“So when are you hiking the Appalachian Trail?” Probably one of the most frequent questions I get from other hikers.
Never. I’m never going to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). There’s literally nothing I find appealing about the AT.
Don’t get me wrong, this post is not meant to diminish the accomplishment of anyone out there who has hiked (all or part of) the AT. A thru-hike is an incredibly physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding endeavor. Whether you’re a one-time Appalachian Trail hiker or a Triple Crowner, that’s cool. Good for you (really), that’s awesome you did that. But is that something I want to do? No, no it’s not.
But why? Why does hiking the Appalachian Trail sound about as enjoyable as a swift kick in the nuts? A few reasons, I guess.
And before you go on, know that I have never hiked any portion of the AT. My experience hiking on the east coast is limited to Mount Monadnock and day hikes in the Adirondack Mountains (and that one time I parked my car on the AT in Maryland and walked for like two minutes before getting bored and turning around).
This is (mostly) speculation based on what I’ve been told by other hikers.
Here’s why (I’m fairly certain) I’m never hiking the AT:
- The green tunnel: The Appalachian Trail is nearly 2,200 mi / 3,500 km and spends the vast majority of this distance below treeline in what can only be described as a green tunnel. Sure, it’s nice to hang out in the trees occasionally, but high alpine environments are far more exciting. There are a few sections where the AT breaks above the treeline for significant stretches in the Franconia Range and the Presidential Range in the White Mountains (oh, and on Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus), but this is definitely not the norm. The idea of spending all day, every day in the trees while hoping the sun will be shining when I make it to the next viewpoint is no way to get me excited about a trail. And, for the record, “no”, having views only once in a while does not make them more special or rewarding; views all the time are objectively better.
- The humidity: The Appalachian Trail runs (nearly) the length of the East Coast of the United States. The East Coast of the United States is humid. Humidity is the absolute worst. Therefore the Appalachian Trail is the absolute worst. It’s the transitive property of equality, friends. Basic math. Have you ever walked outside on a humid day and thought, “Boy, this humidity sure is amazing.” No, of course, you haven’t. Neither have I. Humidity is terrible. Go home, humidity, nobody likes you.
- The rain: The East Coast of the United States is home to the wettest states in the country (outside Hawaii and the South). What’s worse than a humid green tunnel? A humid and rainy green tunnel, of course. I’m fine hiking in adverse weather, but electing to hike the Appalachian Trail when there are so many other (more enjoyable-sounding) trails out there just doesn’t make sense. Honestly, I would rather (and have) hike the Pacific Crest Trail a second time than hike the AT once.
- The ticks: On the Appalachian Trail, hikers can expect to encounter a wide variety of ticks. You know, the blood-sucking, disease-spreading, insects that are responsible for the spread of things like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The AT is home to lone star ticks, gulf coast ticks, brown dog ticks, black-legged ticks, and American dog ticks. Cool. Now all I need is a shirt that says, “I hiked the Appalachian Trail and all I got was Lyme”.
- The shelters: If you talk to an Appalachian Trail hiker long enough, chances are you’ll hear about the shelters. The AT has dozens of shelters dotting the trail where hikers can escape from the aforementioned rain. However, from my understanding, the shelters have mostly become overcrowded, rodent-infested messes where East Coast bums take up residence for the summer. Sharing a campsite, let alone a shelter, with a dozen other coughing, snoring, sleeping-pad-rolling-around-on people every night is not my idea of a good time.
- The crowds: Thousands of people attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail every year. In addition to the thru-hikers, an estimated 2-3 million people hike some portion of the trail each year (whether this is a weekend backpacking trip or a day trip). Taking the lower limit of 2 million and assuming the same number of people are on the trail every day of the year, this works out to 5,579 people a day – that’s more than 2.5 people for each mile of the AT – and that’s our (very scientific) lower limit. Also, the country’s most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is on the trail with nearly double the use of the park in second place (Grand Canyon National Park).
- The towns: The East Coast of the US is dense and on the Appalachian Trail, hikers won’t find themselves deep in a remote backcountry for long (for the record, remote backcountry = good). The trail offers hikers constant access to town and it’s often joked that hikers can go to town almost every day of the trail if they want. Personally, I love town, but having it available on a near-daily basis really sucks the magic out of the idea of making it there.
- The East Coast: This isn’t a reason I don’t want to hike the Appalachian Trail, but rather, a reason people often give me for their having hiked the trail. “I’m from the East Coast.” That’s good for you. I’m not. Even if I was, I don’t know that I would consider this a legitimate motivation for hiking the AT (maybe so that your friends and family can come resupply you places?). If you’re trying to convince someone to hike the AT, leading with, “I’m from the East Coast” is not a step in the right direction.
What about it? I don’t really care about being able to call myself a “Triple Crowner”. I can do that without hiking the AT. Watch. HEY EVERYONE! I’M A TRIPLE CROWNER! See, I just did it.
Still, I know a lot of you are yelling, “YOU’RE WRONG, THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL IS GREAT!” (and probably other, more insensitive, things as well). And guess what, that’s okay.
Whenever someone who has hiked the AT asks me about my plans (or lack thereof) to hike, I always invite them to share why it is I should change my mind. I would legitimately love to hear compelling reasons to do so. That said, if the reasons have to do with you being from the East Coast, the trail’s history, or all the friends you made on the trail, I’m not interested in hearing them.
So please, friends, tell me. Why should I hike the AT? Why should I seek to attain the title of “Triple Crowner” (the pursuit of this title does not count as a reason to hike the AT)?
I think of this article as less of a declaration and more of an invitation. An invitation to you to tell me why I’m wrong.
That said, if I’ve learned anything from my years of making grand statements on the internet, it’s that I’m usually wrong in doing so. Honestly, I don’t know if I would be surprised if I hiked the AT. Late-season southbound perhaps? We’ll see.