Supporting an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker

My boyfriend, Roy, started thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) on March 19th, 2019. The 2192-mile trail meanders from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. If this is the first time you are reading about thru-hiking the AT then you, most likely, figure it might take a month or two to accomplish that task. Perhaps you could measure the time it takes to complete the trail in a matter of weeks. If that’s what you think, you’d be terribly surprised to know most people take anywhere from 4 to 7 months to complete the task. In addition, they don’t hike for a week and then take a week off. They don’t go from hotel to hotel or cabin to cabin each night or order take out to their camp site. Most hikers are like Roy, they hike every day for 8 to 10 hours for 7 to 10 days straight and then take a zero or nero day in a small random hiker town you have likely never heard of. They then hitch back to the trail and continue on their journey. It is a grind. Day in, day out. They don’t stop for rain, or snow, or black bears, or rattlesnakes. They just keep hiking. The history of the Trail demands it.

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I have been supporting Roy on this auspicious endeavor for the last four months. It is not what I expected. At all. There have been many surprises along the way.

Here is what I learned from supporting Roy on the trail:

Educate

Roy starting planning for his hike in the Spring of 2018. He started mowing his lawn with a 50 pound back pack on. He trained and ran in a triathlon. He researched stoves, shoes, tents, and trekking poles. He watched hundreds of YouTubes from other AT thru-hikers. He sent them to me. We spent weekends watching thru-hiker YouTube accounts from people named Darwin, Dixie, Big Foot and Handstand. I read three books on thru-hiking. I needed to know the lingo. The difference between a nero and a zero or the difference between stealth and shelter camping. We hiked a minuscule part of the AT near Franklin, NC and camped out overnight with no electricity, plumbing or mattress. That experience helped me understand in a very small way what Roy was going to be dealing with day in and day out for six to seven months. Educating myself was critical to be the best support I could be.

Supplies

The biggest surprise for me was the amount of supplies that I keep in boxes for when I rendezvous with Roy. I currently have four cardboard boxes in a closet in my home that I packed up in my trunk, starting every time I saw him south of Pennsylvania and onwards. There are slippers, flip flops, long pants, shirts, caps, jackets, razors, nail clippers, band aids, socks, duct tape, trekking poles, mail, prescriptions, trail runners, gloves, bandanas, zip lock bags, garbage bags, books, and various other sundry items. Some he uses, some he doesn’t. It all depends. I am the traveling store. He went through three different raincoats in the first two months on the trail. When you wear a jacket every day on the trail, they have different uses and must have a particular zipper or pull string or particular length; that’s the importance. Imagine wearing the same thing. I mean the VERY same pair of shorts, shirt, underwear and jacket for weeks on end. It better be right. And if it’s not right, you better find a better one. I had no idea how critical the supplies were to being on the trail.

 

Rendezvous

When Roy was south of the Mason-Dixon line, I would try to meet up with him every three or so weeks. GPS tracking is not great along the trail and only Google maps has been able to show me precisely where the trail crosses a particular road in Virginia so that I can park and wait for Roy to show up. It’s sort of like Apollo 11 with the lunar module and the main capsule trying to rendezvous. You know, a wing and a prayer but so far, we have done well; sometimes with no cell coverage or in the midst of pouring rain. Once we meet up, we inevitably need to stop and get Roy some kind of food. It might be a drive thru Taco Bell or some random diner, but most of the one to two days is watching Roy eat. And eat. And eat. The rest of our time together is Roy taking a shower, and then a bath, and then a shower. His stuff is usually exploded within the hotel room and all the dirt and rain from the trail is draped over furniture and shower stalls. Next up is heading to a coin operated laundry and drinking bottomless coffee. It helps if it’s free from the hotel lobby. The one thing Roy does NOT want to do is walk or hike…anywhere. This is understandable; any walking has a different meaning and would not be forwarding his progress on the AT. Eventually, after sleeping, watching TV, resupply shopping and eating, we head back to the trail and he soldiers on.

Emotional Support

Roy recently started heading southbound on the trail from Mount Katahdin in Maine. When we drove up from Pennsylvania, it became clear that Maine was a whole other matter. Millinocket Maine is very remote. So remote that they don’t even have a Walmart. So remote that many roads in the area are gravel. In the Southern Appalachians, I was used to Roy being able to call me or text me at least once a day. The greatest length of time that he wasn’t connected was about 48 hours. In Maine? It was over 4 days before I heard from Roy. This was an eternity. I needed to know he was OK as much as he needed to tell me how hard hiking in Maine is. There have been many times that all he wanted to do was hear my voice. I felt the same way. Someone out there cares where I am and how I’m doing. Just being reassured that he isn’t lost or injured is so gratifying. I need to hear from him as much as he needs to hear from me. We provide each other emotional support.

This has been a fascinating journey. I am traveling to towns that I would never have visited had it not been for this thru-hike. It’s opened my eyes to a micro culture that is AT thru-hikers where weather, shoes, food and cell coverage are the priority and nothing much else matters. It’s a small hyper focused world and is devoid of all the distractions of everyday life. Most of all I am surprised that I am envious of his adventure although I know I could not endure the challenge.

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