hike your own hike... fuck your day, I get it.
That's not the kind of hike I want to have.

What I want out of a Long Walk is what I used to get from boring man (typo but I'm leaving it), it used to be mentally challenging and push my physical limits. I used to come away each year with a list of things I thought I needed to work on to become a better person, and doing it each year offered a test bed to see how well I'd done. Attending Burning Man made me a better person, and I think that process is not special to the burn, that process is the product of difficult personal challenges. I admit that the last few years of my participating in Burning Man were comfortable, as staff I got to take advantage of many privileges that reduced the physical stresses of being out in the desert for weeks at a time, I considered those privileges rewards for many years of doing it the hard way.

Is the AT really crammed with people? Is the AT adventure really hiking from town to town where you can stay in a bed, shower and recharge your electronic devices? Do I have it all wrong? Are there ways to through hike the AT without it being those things? Why the AT at all? What other trails will offer the challenges and rewards I'm interested in, and are long enough to actually get there in my head? What about a "flip-flop" or a southbound journey?

Is it that hiking the AT is too much like Burning Man? When you have some time watch the first 20 or so minutes of this video... it seems as if the culture is pretty similar, or it can be.

THAT looks like five months of walking between nighty parties. Meh.  I can't work out why that guy even needs a hiking gear.  If that's what I were into right now I'd go sniffing around DPW.

I've started looking at other trails, the Arizona Trail looks very promising, it's a two month hike rather than four to six, I can start later in the year and make it off the trail in time to vote and make my first student loan payment.  The John Muir is much shorter, but I think the seasonal requirements won't fit my schedule.

I'm interested in, but don't know enough about the Palmetto Trail, it cuts east through South Carolina, it's 427 miles. The Mountains to Sea Trail through North Carolina, it's a thousand or so miles, sadly some of it is on roads, bonus some of it can be done by canoe.  There is the Great Eastern Trail which runs parallel to the AT, it connects the Florida Trail to the Great Northern, it's a lower elevation than the AT so the season is different.

There are a number of amazing looking trails that may fit my considerations, and I'm having fun researching them as I procrastinate on other really stressful stuff. It's a nice diversion.

Do you have any experience with through hiking? How long did you plan? Did you go ultra light or touch it out with an extra pound or two? Supported or unsupported? Technical sections or pretty basic hiking? What other considerations did you keep in mind while planning? How much did it cost on a per mile budget plan?

I'm so curious!


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