I ordered and received the AT Guide by David Miller, who wrote the book "AWOL on the Appalachian Trail." I also got the map set. They are waterproof and very lightweight and I am obsessed with them. I have always loved maps, atlases, globes, anything like that. Maybe it started with the road trips I went on with my Dad where I would study the atlas the whole time, tracing our route and looking at all the other options. I would love for everybody to see the maps, but they are probably more expensive than most people would want to pay if they're not actually walking, though less expensive than other full sized and heavy map sets of the Appalachian Trail.
One side of each map section shows the trail from above, including twists and turns, side trails and shelters. The other side of the maps have elevation profiles. Basically, it's a line that goes up and down based on the elevation of the trail. It's supposed to show you what to expect and maybe how many mountains or ups and downs are ahead along with how steep they are. I've read of other hikers feeling betrayed by multiple hard sections that did not show on the elevation profiles, so I'll try not to get upset with the trail or the maps for not doing what I think they're going to do. Some hikers feel that elevation profiles are useless or discouraging or make it seem too easy when in the end, all of us who are attempting a thru-hike will just be walking whatever is in front of us anyway. I understand that position, but those elevation profiles are my favorite part of the maps. Maybe not necessary to know, but so much fun to look at. Of course, the maps start with the wrong mileage (less than this year's mileage of 2,184), so I'm not sure how up-to-date they are, but they're probably close and definitely will be helpful. I'll just remember that things change quickly and I can hope but can't count on anything being exactly where the map or guide says it is. I've read some hiker's journals where they had counted on getting water but a spring had dried, or getting groceries but the store had closed down and then they were in trouble for food or water or just horribly disappointed when there was no pizza place after all.
I may have mentioned before that I will not be hiking the Approach Trail to Springer Mountain. It's an eight mile hike with something like 600 stairs to climb up the falls and some people take two days just to get to the start of the Appalachian Trail, and some get injured hiking it, but it's not part of the AT. There are some purists who insist the Approach Trail should be hiked anyway, or you're not a real thru-hiker. Others say that if you're going to walk almost 2200 miles why wouldn't you walk those eight miles? I say, why should I walk any extra miles just to prove I'm a "real" thru-hiker? I guess I'm obstinate like that. If there's a blue-blazed side trail that has waterfalls and I want to take pictures, and it fits in my schedule, I'll hike it. If there's a town I want to get to and I can't catch a ride, I'll walk the extra miles to get there and back. If there's a parking lot less than a mile from the beginning of the AT and I have a ride to it, why should I hike seven extra miles? I already know I'm not a purist. I plan to slackpack if I get the chance and can afford it, and I don't care which direction (north or south) I hike on the trail in any given section. Due to those choices many purists would diminish my hike and challenge my claim to be a thru-hiker even if I touched every single white blaze on the trail. That's why I love the phrase "Hike your own hike." I will definitely be hiking MY hike, not anybody else's.
Out of curiosity I checked the elevation profile of the Approach Trail and I see a part right at the beginning where it goes straight up. I assume that's where the steps are. It looks pretty steep and I don't mind skipping that part to start, when I'm not in trail shape yet and my pack is probably heavier than it needs to be. Then I thought I should look at the profile for Mt. Katahdin, which I hiked in August, and was the hardest hike I have ever done. I truly was not prepared or fully aware of what I was getting myself into, but having successfully hiked Mt Katahdin has boosted my confidence like you would not believe. It might have been the smartest or at least the most effective thing I've done to prepare to thru-hike the AT. The elevation profile was just ridiculous. It made the Approach Trail look like a blip. Katahdin rises straight out of the ground and just keeps going straight up for over five miles. It is not the highest mountain on the AT, Clingman's Dome has that distinction, but when I compare the two mountains, Clingmans's Dome looks easier to hike and you don't start from the bottom either, like you do with Katahdin.
I stare at that profile of Katahdin and know that because I did that, I can handle any of these other mountains on the AT. It's just one step after another after another for about six months. It's about mental focus and keeping my reasons for doing this clear in my mind and listening to my body and taking breaks when I need them. And when I climb Mt. Katahdin again, I will be in much better shape and it won't be a surprise and it will have a totally different meaning. If I flipflop, Katahdin won't be the end of my journey, but it will still be very profound for me to return to Katahdin and this time if the weather cooperates I intend to hike the Knife Edge trail. I hope my climbs on Angel's Landing in Zion National Park have prepared me for that three foot wide trail with deadly drop-offs on both sides because I really want to hike the Knife's Edge. The scariest parts of Angel's Landing are my favorite parts and yes, I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie.
Some people have offered to send me packages or maybe want to try to meet up with me along the way. I think the best way to coordinate this will be if those people also purchase the AT Guide. Otherwise, they'll need to coordinate with somebody who has the 2012 Northbound AT Guide. The reason I say this is because with not too much trouble if we're emailing, calling or sending Facebook messages I can say, go to this page and look at this hostel (or whatever) and say I think I'll be there in the next two weeks (for example). There are phone numbers and websites and shipping details and business hours listed. Once again, things can quickly change, but at least we'll be working with the same information, so if you're interested I'll add the link here.
I am cautious about broadcasting exactly where I am in real time because I've been warned about cyber stalkers tracking me down in person if I post my blog live. Plus, there's that one abusive ex who doesn't need to know exactly where I am, ever. I don't do "check-ins" on Facebook and my blog will most likely be several days behind me. There's a good chance my (good, amazing, wonderful) friend, Jenn, will be collecting my posts as I email them to her, which could take several days before I have service on my phone anyway, and she'll edit them a little before posting them for me. This "plan" may change as I go along, though, and I'm much more likely to post a quick update on my Facebook group page even before my blog posts get added here. The quick back and forth of the Facebook group means that even now there are conversations and things on there that aren't here, so I hope you also join the group, called "Carey Belcher Hikes the Appalachian Trail."
Next post: Observation Point hike and gear test in Zion National Park.