As mentioned a couple posts ago, heading over the horizon after several months of backpacking is a target goal in the next couple or three years or so. For a backpacking trip I wanted something long distance, as in multiple months and multiple thousand miles long distance. The obvious choice, of course, was the Appalachian Trail, arguably the premier long distance trail in America (the other two elite long distance trails in the United States of America are the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, forming what is sometimes called the triple crown of hiking). The A.T. runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia, all the way to Kahtadin in Maine, over approximately 2,181 miles (not counting periodic trail reroutes and side trips to town for resupply). The average time to thru-hike is currently slightly under six months, with some going longer than seven, and some speedsters doing it in less than four.
There are advantages and disadvantages, as with everything, to the A.T.. Advantages include it being well marked, well maintained (as far as these things go), well documented, trail towns are comfortable with dirty, smelly backpackers trouncing in for a day or two, not to mention the convenience of proximity to someone living on the East Coast. Of course, its’ location means that rarely are hikers really all that far from civilization. And there are a lot of hikers. Thousands attempt a thru-hike each year, while 20-25% (depending on the year) complete it. This means there is likely to be plenty (quite possibly, too much) of company, especially Northbound. This is a very hiked (some would say over hiked) trail.
There are options for reducing the crowds, of course. There are significantly fewer South-bounders (SOBO or MEGA –Maine to Georgia–) hikers than Northbound (NOBO or GAME), so starting at Katahdin and heading south would greatly ease any overcrowding, at least until running into the (likely depleted, and by then, spread out) NOBOs. Of course, this means doing the most rugged and probably difficult portion of the trail at the beginning, through Maine and New Hampshire, when likely not in trail shape. Not to mention that Katahdin just seems like a more dramatic place to finish. Lack of crowds may also mean lack of camaraderie, and an increase in loneliness. Who can say?
But I just learned of another long distance trail through the Appalachians called the Great Eastern Trail (GET). The Great Eastern Trail runs from the Florida/Georgia border up to New York (near Buffalo, I think), linking several independently maintained trails. The appeal of this trail is that it is further west of the A.T. in much more rugged wilderness areas (on average). As well it is far less traveled. I’m not sure if there has been a successful thru-hike of it yet (I know of one attempt by a hiker trail named Hammock Hanger; but a one year thru-hike attempt doesn’t seem to have worked out), although I’m sure it is just a matter of time. The GET is around 1800 miles long. There is, naturally, trouble in paradise here, too. Primarily is that this is a trail that is still being built. There are sections which do not have wilderness trail connections. This is being worked on, but it takes time. So, road hiking over several “gaps” is currently a fact of life. As well, towns near the trails haven’t grown accustomed to hikers, and supplies, hostels, etc… may be hard to come by, and the residents are probably likely to assume any hikers they see are vagrants. Not to mention that each section being independently maintained, there isn’t a central repository for maps and guides. Long stretches of solitude is practically assured for a solo hiker. Still, I find this intriguing.
So, the plan, such as it is, is to let 2012 be 2012, with work, sailing, and hopefully a few backpacking trips. 2013 (if money allows) or 2014 would begin my great adventure, starting with either the A.T. (I’m thinking a July start southbound; but don’t hold me to that) or G.E.T., followed by a sailboat tour of the Caribbean (maybe even including Bermuda) and South America.
Of course, plans are fluid. I’m still (STILL!) working through various legal and financial challenges. But, lawsuits aside, 2011 was a significant improvement over the previous couple years, and 2012 promises to be even better. Things are looking up!