Appalachian Trail: Leading Up To the White Blazes

Our contributor prepares to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.
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Our contributor prepares to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.
AT white blaze

The telltale white blaze lining the span of the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail. [photo by Dave Pidgeon/ Flickr]

“But what about bears, snakes, Lyme disease and crazed hillbillies?”

That's the sort of response I’ve been getting when I tell people I’ll be thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Sooner or later, too, someone will say: “Well, where do you, you know, go to the bathroom for 6 months?” I’ve developed a well-rehearsed speech to put their fears to rest. So far almost everyone has come around to the fact that I’ll be homeless for a spell, except for a few (sorry, mom!).

To be fair, I initially questioned my sanity to plan something so monumental in so short a stretch—I only decided in February that I had the means to attempt a thru-hike. But I knew now was the time, if there ever was one. Hiking the AT has been a dream (read: obsession) of mine since about the time I entered college in 2008. School, jobs, and a lack of money and time have always halted any real plans to start the trail.

I can’t help but grin when I think about witnessing sights like McAfee Knob, Grayson Highlands, or the White Mountains. Even though I’ll be starting in a few weeks, it’s still a surreal feeling I can’t shake no matter how much planning I do or AT videos I watch. Perhaps the reality of it all will finally hit me once I gaze upon the first white blaze.

The plan is to summit Springer Mountain on April 6 and ease into the soreness and blisters (yeah, right). Hailing from south Louisiana hasn’t exactly given me the greatest opportunities to mimic climbing mountains.

Luckily, our swampy terrain and constant threat of flooding has left us with miles of earthen, 40-foot levees lining the Mississippi River to halt high water. Joggers on the running path located on the levee’s peak have undoubtedly been wondering what the heck I’ve been doing walking with a backpack aimlessly up and down the manmade hill.

With each mile of training and sore day I’m enduring, it’s getting me closer to reaching the first white blaze—and hopefully will make getting my trail legs a smoother transition. Getting new gear and planning is the fun part, but I’m also readying my mind for less than easy days in the rain, bugs and other hardships I’ll likely encounter.

My sights aren’t set on Katahdin yet, but rather day one on Springer Mountain. I’m taking it day by day. A popular AT adage is to “hike your own hike.” I’ll add to that with, “and put one foot in front of the other.”

Jonathan Olivier is a contributor to BACKPACKER. He will begin his attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in April. Find his updates—before, during, and after—here or at backpacker.com/JonathansAThike.