On October 15th I will start hiking north from Georgia’s Springer Mountain on the Appalachian Trail. My pack will weigh approximately 70 pounds, with about 55 pounds of that being food. I will hike as far as I can using only the gear, supplies, and food that I have carried from the start. I expect to run out of food after about being on the trail for about 26-30 days and hiking 700-850 miles.
I have been intrigued by the motivations and style of several recent backpacking expeditions: namely, in 2004 Demetri Coupounas hiked the entire 482-mile Colorado Trail without a resupply, and in July 2006 Roman Dial walked across a 600-mile trail-less expanse of Alaskan wilderness, again without a resupply. These hikes have helped to answer questions about the ultimate limits of a self-contained backpacking trip, i.e. when a backpacker starts their hike with all the gear, supplies, and food that they will need to finish it. These questions include: How many miles can we hike? How long will it take? How much and what types of gear, supplies, and food are needed? What is the relationship between miles, duration, and pack weight? How does the body react to rapid weight loss as a result of it being used as a fuel/calorie source? How does the mind respond to such long-term disconnect?
The answers to these questions have not been resolutely answered, and I hope that my hike helps us to get there. I am also motivated by the opportunity to generate some answers that are specifically applicable to me and my future expeditions, since these answers are largely dependent on personal experience, physical abilities, and mental fortitude. I can study and extrapolate the experiences of Coupounas and Dial, but I will never know for sure until I get out there myself.
Why the Appalachian Trail?
Of all the long-distance trails in America, it’s the only one that fulfills all of the conditions needed to allow this hike to happen: (1) it’s long enough where I don’t have to worry about “running out” of trail; (2) it’s accessible during the months of October and November, in terms of temperatures, snow fall, and water access; and (3) it has the potential to be a mostly uninterrupted wilderness experience. No other trail meets these requirements: for one reason or another, the Pacific Crest Trail, Pacific Northwest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Florida Trail, Colorado Trail, North Country Trail, American Discovery Trail, and every other trail in the country are not good candidates.