This year I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail. If you want to help me afford to eat, you can donate here.
On February 22nd, exactly one month from the day I’m writing this, I’ll be on top of Springer Mountain embarking on the trip of a lifetime. I am walking 2,189 miles to the top of Mount Katahdin (pronounced: kuh-TAH-din) in Maine. Depending on who you are and how you know me, this may come as a total surprise, or entirely expected. The fact of the matter is, there’s been a still, quiet voice in my mind beckoning me to complete the legendary trail since my childhood.
I’ve been incredibly blessed with a family that took me camping from before I can remember and involved me in Cubscouts and Boyscouts, all very positive experiences for me. I remember reading every single book in my middle school library by Gary Paulsen, author of Hatchet and countless other books about wilderness survival and living in communion with nature. Later, I had a very formative experience working as a Wilderness Ranger in my beloved Montreat, NC leading hikes, doing trail maintenance, and learning from my incredibly knowledgeable bosses Jason Nanz (congrats on your engagement by the way!) and Bill Sanderson. My passion for the outdoors is the result of many amazing people who have shared their own passions with me.
I have so much more to say about the Appalachian Trail than I’ll ever be able to record or articulate in one sitting (and I haven’t even started it yet!) so I’ll be keeping a blog here (on AnalogRevolution.com of course!) to the very best of my ability. As the date approaches, I’ll do another post detailing what gear I’m bringing, how much it weighs and costs, etc. etc. etc. By the end of this blog post I’ll show you a rough outline of my hike and how you can help me along the way (yes, I’ll need help paying to eat) and what I’ll do for you in return (I have a feeling it should keep me pretty busy).
I figured I would start out with an introductory blog post about the AT, it’s history, and the culture of thru-hiking that surrounds it. I’ll begin that with a list of FAQ’s!
How/Why is there a freaking trail connecting Georgia to Maine?
A good place to start. The Appalachian Trail was officially founded in 1934, though it was contrived years before that (early 1920’s) by Benton MacKaye. MacKaye envisioned a sort of connected series of back-to-nature communes and work/study camps up and down the eastern mountain range. However, it takes a great deal of practicality and coordination to create something as massive as the AT, and MacKaye didn’t quite have the sort of organizational command required. While the spirit of MacKaye’s idea was the impulse for the Trail, it was the hard work of Myron Avery that ultimately gathered the momentum and cooperation of multiple states necessary to complete the trail.
The first person to actually “thru-hike” the AT was Earl Shaeffer in the spring/summer of 1948. Since then, thousands of people have made the journey from Georgia to Maine, and a lesser number have made the trek southbound from Maine to Georgia. There’s about 250 shelters for hikers to stay at along the trail, averaging roughly one every 8 miles, though the distribution is not at all that even. These sometimes get really crowded, but leaving as early as I am, this should be less of a problem for me.
Aren’t you going to die?
Well, no. Not exactly. Although I suppose that’s possible and I probably shouldn’t lead by saying that, but I did. I am leaving in February, and yes that is the winter. Yes, there will be snow and sub-freezing temperatures, but I’ve got some really cool things like a tent and a sleeping bag and boots and all this high tech gear I’ve been gathering and using for years/months/days to help me keep warm and (just as important) dry.
Pedantry aside, I am fully equipped with winter camping gear and totally confident in my ability (through experience!) to spend day in and day out in the woods until it warms up and everything gets cozy again. Most thru-hikers leave around late March or early April, but some have already begun in January. There’s even a professional, the Hiking Viking, who started a southern-bound hike last month. So there’s always people crazier than me.
The other safeguard I have against impending doom and eternal slumber is my wonderful company I’ll be departing with! My amazing friends Avery and Alie have been gracious enough to invite me to start my hike with them, which works as a wonderful armament against the threats which accompany wintry solitude. I am so grateful for their company and you may all rest well knowing that they will look after me in the coming months!
I think I’ll go for a walk outside!
What will you eat?
Everything I possibly can. That’s the short answer, but there are limitations like cost and weight for me to consider. Most common trail food consists of some combination of high-calorie, high-protein meals that are preferably cheap and lightweight (that means they don’t contain water until cooked). So my diet will contain a lot of peanut butter (the highest calorie-to-weight ratio of almost any food), ramen (the cheapest of the cheap), Knorrs pasta sides, Vigo rice/beans packages, snack crackers, beef jerky, and generally massive amounts of pasta.
Luckily, the vast majority of the trail is no more than one or two days hike from a town and therefore a grocery store. So it goes that in order to carry the least amount of weight, I’ll be resupplying relatively frequently. Still, it’s a good idea to carry more than I’ll think I’ll need at all times. I plan on having around 5-7 pounds of food in my pack at most times.
I’ll also be attempting some non-traditional eating techniques (which are ironically very traditional in the big picture). Especially as spring comes into full swing, I’ll be foraging from the hundreds of pounds of free food I’ll be walking past every day. The Appalachian mountains have some incredible biodiversity including a huge array of edible plants with delicious leaves, nuts, berries, roots and flowers. I’m also excited to hunt the meat without any feet: mushrooms.
I know this sends a huge red flag up in many people’s minds, but I promise not to put anything in my mouth I haven’t properly identified. I don’t want me to die either (see Christopher McCandless). I’ll also be bringing some fishing hooks and line to do my best to catch from fresh high-protein meals when time and location allow. The less food I have to carry, the better. This is something I plan on blogging about extensively, writing about my various recipes and their ingredients, preparation, identification, etc.
What about water?
The Appalachian Trail was designed to be hiked. There have been guides for the trail almost as long as there has been a trail itself, and these guides to a great job of identifying exact locations of water sources along the trail. These water sources can be rivers, creeks, springs, or sometimes just a slow steady drip from a rock face. It is advised that every one filter all water they consume on the trail. Water borne diseases, parasites, viruses, pathogens, etc. are very real and can turn a nice walk in the woods into a trip up shit creek without a paddle very quickly. That being said, I’ll have a squeeze filter as well as Aqua Mira water treatment for backup. I really don’t want giardiasis.
Also: water is heavy. I plan on carrying less than two liters on me most of the time.
Look out! It’s a bear!
That’s not a question, but I’ll address it anyway. Bears are the least of my worries. While they’re certainly to be respected and not provoked, I have complete faith in my ability to scare a bear away from me. I’ve done it before. One time I chased a bear into the woods at night, barefoot no less. Black bears (the only type of bear found along the AT) are quite skiddish and are rarely stubborn enough to risk a confrontation and possible injury for a meal.
I will be storing my food in a bear bag hung from a tree away from camp. Luckily, it should be too cold for bears to be very active for the first month or so of my hike, so I’ve got plenty of time before I need an emergency bear attack plan. If I do happen to get attacked by a bear at some point, I’ll be sure to take a picture of the pelt before mailing it home to decorate the floor of my living room.
Don’t you own a record store or something? What’s going to happen to that?
Well yes. I co-own Analog Revolution Records with Andrew Roach. And thank goodness, because if he weren’t around to take care of the mess I’ve helped make over the last two years then I wouldn’t be able to do this. We will be temporarily shutting down the record store in order to greatly expand our inventory, and relocate to a new space (to be determined) by the time I return. For a full explanation, check here.
And now the part where I ask you for money.
I’m doing absolutely everything in my power to make this hike a reality. I’ve stopped any and all spending on everything (yes, even records) that isn’t rent/bills/food and saving up for gear that will keep me from dying. I’m really holding out on my tax refund being able to get me through the hike. On most days I’ll be consuming upwards of four or five thousand calories. I plan on being able to do so while spending about $6 a day on average. Now, that doesn’t include going into town and having a real meal once or twice a week at a hostel like most hikers, and that’s a luxury I’m wiling to sacrifice if it means the difference between hiking and not hiking.
As I mentioned before, I’m trying to supplement my diet with all the free food that gets passed up every day by most hikers. I also plan on completing the hike in roughly four months, where the average time is somewhere in excess of five or six (even seven is not uncommon). Like I’ve said, I’ll do another post soon detailing all of the gear I’m taking and I’ll demonstrate the cost of my gear (retail vs what I’ve paid) and show you how I’m doing my best to save money absolutely everywhere.
I know a lot of my friends are like me, working entry-level jobs, paying off student loans, and juggling monthly bills. That being said, I would be much happier to receive many donations of small amounts than I would a couple large donations. To each and every one of you who donates, I will send a hand-written letter (not just a post card!) from somewhere along the trail detailing what that day has been like and likely recalling some fond memory I have of you.
I am so grateful to be able to begin something that I have always dreamed of accomplishing, and I am also grateful for the opportunity to involve others and share my journey along the way. Thank you all. My PayPal account is email@example.com, please use the friends and family option to avoid unnecessary PayPal fees. Or you can click this dandy little link right here: paypal.me/RyanStoyer
Oh, and my birthday is February 14 ;D
So that’s it for now. Please, feel free to ask me any questions you might have! You can leave a comment here, or contact me via phone/email/social media. It’s all fair game. Thank you so much for taking an interest in what I’m doing this year, and happy trails to you all!