Appalachian Trail Myths
For some people it's a rite of passage, a transition from youth to adulthood, or maybe a way to heal a broken heart. But before you lace up your boots and put your "Out of Office" reply on your email, here are five myths about the A.T.
1. You need to take five or six months off to walk the Appalachian Trail.
So called "thru-hikers" typically start in Georgia and end their walk many months and many blisters later on Mount Katahdin in Maine. But other hikers choose to do one section of the A.T. at a time the term "section hiker." Most of my hikes were in the cool and less humid fall months, after tick and black fly season." Jeffrey Ryan, author of Appalachian Odyssey: A 28-Year Hike on America's Trail, is also a dedicated section hiker. Only about 25% of thru-hikers and 20% of section hikers end up completing the trail according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy."
2. Walking the A.T. is only for uber-fit athletes.
Many hikers go through a fairly rigorous training regimen before they start and still find themselves tired out after days on the trail. Simply put, the A.T. is a mountain trail with lots of ups and downs. Without the prerequisites, the learning curve is pretty steep. For section hikers, fitness can be an even greater issue, since "you have to get your body in shape for long days on the trail, year after year," Marion says.
3. The A.T. is so well-marked that you don’t really need a compass and map.
Jeffrey Ryan says "I can't emphasize enough the need to carry a compass, map and descriptive guide of the trail for a number of reasons. Phone service is unreliable on the trail, so you can't count on GPS. If you do get off trail, you can recalibrate by referring to your map, guide and compass. The maps show side trails and roads." Maps and guidebooks are published by the trail clubs that protect and maintain the trail and can be purchased on the website of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
4. Bears and rattlesnakes are big threats along the hike.
"Hiking the A.T. is very safe; most of my hikes were done solo and I typically camped by myself with a hammock away from shelters and campsites," says Marion. Ryan agrees that while there are bears and rattlesnakes on the trail, "They are rarely threats if you are paying attention. A rattlesnake would rather let you know they are there and is unlikely to strike unless you are a perceived threat. The best defense against ravaging bears is to be careful with food preparation and storage. I think the biggest threats along the trail have more to do with your physical health and the availability of water." His tips after 28 years of walking the A.T. include paying attention to your physical and mental states, watching the weather, keeping an eye on your water supply and knowing where the next available source of water might be.
5. Since Bill Bryson wrote his popular book A Walk in the Woods, and Robert Redford followed up with a movie, the A.T. has gotten way too crowded.
Like any popular destination, the A.T. can be crowded at times, and Ryan says that the added publicity has encouraged more people to attempt a long-distance hike. "Most thru-hikers start in Springer Mountain, Ga., in March or April of any given year," Ryan observes. "The initial group fills up the trail and campsites for a month or so in the southern regions. Then there's the trend of "flip-flopping" that's been growing every year."