The Appalachian Trail (AT) is a national scenic trail that stretches over 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine. The trail runs along the top of the Appalachian Mountains through thirteen states and multiple national parks. Every year, about 3,000 hikers set foot on the AT in an effort to hike fifteen miles a day for five continuous months. Most thru hikers start at the southern terminus and go northbound in late March. The AT doesnít pose huge threats to hikers other than the occasional black bear, eastern rattlesnake and fellow human stupidity. About 300 thru hikers successfully complete the entire trail each year. Some hikers quickly figure out that the AT is much more than a four day backpacking trip and get off trail. Others quit having fun and fall short of their goal. Injuries can end hikers trail experience but it doesnít happen as often as one would think. The AT is a social trail partly due to so many thru hikers and the dense population on the eastern seaboard. The trail designers and builders carefully considered the optimal way to keep the trail in the woods and off the roads. Yet, a hiker will cross a road or hike through a town every couple days at a minimum. Also, there are countless day hikers that access the trail to enjoy nature just like thru hikers.
I thru hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 1997. I was eighteen years old. Two years prior to that, I convinced my parents that this trail was a great challenge and worked with my high school to allow me to graduate a semester early. I needed six months to complete the trail and wanted to attend university in the fall alongside my friends. It was the best year of my life! I was an independent young man departing home in January for a three month adventure around the world. Only to return and hike for five continuous months. All this before the best four years of a young adultís life. The AT was physically and mentally challenging in the southern states. The path went from ridge to valley to peak and it took about a month to get my feet trail hard. The mental aspect was difficult because so many fellow hikers were equally strained. Some complained constantly about how hard the trail was. Those hikers didnít make it very far. Some hikers embraced the hardships and adapted to trail life. We were the hikers that made it to the northern terminus. The transformation process from normal society to trail life was complete after my first month on the trail. By that time, more than half of the hikers had quit and the trail had become a network of optimistic, supportive thru hikers. That was the magic of the AT. By the time I reached Mt. Katahdin, Maine I was ready to go to college. I wanted to see my family and friends and partake more in their lives. However, I had an inner sense that I may return to trail life in the future.
Read more at Appalachian Trail Conservancy's official site.