Along its 2,175 mile length running from Maine in the north to Georgia in the south, you can see majestic mountains, verdant forests, sun-dappled fall leaves, rolling green hills, busy highways, and small towns. It encompasses much of what is wonderful about America.
Cross-hiking is the arduous goal of crossing the entire trail from east to west (or west to east). In this guide, I discuss what you need to know before you try to cross-hike the Appalachian trail.
Choosing a Location
Along the 2,175 miles of trail, the trail is by turns wider and narrower. In some places, the trail is as narrow as five feet; in others as wide as twenty feet or more.
Therefore, your cross-hiking experience will greatly depend on where you decided to cross.
Furthermore, you need to choose your crossing location based on where you can park your car. In many places along the trail, you can't get any closer than 30 or 40 feet. That means that you'll be spending even more time walking to the trail than crossing it!
You should also consider the type of terrain you are going to find along the trail in the location you choose. Some places are fairly rocky and make for difficult hiking. Others are relatively smooth and easy-going. The best location will have a lot of shade so you won't need to spend too much time hiking in the sun.
Be a careful hiker and remember to have a driver waiting on the other end of the trail, or you may find yourself with no way to get back to your car. This nearly happened to me.
Choosing the Right Equipment
Light packing is essential when you'll be walking for great distances such as this.
Don't be tempted to bring an entire case of beer and crates of chips. Two beers, a bag of chips, and a few emergency donuts are sufficient. Bring a well-charged cellphone in case you need to call for emergency rations.
Choose a strong backpack with a sturdy frame. Place the the beer and snacks you don't take with you into it and leave it in the car. You'll want to make sure these are safe and waiting for you after the hike is finished.
Suitable clothes include a good pair of sneakers and comfortable clothing that is appropriate for the time of year and day's weather.
You probably won't need a map, but bring one along just in case. Most areas will have signs to help you find the nearest 7/11 after your hike, anyway.
A good personal music device is also recommended, for those long minutes of hiking ahead of you, unless you are going with a friend or a group, in which case you'll need one for each person.
As this will most likely be the most exercise you've had in several years, you will need to work up to this level of activity so that you don't end up straining yourself. Too little preparation will cut your hike short.
Practice by gradually taking longer and longer walks on the weeks leading up to the hike. Start by sitting up on the couch - not too fast, you don't want to strain yourself. Then standing up, walking over to the TV and back, walking to the bathroom and back, and so on.
The rule is to not strain yourself. If you find yourself getting tired or dizzy in any of the previous walks, immediately sit down and rest. Make sure you have several bottles of beer to drink nearby and a friend who can help you, if necessary.
Rest stops for cross-hiking are generally not marked, so feel free to sit down anywhere on the trail that is convenient for you.
The best rest places are in shady areas. You might want to bring a small pillow along if you'll be hiking in a particularly rocky area.
Rest as much as you need, but no more. You'll want to get home for the evening lineup on TV.
The thousands of miles along the beautiful Appalachian trail is home to many diverse species of wildlife and assorted plants, trees, and wildflowers. Some of these are unique to the trail habitat. Many of the animals and flowers you can see are incredibly beautiful. Try not to let these distract you.
Most plants and trees are avoidable by carrying a portable DVD player with you while you're walking. Watching a DVD while you hike increases the possibility of tripping and falling on the trail, so to protect yourself, make sure that the DVD player is solid and won't break if you fall. Try wrapping the edges of the player with a shirt or blanket, and clutch it to your chest as you tip over.
A DVD player won't protect you from encounters with nature's creatures, so here is a quick guide to some of the animals you may encounter, and what to do about them:
- Deer: Deer don't eat people. People eat deer. If you encounter a deer, taunt it with a salami sandwich: "Hiya Bambi! Your mom sure tastes great! I still have a few slices left if you want to have a try."
- Wolves: Wolves eat people. People don't eat wolves. Don't hike where there are wolves.
- Bears: Bears eat people. People eat bears. It's a toss up.
- Those small things with wings that fly around in the morning making a racket: A few well tossed rocks should do the trick with these.
- Thruhikers: These extremely dangerous animals are to be avoided at all costs. They typically walk up and down the entire trail from south to north (or more rarely, from north to south) and some are known to be hippie fanatics who don't watch television and carry granola. If you see one, turn and run as quickly as possible, preferably waving your arms and screaming in terror.
Many people give up cross-hiking before they even get out of the car. Don't let this happen to you. The reward of success is more than worth the effort.
If you complete your journey, consider rewarding yourself with a new reclining chair with built-in refrigerator and remote control. You've earned it! And what's more, you'll have great memories of your youth and the fine day that you overcame all obstacles and managed to cross-hike the entire Appalachian trail.
Take it easy,