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AT 2023: Reflections and Lessons

AT 2023: Reflections and Lessons

To try and sum up the experience of thru hiking The Appalachian Trail in words is going to be difficult. This was not my first completed long distance hike and even with my experience levels I struggled with many aspects of this trail. Unlike some of its west coast sisters (PCT/CDT) the grade of the A.T. footpath is sometimes mind numbingly steep, the AT has also seen considerable rerouting in its time which cuts off some of the previous ease of access to towns, and often takes you to the top of a view-less summit. Additionally the low elevation sections in the middle of the trail are swampy in the summer which makes the insane number of bugs and hearing the nearby highways a total nightmare. 

So through all of those “issues” that I had with the A.T. why did I keep hiking? Well we thru-hikers have a few sayings. Number one : “embrace the suck” and number two: “never quit on a bad day”. So I did just that. And I made it to the end. 

Deciding to be in the backcountry and on trail for six months or more, isn’t really about hiking for me. It has always felt like it was more about the people. Countless beautiful connections through the years. On trail new friends become old friends as the miles add up. And as the weeks go by it becomes about a transition in the soul. Community. Freedom. Purpose. That’s what we’re all really seeking when we set out on a thru hike, a daily personal pursuit of the next great campsite, an inward journey and good company. The trail serves as a relearning of who you are again and again.

The friendships that grow from the day after day challenges that trail life presents is truly amazing. Seeing the country is one thing but seeing the beauty of nature in other people, their grit combined with their continually meaningful smiles. That’s the magic. Early on I tuned in a transition in my own nervous system from the hectic day-to-day city life that I was used to. Every morning that I woke up in the backcountry to the birds singing and sunlight finding its way into my tent I felt renewed.

 

What did you learn from the trail this time?  

Of course this is something I already knew, but I was reminded of it deeply on this hike .The friendships that grow from the day after day challenges that trail life presents is truly amazing. Seeing the backcountry is one thing but seeing the beauty of nature in other people, their grit combined with their continually meaningful smiles. That’s the magic. 

What was something that was unexpectedly hard about this trail?

I found the middle section of the trail between Harpers Ferry West Virginia, and probably Connecticut to be the most difficult area while the hiking was less difficult. The views were lacking. It was very hot. The bugs were wild in the low elevation states and often you could hear the highway which is not something I desire when I’m in the backcountry.


How did your experience on this trail compare to your previous thru-hiking experience?

Unlike some of its west coast sisters (PCT/CDT) the grade of the A.T. footpath is sometimes mind numbingly steep, the AT has also seen considerable rerouting in its time which cuts off some of the previous ease of access to towns, and often takes you to the top of a view-less summit. Additionally the low elevation sections in the middle of the trail are swampy in the summer which made the insane number bugs and hearing the nearby highways a total nightmare. 

How did you sleep on the trail this summer? Any Zenbivy gear thoughts or suggestions? 

I slept really well on the trail this summer. This was my first time carrying a fully inflatable mattress, which made a huge difference. However, I did have issues with the valve later on in the trail. Deer malfunctions on such a long hike are expected, but due to the shape placement and style of the valve itself, it began leaking in a way that I could not repair in the field and so I just eventually had to wake up once or twice through the night to re-inflate the mattress. I had no issues with the quilt, pillow or sheet, and really like the way that the hood on the sheet held the pillow in place during the night.


How did it feel to finish the trail?

Finishing the Appalachian Trail was an awesome experience! The hikers that I ended up being at the northern terminus with were my total hype team. Everyone cheering and yelling as I made it to the top and hugging and taking photos together on a gorgeous day with an awesome view was just the way I wanted it.


Current thoughts on a next thru-hike? 

Currently, my plan for 2024 is a PCT thru-hike attempt going northbound. However, given my current financial situation, I may have to shoot for something shorter like the Colorado trail or the John Muir Trail.


Final thoughts? 

The Appalachian Trail is a straight up brutal grind at times but when you do it next to another person and you hear them laugh as the rain dumps on you and you run down the side of a mountain to the nearest shelter and spark up a joint that’s the A.T. As I sit here and write this, I have landed just north of Atlanta Georgia and I will be starting a rather full-time job soon. So for me this winter will be about remembering that I am a free person with a full heart, capable of anything and if the world tries to take me down? well I’ll just put on my pack again this spring and I’ll see you out there. Where the heart runs wild.

- Snackbar

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