Planning to Thru Hike the Long Trail

Posted by Kirby Turner on August 16, 2012

One week from today, on August 23, I start a month long journey to hike the Long Trail from end to end. I plan to start at the Vermont-Canadian border, and hike south to North Adams, Massachusetts. I’m not exactly sure how long the hike will take me, but it should be somewhere between 25 and 35 days depending on my daily mood, how much or little I hike each day, and so on.

The Long Trail is the oldest long distance hiking trail in the U.S., and it was the inspiration for the Appalachian Trail. The Long Trail spans 272 miles from border to border as it follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains. And it crosses Vermont’s highest peaks, providing some beautiful views.

Why Do This?

You may be asking yourself, why am I doing this? The answer is simple. Because I can.

Most people today are so wrapped up with work and life that taking a month off to backpack is but a dream. And many of those lucky few who can take the time off do so in their early adult life, before or after college, before kids, and before life’s burdens take hold. But for me - in my mid–40s, with a wife and a kid, running my own indie software shop - I’m lucky to have a very understanding wife and a structure to my life that makes it possible for me to do a trip like this. That said, now is still not a good time for me to take this hike.

I’m working on the second edition of my book, I need to focus on a new app that I’m writing, and product sales are still down after focusing so much attention on writing the first edition of my book last year. In other words, we’re broke and taking time off isn’t going to help matters. If anything, it will only make things worse from a financial point of view. But like planning to start a family, it seems there is never a good time to do an adventure like this. So why should I wait?

Another reason I’m doing this is because it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. When I was a teenager, I dreamt of riding my bike across Tennessee, from Memphis to Kingsport. I had the bike. I bought maps, planned the route, and started collecting gear such as a small, light single-person tent. There was even a brief time when my mom entertained the thought of joining me, which would have been outstanding at the time. But alas, the bike trip never happened. I chickened out.

While hiking the Long Trail end to end is not the same as riding my bike across Tennessee, it’s still in the same spirit; the spirit of going on an adventure. For some, the adventure is backpacking across Europe like my wife did during her college years - though she didn’t sleep on the ground for 30 days nor did she have to carry all her food on her back. Still, it was the spirit of adventure, and that’s one of the reasons I’m doing this; to have the adventure I didn’t do when I was younger.

There’s another reason I’m doing this: the challenge. This is the number one reason I’m doing this. To see if I can conquer the challenge.

I live in a connected world. Email, Twitter, the Internet, are all very important aspects to my daily life and work. Disconnecting for a few days it great, but I start to stress out after being disconnected for more than 4 or 5 days. So disconnecting for a month is going to be challenging for me.

There is also the challenge of being self-supported on this adventure. I’m not planning to mail drop supplies and food. Instead, I will hike into towns once a week to buy supplies and food, 5 to 7 days worth each time. The food is probably one of the biggest challenges for me on this trip, and it’s definitely in my Top 2 Biggest Worries.

No, I will not starve, though there might be times when I feel very hungry. I’m a picky eater, and I honestly don’t know what to expect once I eat through my first week’s worth of food. Will I be able to buy foods I like that are also suitable for the trail? I’ll find out soon enough.

I also don’t know how much food I really need. I have an idea of the amount I need for 5 to 7 days, but is that amount accurate when I’m burning 4,000 to 5,000 calories at day? This is something I will only learn from experience, and I can only get the experience by doing it. So while food is one of my biggest worry, it’s not going to stop me from doing this adventure.

What will stop me, however, could be me. Can I handle this trip mentally? And that’s my other biggest worry about thru hiking the Long Trail. The hike represents a physical challenge, but I believe the mental challenge is far greater than the physical challenge.

I’ve read lots of books on long distance hiking, mostly about the Appalachian Trail. A majority of the people attempting to thru hike the AT don’t make it, and a majority of those folks give up within the first 7 days. While the LT is not the AT - they do share the same trail system for a span through southern Vermont - those first 7 days will be the same mentally.

Will I make it for more than 7 days on the trail? Will I make it 14 days, 21 days, even more? I think about this more and more as my start date draws closer. Will I enjoy the solitude, the wilderness, sleeping on the ground each night, being outside 24–7 through heat, cold, sun, and rain? Will it still be fun after eating yet another mug of Mac-and-Cheese for the N-th day in a row? And what effects will the physical demands of the hike put on my mental psyche?

Despite my worries, family and friends have been very supportive, saying things like, “You’ll do it. You’ll finish the hike.” But you really don’t know what will happen until you try. It’s a month of no family, no code slinging, no Internet, no email, and no creature comforts. I would be fooling myself if I didn’t think there is a mental challenge to hiking the Long Trail end to end, or doing any long distance hike for that matter. That said, I’m committed to making it to the end, but I really won’t know if I can make it to the end until I try.

Q&A

People have been asking me all sorts of questions about this trip, and I’m sure others will have similar questions upon learning about my crazy idea of thru hiking the Long Trail. Here are some of the more common questions and answers.

What do you do about food? I pack the food and carry it on my backpack. I have a bear canister that holds 5 to 7 days worth of food. I prefer using the bear canister over hanging my food each night. With the bear canister, I just place it on the ground 200 feet or more from my camp site. This is so much easier than finding a tall tree and hanging my food. Plus, my bear canister doubles as stool for when I need to sit.

What will you eat? I need to consume calories and lots of them, so I plan to eat a lot of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, though I’ll likely only eat this at dinner time to save on fuel for my stove. I also have other packaged rice and pasta dishes for dinner like the ones from Knox. They cook quickly, and I’ll be able to save on fuel by using my pot cozy.

Breakfast, lunch, and snacks will be a combination of junk foods, peanut butter sandwiches, beef jerky, and trail mix. I’m still not exactly sure how to do the peanut button sandwiches yet, but I have a few more days to figure that out.

What do you do when it rains? I get wet. I’ve hiked in the rain before, and I’ll be hiking in the rain on this trip. I have a rain cover for my backpack, and I will keep my extra clothes in a dry bag to ensure I have something dry to sleep in each night. And of course my tent has a rain fly. So while some days I will get wet on the hike, I do plan on being (mostly) dry when I sleep.

How much will you hike each day? That’s depends on a number of things. Ideally, I should average about 10 to 12 miles a day to finish the hike in my allotted 35-day max time frame. Realistically, I’ll likely start the hike doing around 10 to 12 miles a day then gradually upping that number to 15, 20, maybe more miles per day. But my goal is 10 to 12 miles a day on average.

Will you hike every day? Most likely, yes. Though I can see myself deciding to take a day off here and there depending on weather, tiredness, etc.

How are you going to get food? I plan to hike into various towns at least one a week to get supplies and food. This means that while the Long Trail is 272 miles through Vermont, I’ll actually be hiking more miles. I estimate I will hike somewhere around 320 miles total by the time I make it to North Adams, Massachusetts.

Keeping in Touch

I should also mention that while I will be disconnect from the world during the hike - meaning I will not be checking text messages, voice mails, emails, Twitter mentions, and so on - I do plan to do a daily, or almost daily, tweet to let family and friends know what’s going on. You can follow me, @kirbyt, on Twitter if you want to read my updates during the hike.

I’ve debated long and hard about whether I should or should not do the daily tweet. I decided to try it, though I’m doing it using Twitter’s SMS feature. This will help save battery life on my iPhone, and reduce the temptations to read my Twitter stream.

So now you know where I will be should you try to reach me between August 23 and the end of September.


Posted in personal. Tagged in camping, hiking, long trail, travel.


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