|AT Definitions, Facts,
Appalachian Trail, running 2167 miles from Springer Mountain, GA, to
Mount Katahdin, Maine.
AYCE: All-you-can-eat -
important for the mountainous appetites of hikers.
Bag: A food bag suspended from a branch to deter bears and
Blaze: A 2"x 6" paint stripe placed
on trees, stones, or structures to identify the trail - white for
the AT, blue for side trails to shelters, springs, and other
attractions. Double blazes indicate a turn or significant landmark
Flip-flop: A Thru-hike conducted in two
sections, such as Springer-Harper's Ferry, then Katahdin back to
Harper's Ferry - usually done this way to allow a later start while
still avoiding weather limitations in Maine
Good Ol' Raisins & Peanuts
Hoods in the Woods:
Troubled teens on wilderness adventures.
Wilderness: The final 100 mile stretch of the AT before
Katahdin in Maine - very wild and without public roads, towns, or
Katahdin (Ka tah' din): The
northern terminus of the AT - located in the remote Baxter Park in
MUD's: Mindless ups and downs - a
greater manifestation of PUDS (see below).
Day: June 21, the summer solstice, which some AT hikers
celebrate by hiking naked.
PUDS: Pointless ups and
downs (the trail crosses every hill in sight for no apparent
Register: A spiral-bound notebook left at
each shelter for hikers to communicate with each other. There are
quite a few hikers we feel we know just from reading their register
Ridge Runner: A paid AT employee who hikes
and drives along the Trail to educate and police hikers.
Section hiking: Hiking the AT in portions - may or
may not intend to complete the entire
Springer: Southern terminus of the AT, this
mountain is about 70 miles northeast of
Shelter: Shelters are provided
approximately every 10 miles for overnight stays by hikers on a
first-come, first-served basis. They usually are three-sided with an
open front, but vary widely in features and complexity. (aka
Slack-packing: Hiking a part of the
trail without a pack.
camping in an area where it is not normally permitted.
Thru-hiker: One who aims to hike the entire
Appalachian Trail in one season.
Trail Angel: A
non-hiker who unexpectedly helps out a hiker along the way by
feeding the hiker, giving the hiker a ride or even housing the
Trail Magic: The help that serendipitously
comes to ailing or discouraged hikers just when they need it; the
serendipitous friendships that blossom on the Trail; the magical
"nature" moments on the Trail.
Trail Name: The
alias that one dons or is bestowed with by other hikers while on the
trail. Hikers communicate via registers at shelters or hostels using
these names. The trail name makes it easier to locate hikers in case
of emergency, and is also intended as protective anonymity.
Vitamin I: Ibuprofen, a necessary addition to many
aching hikers' diets.
Yellow-blazing: A metaphor
for hitchiking past sections of the trail.
(verb): To secure food, beverage, or other conveniences
without paying, usually through begging (in the manner of Yogi
How far do you hike?
average 12-13 miles per day, more in the summer with longer hours of
daylight. Our long-term goal is a section of approximately 70 miles
every other month - this takes us about 5 days of hiking, plus
transportation to and from the trail.
What do you eat?
Our favorite evening meal is a combination of
instant Ramen noodles along with Lipton Rice or Noodles dinners. We
boil water and add it to these products right in their own
containers, eating the Ramen noodles while waiting for the
Lipton dinners to hydrate - no pots or pans to clean, and easily
"dressed up" by adding anything from dehydrated meat or veggies to
sun-dried tomatoes. For lunch and snacks we eat no-cook food
such as granola bars, cheese crackers, peanut butter on
crackers, beef jerky, GORP, etc. Coleen likes bagels for breakfast;
I started with oatmeal until someone pointed out that oatmeal
cookies contain the same basic ingredients. Of course, we'll take
any chance to walk or hitch into town for Ben &
What about water?
We carry a
filter, filtering water from various streams and springs (most
shelters are built near a source of water). In the summer when the
springs frequently run dry, trail angels (see above) frequently
leave jugs of water at road crossings. In New England the trail
passes enough towns, roads, and parks that it's often possible to go
for weeks without having to filter water. Some hikers use iodine
tablets, although these require about 30 minutes to work, and impart
a medicinal taste (they also turn starch blue, giving a really weird
appearance to meals such as Lipton Noodles or potato
Where do you sleep?
of the time we sleep in the shelters provided (see definitions
above), although they're sometimes full, sometimes mousy, and often
include at least one power snorer; so we always carry a tent. We
tent out about 1/3 of the time, and the remaining 1/3 is split
between the occasional hotel stay, along with hostels, ball fields,
monasteries, jailhouses (no kidding), homes, and whatever.
How do you? - well,
Most shelters have a privy, although they
vary in their allure. For instance, Georgia privies are a very airy
3-sided type, affording a good view and good ventilation -
especially appreciated in summer.
Are animals a
They're a mixed blessing - most would love
to share your food, including bears, raccoons, and the voracious
field mice. Porcupines crave salt and not only gnaw on the floors of
shelters, but have been known to eat a pair of boots right down to
the soles at night. Snakes require caution, especially when using
hands to climb rocky slopes where they may be sunning themselves.
And the ungainly appearance of the moose often results in
debilitating fits of laughter.
Is it safe?
It's a lot safer than life in Washington, DC, to be
sure. A handful of deaths have occurred during the trail's 63 year
history, although this is a pretty small number in light of the 4
million tourists that set foot on the trail annually. A greater
number of injuries occur, although the majority of hikers that leave
the trail do so for lack of motivation or money, rather than
Is it crowded?
highly-touted 4 million annual visitors figure includes many who
barely leave there cars - mostly in Shenandoah and the Smokies
National Parks. About 2000 hikers start each year with the intent of
hiking the entire trail - only about 200 of these finish. The
majority of thru-hikers start from Springer in March heading
northbound, and a smaller push begins from Katahdin southbound
mid-summer. If not amongst either of these two groups, the trail is
often fairly solitary, moreso in the GA and ME sections, especially
on weekdays. It's often possible to hike multiple days without
seeing a soul, although it's equally possible to pass a dozen hikers
in a mile. Of all the national trails, the AT is by far the most
social, and we've made many new friends there.