Friday, March 26, 2010

It's Ga-Me time, finally

“And today you know that's good enough for me
Breathin' in and out's a blessing can't you see
Today's the first day of the rest of my life and I'm alive
And well...I'm alive and well” –Kenny Chesney/DMB

I'm leaving for Springer Mountain in 12 hours!  Right now I'm with my friend Will at his parent's house in Georgia.   Today we drove in 9 hours a distance that it will take me almost 2 months to hike.  Our route intersected the trail four times, and each time I was a little more eager to get going.  Tomorrow morning I'll be taking the step that I have been waiting years for- the first of the approximately 5 million steps I will walk before this is over.

Defining the dream to thru-hike the AT was gradual- I have always been intrigued by thru-hikers, have always loved the outdoors, and have always felt a particular bond with the AT. When I was 18 the pieces seemed to come together when I took my first backpacking trip and realized that someday I would thru-hike, but even then it was just in the back of my mind.

But sometimes life’s lessons are quick slaps in the face instead of gradual realizations.  A defining adventure at the end of that year humbled me and taught me that I am not invincible and lack of planning can have extreme consequences. The details are still as murky as the river water and don’t even matter- what does it that the turn of events was nothing short of miraculous (aside- Happy Birthday Catie!). That experience was also the launching point for the enthusiasm with which I generally try to approach the world.  Nobody's perfect, but I try to remind myself that life is a gift and it is our duty to make the most of it- to have no regrets, to enrich the experiences of others, and to actively seek out and enjoy as much of this beautiful world as possible.

So this trip is me living life to the fullest- who knows when I will have another chance to live out such an all-consuming dream?  This hike is me grabbing life and shaking the hell out of it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mail Drops #1

Some people have expressed interest in sending me mail. I appreciate that IMMENSELY, but the details are kind of tricky, so bear with me.

1) It would be better for things to get there too early than late. Post offices hold packages for up to 30 days, but if I have already passed a town I can't go back and get the mail.

2) Packages with food and other goodies are great, but remember that what I can't eat in a single setting I will have to carry on my back along with 35 pounds of other gear or throw away. So, 1 pound of gummy bears would be much-appreciated, but 12 would be wasteful (or make me sick).  Letters with stories, jokes, poems, your musings on life, etc will be appreciated more than anything else, and I will definitely respond to them! Make sure to include a return address.

3) Fact: you can send mail to yourself at any post office. You just send it via General Delivery and show a photo ID to pick it up. So here is a list of post offices I will be stopping at for the first 1000 miles of the trail and my estimated date of arrival at each one.  In italics is what you should write on the letter/package:

a. Franklin, NC
Erin Tainer
c/o General Delivery
Franklin, NC 28734
Please Hold for AT hiker ETA: 4/3/2010

b. Fontana, NC
Erin Tainer
c/o General Delivery
Fontana Dam, NC 28733
Please Hold for AT hiker ETA: 4/6/2010

c. Hot Springs, NC
Erin Tainer
c/o General Delivery
Hot Springs, NC 28743
Please Hold for AT hiker ETA: 4/15/2010

d. Damascus, VA
Erin Tainer
c/o General Delivery
Damascus, VA 24236
Please Hold for AT hiker ETA: 5/1/2010

e. Troutville, VA-  This address is my parent's house. I'll be there around May 15 but you can send me mail at this address any time and my mom will make sure I get it.
Erin Tainer
2755 Little Catawba Creek Rd
Troutville, VA 24175

f. Harper's Ferry, WV
Erin Tainer
c/o General Delivery
Harper's Ferry, WV 25425
Please Hold for AT hiker ETA: 6/1/2010

4) The estimated dates of arrival are the best-cast scenarios so the packages will likely be sitting in the post office for a few days.  So don't send anything that needs to be refrigerated.  In reality I won't be hiking that fast, so it's not an itinerary.

5) In June I will list the post offices for the northern section.


Monday, March 22, 2010

About The Appalachian Trail

This is old news to a lot of you, but to those of you who are not familiar with the Appalachian Trail:
  • It’s a 2175 mile footpath along the Appalachian Mountains from Springer Mountain Georgia to Mt Katahdin, Maine.
  • It's also known as the AT.
  • It’s marked by white blazes on trees.
  • The total elevation gain on the trail is 91 vertical miles.
  • Each year a few thousand people attempt to hike the whole trail in a single year. These people are called “thru-hikers”.
  • Most hikers finish in 180 days. I’m hoping it will take me slightly less time.
  • The most traditional thru-hike is Northbound (NOBO). This is my plan, which means there will be other people starting their hikes the same day as me.
  • Some people go Southbound (SOBO) but they can’t start until May or June because of the weather in Maine.
  • I’ll be able to resupply in towns (and shower) every 5 days or so. In some places I will pick up boxes of food mailed to me by myself or my mother.
  • I may use the internet in these towns.
  • I will have my cellphone with me for emergencies but it will rarely be on.
  • I’ll stay in 3-walled shelters or my tent. I may also stay in a few hostels. Some hikers even stay in hotels occasionally, but I have a tight budget.
  • Only a small percentage of people who start thru hikes finish the whole trail in a single season (I’ve heard figures from 10%-20%). They leave the trail because of injury or illness, financial problems, problems at home, or emotional problems.
  • The state with the most miles is VA. 1/5 of the trail is in this state, so it’s not surprising that a number of people quit here. The tediousness causes something called the “Virginia Blues”.
  • The longest stretch of wilderness along the trail is the "100-Mile Wilderness" in Maine.
  • The trail goes through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
I'll include other interesting facts as my trip progresses along with some definitions of trail jargon.


On March 27, 2010 I'm leaving Springer Mountain, Georgia to attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. This is not an extraordinary attempt. In fact, 3,000 people start hiking the trail each year with the attempt to thru-hike. Out of these, only 200-300 hike the whole trail. I have a few things on my side- youth, health, experience, and overall support from friends and family. Nevertheless, this will be the hardest thing that I have ever done and perhaps the hardest that I will ever do.

Yes, I’m leaving alone.  A good friend is taking me to Georgia and walking the first few miles with me, but then I will be walking solo. Over the next few months I will undoubtedly meet some awesome people on the trail, and that is one aspect of the trail that I am looking forward to the most. I am also eager to reconnect with a few old friends while I’m hiking.  But, at the end of the day this is my adventure, and my legs and determination will be taking me to Maine.

Despite that this is a somewhat personal journey, I would like to share the insight and funny stories from this experience.  Also, I know that people will be worried about me and I will rarely have a chance to send personal emails.  So this blog will be a chronicle of my journey and a way for you to keep track of me.  I have intentions of updating every week or two, but don’t worry if posts are more infrequent. Internet is scarce on the trail. I promise to fill in the holes in the story after Katahdin. Thanks for reading!