Thru-hiking the AT isn’t all sunshine and roses. Like most prospective thru-hikers, I knew that going in. Nonetheless, I was still caught off-guard by many of the ridiculous, surprising, and oddly specific challenges I faced when I set foot on the trail for the first time. Because there are some things in life that you can’t truly understand until you’ve lived them.
Here are seven rude awakenings that took me by surprise when I started hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Bog bridges are a fact of life on the Appalachian Trail. Most of them are simple constructions—picture a line of elevated 2x6s going across a wetland or a stretch of muddy trail. They’re lifesavers. Without this basic infrastructure, hikers would have to slog through mud or bushwhack around swampy areas all the time.
But be warned: when they get wet (which is often), they are slippery little bastards. Mold, mildew, decomposing leaf goo, etc. turn the boards into bona fide oil slicks when you add water to the equation.
I’ll never forget the first time I stomped my way onto a wet, greasy bog bridge during an early shakedown, so young and innocent and full of trust, only to go flying and fall on my butt immediately. I once skated clear across a bridge on one foot, arms pinwheeling like a cartoon character, and landed on my feet in knee-deep sludge. I once stood completely still on a wooden bridge and still felt my feet slowly sliding out from under me.
Now I know to approach wooden bridges with caution on the trails. Rather than charging ahead at full speed, I carefully inch my way across the boards with my trekking poles at the ready in case I slip.
Like many newbies, I was stone-cold terrified of black bears when I started the AT. However, I quickly realized that bears are actually scaredy-cats who generally want as little to do with humans as possible.
But I’m here to tell you, folks: don’t let …….