My Journey Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

My 150 day thru-hike on The Appalachian Trail

By: Robert Thomas
October 18, 2016

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It was about a month and a half ago before this picture that I had decided to spend my summer hiking. Growing up I always thought how crazy people must be to venture out on this trail... yes, it would be incredibly hard - maybe the most difficult thing I've even conceptualized - but also insanely awesome. I found myself without a job, a lot of free time, and decided what better way to spend it! Somehow I was determined enough to find the energy to journal a little bit once a day and give you guys a taste of what I was thinking, feeling, tasting, and so forth.

Day 7: We made it through our first state (Georgia)! I've been hiking with Pocahontas and Tick now for a few days and tonight we made our first fire to keep warm. It's been getting into the low 40's at night which makes it a bit chilly in the morning but our spirits are still on fire with optimism and bliss!

Day 16: Today we stumbled upon some good ole Trail Magic 5 miles into the day! To keep it simple, Trail Magic is usually food, drink coolers, or people offering their generosity to give to the trail and the hikers choosing to travel it. It's these small and big acts of kindness that help keep us motivated and inspired. We made it to Fontana Dam which is the last town before entering the Smoky mountains! We stayed at the shelter there and hiked down to the water where we found an awesome rock to jump off and play on for a bit. Had dinner by a fire together and talked about how stoked we were to enter the Smokies, see the beauty it offers, and of course stay at a safe distance from the wildlife.

Day 17: Today we hiked 17 miles through the ice cold rain and ankle-deep mud as we crossed into the Smokies, soon to be dubbed "the Soakies." We were all high-fiving each other after depositing our camping permit passes into the registration box. We made it to the shelter in which we intended on staying only to learn it was full. To our surprise it was almost entirely thru hikers who were happy to slide closer to each other and make room for the three of us. Three more short days of bone chilling rain and ankle deep mud, I found myself at an all time low. I was just over 200 miles into my thru hike ready to call it quits. I knew I wasn't truly willing to quit but I desperately needed to get dry and warm my body so we decided to take a day off. We rented a little room at a nearby hotel and had paracord tied all around hanging all of our gear wherever we could find a spot. Spent the night indulging in Mexican food, visiting some shops, and stocking up to get back out the following day!

Day 22: Last night we arrived at Standing Bear Farm which is more or less a hiker colony. There was a massive feast for 4/20 - which we all can say we took full advantage of eating until our stomachs couldn't hold anymore. This party had locals, hikers, moonshine, food, and plenty of stories to be shared. Today we took off a little later around 10 AM and cranked out 18 miles to Max Patch. A spot recommended to us for camping, known for it's 360 degree views and great for sunset/sunrises. Some people brought their sleeping bags up there and sat in them just to keep warm from the winds and take in the sun setting of another great day on the trail. 

Day 26: I'm lying here in my sleeping bag at 8:30 PM about to go to sleep shortly after watching the sunset. I can't begin to describe how in love I am with everything about this lifestyle. It's incredible, I sleep shoulder-to-shoulder with different people every night, who are all beautiful in their own ways. Everyone always has a great story to share or a certain part of the trail that we passed that day to laugh about or relate to. It's unreal. I'm getting to a point where I can't imagine not living like this forever, it scares me knowing that one day this particular hike will end. 

Day 40: Today we started at 5:00 AM to get some morning hiking in to avoid the heat of Virginia. After hiking 13-14 miles by noon, we took a three hour nap in a shady spot right by a river bed. We hiked up to the top of Buzzard Rock which is almost 5,000 feet high and 360 degree views! Tick cowboy-camped alone under the stars to catch the morning sunrise from his sleeping bag while the rest of us stayed off a bit in the woods where it was slightly warmer and less windy. At this point i'd like to say that we're becoming very experienced with concocting up some of the most bizarre meals. The best part is, everyone has their own little tip on packing a few extra calories. I'm only 40 days out and I can no longer look at a cliff bar or protein bar so i'm super appreciative of all the creativity! Just tonight I had rice wraps w/ pepperoni, ranch, and crushed crackers. After catching one of the most epic sunsets yet we all went to bed, exhausted and cozy. 

Day 62: Today we did a whopping 1.5 miles. We made it down to the river that was only few miles from our camp and everyone went bridge jumping, excited to be submerged in some water. There were some locals taking their kayaks out and offered us to take them out for a bit while they pulled the car around - so naturally we jumped right on it! We ended up floating around town and grabbing a resupply to head out in the morning. 

Day 76: After eating my normal breakfast of pop tarts, honeybuns, and oatmeal, things have really started to sink in about what i've committed to. I've been on this "vacation" where I've been hiking everyday for nearly two and a half months and I can't say that I'm getting tired of it. Waking up under a new set of trees, on top of a new cliff, or on the bed of a river always brings a new day of memories and experiences. I think tomorrow we might be floating down the river for a day or two for our legs to catch a break. Super stoked to swim and see what the river brings us to! It's something about how we just decide what we're doing during the day makes life seem so simple. There's not many rules out here and it's only brought me to find the most generous and kind hearted people. After reaching town later in the evening Flick, Zen, and Rusty, (pictured above from left to right) surprised with birthday candles on a pizza to celebrate my trail birthday! I'll say it until i'm blue in the face, life on a trail is absolutely incredible. By the way, pictures above is us taking a siesta ( mid day naps ) due to us being lazy or the heat taking a toll. 

Day 93: The majority of today I spent pretending the ground was hot lava and hopping from rock-to-rock considering there was an abundance of them throughout Pennsylvania. My feet are feeling pretty tender as a result, though that's not surprising. Today we also officially made it out of Rocksylvania and into my home state of New Jersey. I've officially walked from Georgia all the way to New Jersey and feel great. I'll be taking the weekend off to celebrate the 4th of July with my family and trail family! I'm already nervous about having to say goodbye to my family and head back out on the trail but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it! Mile 1293 and counting!! 

Day 107: Today's been such a great day. The first climb out of town was pretty big and it was a nice challenge. I think it's all in your head though as far as preparation goes, like if I know I've got a big climb coming, my body can usually handle it with ease. We took a break at the first peak and had a quick snack as we sat there in silence just observing. It was way too gorgeous to pass up. A few miles later we ran into Rob Bird; a legendary trail angel. He gave us sodas, snacks, and his number to link up with in the future for some more trail magic or even some slack packing! He ended up texting and inviting us to meet up at the next road crossing for pizza and a roof to sleep under. We then spent the next 3-4 days slack packing through Massachusetts, eating good, and making memories each night!! I have so much love and respect for that man.

Day 114:  Today we climbed Stratton which had a fire tower at the top. It was so incredible with the full 360 views but so windy! Everytime I have a chance to make it up to these high points I really take it all in. You'll basically be hiking up and over the peaks you see in the distance and it absolutely fascinates me. It looks so far by eye, but 10 hours later that tower is barely visible. We made it to the road where we were originally going to hitch into town and resupply but decided we had enough to push one more day. We carried on to the top of Bromley Ski mountain to catch an epic sunset. I'm going to sleep at the top of the mountain in a ski shack, with plans on waking up early to catch the sunrise from up here. Life is outstanding!

Day 120: Today we crossed the border for New Hampshire which means only two states left on this long vacation. We decided today would be a short day and only did 10 miles. At the end of those 10 miles was "Elm Street," which is notorious for having coolers all down the road filled with all sorts of goodies! We stopped in Hanover where we found a pizza place that let hikers eat for free!! That was definitely an awesome surprise to stumble upon. Now I'm currently waiting to get picked up by a trail angel who's going to let me crash at her house for the next day or two because I'm feeling super sick and weak. I hope tomorrow I feel better and it was just something I ate.  

Day 125: Franconia freaking Ridge. Today I was greeted by a place I've only dreamed of seeing. I've seen pictures of it growing up and never had any clue where it was. Well, today I learned it was on the AT. Words can't describe the state of bliss I was in. Needless to say we spent hours up on this ridge eating, taking some photos, and talking with other hikers. I've never seen anything so incredible until today. After leaving the ridge, which was hard for me to do, we had a good bit of legit rock climbing. I would just chuck my poles up the climb or down depending on which we were tackling so I had the extra hands to grab onto things. The wet boulders added an additional challenge, but nevertheless we made it through it. 

Day 126: Today we set out early to try and catch leftover breakfast at one of the huts. We were told if you get there just after breakfast, they'll give the thru-hikers whatever was left if you made it at the right time. Unfortunately they were cleaned out by the time we reached them. Pippa and I continued on after a short break there. Pippa joined up with me two days ago and has easily become one of my best friends out here. She's definitely one of a kind and has inspired me in so many ways. Unfortunately in two days her trail comes to an end with grown up obligations to attend to. We made it to a shelter just in time before penny-sized hail started pounding down from the sky. It was so loud on the tin roof of the shelter I had to almost yell just to speak to her sitting right next to me. It really sent me into deep thought for a good 30 minutes about how strong but beautiful nature is and can be. 

Day 132: MAINE, I've crossed into the final state!!! A few days ago I met Caretaker (from Germany), Tato (Finland), and Tarpman (Boston) and we've been setting up camp together every night since. Each one of them have had so many stories and experiences to share, it's been so great hearing and sharing with each other. Today I found myself falling into knee deep mud which didn't look like mud until it was too late. Tarpman took a spill on some wet log bridges as well. The terrain in Maine so far has been so beautiful but definitely a challenge as always. I'm definitely glad to be done with the Whites and onto the final state! 

Day 133: Today we tackled arguably the hardest mile on the AT, "The Mahoosic Notch." The hardest mile turned out to be super rad but took us over an hour to get through it, which is a bit slower than our 3 miles per hour rate we can usually average. It literally looked like a kid's messy room but with massive boulders, fallen trees, and caves. It definitely seemed more of a playground for adults than anything though. After only being in this state for only two days, I can say it's been the toughest one yet. We found our first set of rock walls with rebar in them to help you climb up these massive obstacles. Today was a tough one, but it felt good to sit back and relax at the end of the day and joke about all the terrain we tackled or which terrain tackled us! 265 miles to go :)

Day 135: We tried setting an alarm to get out at 5 AM and beat the down pour that was coming our way, but as we woke up to that alarm, we realized our plan was flawed already with the rain coming down. We were climbing two peaks today, one of which we had to tackle with 70 + mph gusts with downpour. We decided it would be in everyones best interest to stay close today and that's what we did. We knew we just had to make it 13 miles to get to the road crossing where we'd search for a hitch. At 4.5 miles left it started lightly raining which ended up turning into a torrential downpour, completely soaking through every single piece of gear we had. We finally made it town and rented a basic cabin with bunkbeds to dry all our gear out and get a resupply. 

Day 138: It was only two miles into our hike this morning when we found a lake that couldn't have been more tempting. The sun was coming up and it was getting hot, so we all went for a nice swim! We hung out and swam for the next hour or so before deciding to continue pushing on. We saw signs today that said people are getting sick from the water sources, so we've been extra careful with treating ours (we couldn't imagine getting sick this close to the end). After making it to camp, we all sat out on some rocks as we ate dinner and watched the sunset. These guys are like family to me and I'm super glad I was able to meet each of them. In the next few days we'll be tackling the "100 mile wilderness" where there's no roads or resupplies until you make it all the way through. I've mailed home almost all my clothes except for one extra shirt, and the clothes on my back in an effort to simply lighten up my pack for making some big miles through this section. 

Day 150: Today we are sitting at the bottom of Katahdin with my sister and her boyfriend who decided to come up from NJ and hike the final peak with us. Yesterday we took a day off to wait out the rain and have a clear day to summit. The vibes today are very different than they've been this whole trip. Everyone is very excited, but it also means it's coming to an end. Everyone will go back to their respective homes, some of which are across the sea and we won't be as tightly knit and spending each day laughing and complaining to each other. We all separated on our 5 mile hike up to Mt. Katahdin. Some of us taking our time while others eager to make it to the top. At my first glance of the wooden sign, that declares your thru hike complete, my legs went weak and tears started flowing. It was such an incredible feeling that I've never felt before. I was so sad yet felt so accomplished. We spent an hour or two up there taking pictures, celebrating, congratulating others, and really just not ready to face the facts of it being done. I've now got family all across the states and even some across seas. Thru-Hiking the AT was the hardest but most rewarding thing I've done to date and I wouldn't trade that experience for anything!

2189.2 miles, I did it. I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 150 days. As my good friend Kimchi kept telling me, my life has officially been ruined in the best way possible. Now i'm forever chasing the next adventure and finding it hard to stay in one place.  If theres anyone tossing the idea around of any sort of long distance hiking, I strongly encourage you to do it! Find a way to make it happen, the rest will fall into place! 

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.