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One Saturday when I was just a kid, my dad and I were visiting a state park in the northern Georgia mountains. There was a big waterfall, and a pretty lodge, and some trails looping around, and it was all very nice, but mostly I was thinking about getting back to Atlanta to see my friend. One bit of the park did catch my attention though. The trail we walked a few miles on, I learned, continued all the way to Maine. This was most unusual. All the way to Maine? The path I was standing on just kept going, and going, and going until it was on the complete other side of the country?

Growing up hiking and camping near my home in Atlanta, I learned more about the Appalachian Trail. It is over 2,100 miles, passing through 14 states. Along the way are rustic shelters for hikers to spend the night. Many people hike the entire trail over the course of a long summer. I began to form the idea that thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail might be a fun thing to do someday.

Someday, it turns out, is tomorrow. My backpack is loaded and ready to go. After a short drive to the trailhead at Amicalola Falls State Park, I’ll be setting out from the A.T.’s official beginning at Springer Mountain with the bizarre idea that I’ll keep walking until I get to Maine’s Mount Katahdin in September. I don’t have the proper certifications to examine just what thoughts or motivations would possess someone to attempt this, but suffice it to say, it’s an unusual urge.

After having the idea in the back of my mind for a decade, I began planning the hike last fall and spent the better part of every day over the last week making preparations. As you might imagine, there are lots of details to work out. There’s the boots, clothing, shelter, cookware. There’s the maps and schedules. There’s the nutrition and hydration. What seems like it should be a simple walk in the woods turns out to be a lot of work to get ready for.

Feeding myself over the next few months is the biggest challenge. Hikers don’t really like to carry more than five or six days of food with them at a time, so walking for several months without starving means lots of resupply points. Fortunately, the trail passes through or near towns every few days on average. I will be able to either buy groceries at the local store, or send a pre-made box of food to myself for pickup at the post office. Not only do the post office food drops require good logistics and careful planning, they require someone back in civilization to send me the food. For this task I volunteered my parents, and before they could say no, the dining room was covered with trail mixes and ziploc bags.

It’s tough to eat well while backpacking. I’m shooting for around 4000 calories a day to replace what I’ll burning carrying my pack many miles up and down mountains. The trick is, it shouldn’t weigh much more than two pounds. After a lifetime of ignoring nutrition labels, I’ve spent a lot of time in the last week studying them in grocery stores. It turns out that packing 125 calories into an ounce is really hard. Every time I saw a food I liked, I would check the nutrition facts and see…no! not enough calories! They even have foods now where they take out calories. It makes my job pretty hard.

What I ended up with is a bag full of peanut butter, nuts, oatmeal, pastas and soup mixes. How long until I get sick of these hiker staples, I’m not sure, but the important thing is that I’ll be able to improvise on the trail. No one does a thru-hike of the A.T. without a good deal of flexibility. If I’ve had it with oatmeal, I can switch to granola. I have a rough calendar planned out all the way to Maine, but I know full well that if I’m feeling great one week, I might move a little faster. If I find the perfect swimming hole, I might move a little slower. You can only plan so much, and I’m at the point now where I am ready to get out in the mountains and start walking.

Tracking me down me may not be easy, but I will try my best to keep in touch with my friends and put some updates here as I’m able. Click on the “Appalachian Trail Page” for info. Even though I won’t be connected all the time, I’d love to hear from you on the way, either in email, voicemail, or old-fashoined stamp mail. And over these next months remember–while you’re stuck in traffic, I’ll be strolling through the forest, and while you’re dining on grilled meats and fresh vegetables, I’ll be eating instant rice and dehydrated chicken.

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