Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of meeting Chandler Thomas, A 23 year old broker who who left his job to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine – An extraordinary step in an ordinary life. Lucky for me, I met him just in time, before he set off to leave from Virginia to Georgia this Saturday.
What? The AT? To which he smirked, having earned and saved enough to sustain himself for two years. He must indeed be a great salesperson.
When did it come to him? At the mere age of 16, when he watched ‘Into The Wild’, an Emile Hirsch movie that dazzled so many, and he became just another fan who failed to resist buying the novel, which deeply inspired him to make this trip. He lived all these years since, actively dreaming about hiking the AT at least once a month- No surprise that he has manifested his passionate thought finally.
So what were his five KILLER TIPS to help us prepare for the AT? Or for that matter, any long duration hike?
Do your research few months ahead of your hike. It is a good place to start as it helps you organize your thoughts. Watch YouTube videos, watch vlogs and read as much as you can. Chandler’s recommendations:
You are not the only one who has made the brave decision to sacrifice your 9-5 life to be able to hike the trail. Connect with the AT hiking community through different platforms and get to know them. Chandler’s recommendations:
- AT Reddit
- Internet connectivity: Social Media platforms and YouTube following
The most important question for me- how do you deal with food on long hikes? Chandler seems to have it all figured out with sufficient food for the first five days until he could buy the next bunch. He says it depends on whether you like warm food or you are okay with cold; that is the deciding factor to whether you’d need a portable stove or not. But keep in mind that the stove increases the overall weight- so only buy it if necessary.
He packed a lot of chocolates, candies, tinned food, tortillas and Nutella. He also suggested to have them available at hands length somewhere on the sides of your backpack where you could easily grab them on the go without having to stop, wait and eat.
It is of vital importance that the gear is of good quality (i.e. durability factor) and it fits you well. Hence, Chandler asks us to buy all the gear at once toward the end, since it can be expensive.
So how do we plan our gear? The BIG THREE, he said:
- SLEEP SYSTEM
A great resource to have the entire set up at the bare minimum weight is Erik the Black’s Ultralight Backpacking Gear List (2016). It’s best to stay between 40 lbs to 60 lbs. A few things to keep in mind are the temperature you’ll you be hiking in, and personal preferences. But at any cost, be prepared to stay protected from the heavy rains as they are unavoidable in the AT no matter what time of the year you decide to hike. It’s viable to get a pair of crocs and a net to protect yourself from insects. Remember to get something to keep you busy– a couple of journals or a go pro; music helps a lot.
The two equipment companies that Chandler recommends are:
Training for the AT is a two-step process: Physical and Mental. You can train physically by going on regular weekend hikes with heavy backpacks or simply walk miles in a row on side-walks to find out your all-day-pace. This will increase your stamina considerably. The primary focus should be your legs as the backpack’s heavy weight can cause knee problems potentially as you hike for miles in a row.
Mental strength can be increased in doses. It is good to keep going when you are the least motivated- that is the real test of your mental strength. A little discipline and avoiding a lot of social media indulgence can go a long way. Positivity is the key, though.
Talking to Chandler was very insightful as I not only gained access to these great resources, but also made an awesome friend that I might potentially meet through my section-hike this summer. I am excited to walk for days in a row in a bare-minimum-survival mode and develop a relationship with mother nature as I go. Watch out for more about my preparations for the trail as I blog about it bi-weekly under the new website category: ‘The Appalachian Trail’.
Follow Chandler and his adventures on instagram: WE THE WAYFARERS