Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Last night, Anna and I went down to the Reading REI store so I could attend a clinic on preparing to hike the Appalachian Trail. I haven’t entirely decided whether I really intend to hike the entire 2100 mile (give or take 100 miles depending on the year) trail from Georgia to Maine, but I’ve been kicking around the idea for some time now. This was my opportunity to chat with someone who has hiked the trail and learn a bit about what gear to bring and what not to bring.

I don’t know why it surprised me, but I didn’t really pick up any new information regarding gear. Although, Jerry (the guy giving the clinic) spoke up in enthusiastic support of trekking poles. I’ve never really considered using trekking poles before, well, that’s not entirely true. I’d considered them to be the kind of slightly sissy thing novice hikers and backpackers get talked into purchasing by some weaselly clerk looking to boost his commission. Not the sort of thing an experienced hiker like myself would ever need.

However, Jerry pointed out that trekking poles absorb quite a bit of the impact on your knees and help out tremendously while crossing streams and rocky terrain. I’m still not entirely convinced, but I’m definitely intrigued by anything that will spare my wounded knee even a small part of the stress of hiking 2100 miles.

Every journal I’d read regarding the trip has glossed over the cost of making the journey. This was the first time anyone had put an actual number on the adventure. Although cost is entirely relative to one’s personal preference, Jerry suggested the AT could be hiked for about $2 to $3 per mile. That’s $4,200 to $6,300 (for the arithmetically challenged among us). While that’s a sizeable amount of money, the thing he didn’t mention is loss of income.

Jerry took six months to hike the AT. According to the Appalachian Trail Conference, that’s about the average time to “through hike” the trail. Since that’s the average, that’s what I’ll use in my own planning.

Anna probably has a better sense of this than I do (because she’s Mistress of Finance in the Watkins household), but I suspect our recurring monthly expenses are somewhere in the range of $3,000. This means that in addition to the $6,300 for actually hiking the AT, I’ll need to have saved $18,000 just to maintain a home to come back to after 6 months on the trail.

Grand Total: $24,300.

That’s a lot of money.