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Paulmcdowell - Appalachian Trail Journal - 2008

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Paul "Firesocks" McDowell
City: Dayton
State: OH
Begins: Mar 16, 2008
Direction: Northbound

Daily Summary
Date: Fri, Mar 14th, 2008
Start: Fairborn, OH
End: Springer Mountain, GA
Daily Distance: 0

Journal Stats
Entry Visits: 831
Journal Visits: 68,906
Guestbook Views: 6,724
Guestbook Entrys: 76

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Appalachian Trail Map


So, what’s all this thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail about? Having talked to past thru-hikers and telling people what I’m doing, I find I am asked similar questions. I thought I should answer some of those as a post.

Where is the Appalachian Trail (AT)? How long is it? How long will it take? It is a footpath that runs from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. The latest AT Thru-Hiker’s Companion ( publishes the trail length at 2176.2 miles for the 2008 season, but this is always changing due to reroutes, maintenance, and probably best guesses. I hope to finish in about six months. I used 180 days as a planning guide, so my original plan was to start March 15 (tomorrow as of this post) and finish September 11, 2008. As of now, I plan to hit the trail on St. Patrick’s Day. I allow for some flexibility to finish no later than the end of September. The northern terminus (Katahdin) is part of Baxter State Park which closes to overnight travel October 15, so that’s the absolute latest I’d want to be there.

Are you hiking alone? Best answer is, “Yes and no.” My brother-in-law, Chris, agreed to drive me down to Springer Mountain to drop me off and will hike with me for the first week (hope the arm twist doesn’t hurt your legs). Last year (2007) about 1125 people started a thru-hike (not including section hikers, day hikers, etc.), so there is no shortage of folks to run into. I’ve planned to meet some friends at various points along the way as well.

A good website to check out is and answers a lot more common questions.

Are you carrying food for six months? Two previous thru-hikers, Brent and Andy (, describe thru-hiking the trail as a bunch of 3-5 day backpacking trips strung together in one season. Since the trail runs near towns and sometimes through towns, I’m planning to resupply using a bounce box that I will send to myself through the mail. I will also use several mail drops for critical locations where resupply is said to be less forgiving (a big thanks Mom for helping me with those). I will also need to have medical supplies sent which I’ve coordinated with mail drops.

Six months? Are you crazy? I’ve received a wide spectrum of responses when telling people about the hike:

“I wish I could join you.”

“Sounds like fun, but better you than me.”

“Wow! That’s crazy!”

“Don’t get eaten by a bear.”

I’ve not had anyone tell me to my face that I’m crazy…yet (sounds like an invitation). The best responses, I think, came from my mom and dad. My mom said that it would give her an excuse to see Maine, and my dad said there is a part of him that would want to come also. Overall, the response has been positive. Thanks to everyone who has offered words of encouragement as I appreciate your thoughts and need your prayers. Hey, I’ll be on the trail.

Finally, "Why?" The best answer I've found to this question was during a presentation at a Backpacker Campfire meeting ( Bill Hopple (of the Cincinnati Nature Center) had climbed Denali and offered a quote that I believe is a paraphrase of George Mallory from Mount Everest fame, "If you must ask the question, you would not understand the answer."

If you feel inclined, I welcome your comments, though my response may be limited. Thank you for stopping by to visit my journal. I’ll update it as often as I can and as the trail will allow.

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Journal Photo

Pumpin' The AT

Paul, GA>ME

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land. ~ G. K. Chesterton


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