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The answers to the following questions are based solely upon my own thru-hiking experience and express my own opinion to which there are many.

Which direction did you hike?

Like the large majority of thru-hikers, I chose to hike south to north starting at Springer Mountain in Georgia. Just like the first thru-hiker, Earl Schaffer I too wanted to "hike with spring", following the seasons northward. I also anticipated sharing my experiences with a lot of other hikers and this is where they were!

Deciding to hike south presents some interesting obstacles. For beginners Baxter State Park in Maine doesn't even open until May 15th so the northern terminus of the AT on Mt. Katahdin isn't accessible until that time. Next the black fly season is beginning in New England. By the time you reach the south in November, hunting season is in full force so you have to pack a neon hat!

How long was your hike?

I started hiking on March 26, 1994 and finished on August 24, 1994... 152 days, or 5 months. While the average thru-hike is between 5 1/2 to 6 months, I was most content when I was moving so that's what I did most of the time!

I only had 5 layover days when I never put on my backpack, but there were several times when I'd make camp just outside a trail town then hike in just a couple of miles the next morning thus having a semi-layover day. I discovered quickly that schedules don't work well for me and I ravished the freedom to make up the day as it unfolded.

Did you have a hiking partner?

Yes...and no. Just like the necessity for food and water, I also require large amounts of time alone and especially when I'm in the wilderness. Making a committment to a hiking partner would have just killed me!

On the other hand it is impossible to hike the AT completely alone with over 4 million people who set foot on the Trail each year. Although I preffered to hike alone the favorite part of each day was reaching the next shelter after a long hike...being greeted by other hikers, cooking our meals, sharing stories, and signing the register. For me, socializing with other hikers was just as important as "alone" time.

To hike alone or chosing a partner is a highly personal question that you must determine for yourself, and with around 1,200 wanna-be thru-hikers starting out their hikes in the spring, it's relatively easy to find a compatible hiking partner on the trail if you so desire.

How heavy was your backpack?

My backpack ("the Beast"! named at Siler Bald Shelter in NC) weighed 43 pounds on my first day. Five months later I had shaved the weight down to about 32 pounds. Same with my body weight which was 158 pounds on day-1, then 148 on day-152!

What type of backpack did you use?

I used a Kelty Super Tioga (external frame) pack. Backpacks are the necessary evil of a thru-hike and I believe that having a solid philosophy of "pack weight reduction" is much more important than what type or brand of backpack that you choose. Finding ways to shave excess weight is MUCH, MUCH more important than what kind of pack you use.

As an example the first female thru-hiker in the 1950's, "Grandma Gatewood" used a duffle bag thrown over her shoulders. In 1948 (and 1998) the first thru-hiker, Earl Schaffer used a small army knap sack for his end to end hikes!

As for external or internal frame packs, my same philosophy applies... if you're spending a lot of time pondering over this choice then you're not concentrating on what's really going to make your hike a success. I personally have used both external and internal frame packs on various extended trips and like them both, but once again I must emphasize that PACK WEIGHT REDUCTION should be your primary concern... if you want to be one of the 10% who make it all the way!

How much money did you spend?

Fortunately I've had a stable job over the years plus I'm single and have just never wanted a lot of material things so keeping up with the exact expense of my hike seemed a bit frivoious to me. As a rough estimate I figure that I must have spent about $3,000 for absolutely everything including backpack, boots, food, all gear, hostel/ camping fees, some nice restaurants, a couple of motel rooms, and whatever! If you already have a lot of hiking gear then initial expenses can be greatly reduced and most of your hiking gear can be used over and over again on future trips, so I look at these purchases as "investments" rather than consumable expenses like food.

The generic advice on expenses seems to be to plan to spend a dollar for every mile you hike which would be around $2,000. You could probably scrape by on that amount but it sure is nice to have the unburdoned freedom to party with your friends in trail towns, eat all the ice cream that your heart desires, go to a nice restaurant once in a while, stay in the hostels with your friends, or get a private motel room once in a while. If I had absolutely NO hiking gear (to begin with) I would want to have at least $3,000 for a great six month hike!I also used travelers checks and my ATM card along the way.

Where did you get your food?

I bought a lot of my food in bulk before my hike thus saving some money, then had my parents send it to me in 21 seperate "maildrops" along the way. The maildrops also contained many other consumable things like film, batteries for my walkman and headlamp, laundry detergent, toothpaste, ibuprofen tablets, etc.

I also bought a lot of my food at grocery stores in the trail towns which became a savored ritual that I began to anticipate many days ahead! After a week on the Trail no words can express the pure joy of just walking down the endless isles of beautiful food. Since my hike I've never looked at a grocery store quite the same way again!

Personally I like a combination of maildrops and the freedom of variety along the way!

What about water?

Simply said WATER IS HEAVY! 8lbs per gallon and is certainly worthy of respect and consideration. The fear of running out of water has probably led to more physical injuries and ending more dreams than is actually known.

In my opinion most people pack far too much water. Believe me, the southern Appalachians are spurting and gusting with water in the spring time when most folks begin their thru-hikes. I didn't have any trouble finding water until several months into my hike and into the summer heat of Pennsylvania, but by that time you're gonna know how to deal with the problem.

My biggest secret to pack weight reduction was finding a way to NOT carry water on my back. I did this by what I call "cameling-up". As soon as I awoke each morning I'd begin drinking as much water as I could get into my stomach, as I stuffed my sleeping bag, ate breakfast, and stuffed my backpack. Before breaking camp I would have up to two water bottles stored in my stomach... much closer to my bodies center of gravity than if it were dangling in two side pockets on my backpack! I would then only "pack" about two inches of water in one bottle for my peace of mind, but as I said before I always found plenty of water along the way in the spring and that's what worked for me.

What is your #1 advice for a successful thru-hike?

  1. Mental attitude...Hiking for 2,000 miles has got to be the most important thing in your life for five to six months. (See more comments on this by following the Planning & Preparation link.)
  2. Pack weight reduction must become your daily mantra!!! And I do mean to the point of obsession!!! (Yes, you can even remove those tiny metal zipper handles and replace with nylon ribbon! Get creative.)
  3. If you conquor the two items above then in my opinion you'll have an excellent chance of making it all the way less than some freak accident that no one could see coming!

Did you ever want to quit?

In my way of looking at things hiking the AT is like LIFE X TEN because you're living ten times harder both physically and mentally... so the answer is yes, of course I felt like quitting my hike on several occasions but somehow I found the strength to keep on going.

Whenever I give a slide show of my hike most folks are ready to take off and begin hiking, which is good but before ending the show I always try hard to hammer home a reality check. For an hour they have been looking at tiny glimpses of my hike, most of which show beautiful sunny scenery, happy hikers always smiling, and sunsets that would inspire John Steinbeck to write another book! What they can't see in a jolly-happy slide show are the thousands of hours spent alone, the rain, the lightning, the cold wind, the blisters, the loneliness, and just the plain constant struggle each day to get up and toss the pack on your weary body then limp down the trail until the pain eases up.

I'm certainly not trying to talk anyone out of a thru-hike because believe me the rewards far out weigh the pain, but for your best chance of making it all the way you need to know the facts so that you can begin preparing for them. So, of course I wanted to quit... but I wanted to make it all the way more!

What was your longest day?

My longest mileage for one day's hiking was 26 miles ending up in Hot Springs, North Carolina. Getting close to a trail town does weird and wild things to a thru-hiker and such was the case as we neared Hot Springs, a very famous layover town on the AT. Just the night before several of us had made a pact to hike until we reached the town, so that's just what we did offering a lot of support until Pogo, Marmot, and myself limped into town! It is one of the most memorable days of my thru-hike.

How many bears did you see?

None, except for the zoo in Bear Mountain, New York where the AT goes through the park. As a matter of fact the part of the AT directly in front of the bear exhibit is the lowest point on the entire trail, at only 124 feet above sea level!

How did you get your trail name, LIGHTNING BOLT?

For the answer to this please follow the following link...


If you have any other questions, then I'll make every effort to answer them if you send them to me via the e-mail address on the HOMEPAGE.