Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Guest Blog: Letter of a $1000 AT Thru Hike

Enjoy this guest blog from "Sleepwalker" on how he did his AT (Appalachian Trail) thru hike for $1000!

Greetings from the ether. 

My trail name is Sleepwalker, for obvious reasons. I’m a trail Legacy as my father thru hiked also.
This also means I grew up knowing about the AT and backpacking in general. I didn’t like it much as a kid, but I think that was because I was being forced, because as soon as I went out a few times on my own or with friends, I discovered a thorough joy for it. I was getting bored of college or maybe I was just lazy. Either way, I decided I wanted a reason my parents could appreciate to take time off and hiking sounded reasonable to me. Since I had money saved up, I was fortunate enough to be able to decide to do a thru hike the December before I left. I’m 20 at this point in time so money saved up means I had around $1000 to spare. Now most people would say this isn’t enough, but I did a lot of math (which I’m not horrible at) and I kept coming up with the same answer: this IS possible.

I already had a lot of the gear I needed from growing up in a hiking family so my expenses pre-trail were low. In fact the only things I had to get were a sawyer squeeze ($50), a tent ($100) and a cook kit ($10). Living in Pennsylvania, having family in Harrisburg, and going to school at Shippensburg (yeah, you missed it if you thru hiked) gave me great confidence that even if I didn’t finish, I’d at least be able to hike home and be alright. Of course this is a hilarious joke, because I wasn’t going to fail. I’m not the type of person who could tell all their friends and family that I was going to do something epic and then fall short. 

When I got dropped of at Springer Mountain I was super confident. When I reached the NOC, I started to get worried. I was eating too much money and my mile-droppings weren’t large enough. Financially and temporally (oh, yeah I started on May 15th) I was not going to succeed. Well, for better or for worse, my hiking partners dwindled to none by Fontana Dam. I decided the day Gandalf left me there that I was just going to blast up that damn hill and run to Katahdin and make it anyway. Turns out that’s a mighty climb and for someone who had only slept in a bed once since starting, my 20 year old bod got pretty worn out. Luckily there were two more things that kept me going: Ramen noodles and Argo. Since I only had $1000 to do the hike on, Ramen was pretty much what I ate, day in and day out. I must say, going in for a resupply and having to budget really isn’t easy. I wish I could lay out a solid plan as to what you can really afford to eat with that little money, but that solid plan will come out the other end anything but solid. 

Ramen, pepperoni, mashed potatoes, raisins, granola bars, oatmeal, crackers, cheese, tortillas, knock off pop tarts, the occasional live chicken and before you do the shopping, take a half gallon of chocolate milk to pound town. Now even with that you must be wondering how to make the rounds. Well I may or may not have shoplifted two whole pizzas from a pizza buffet in Pearisburg, Virginia after eating my fill. Some other less than elegant things I had to do include: raiding the hiker boxes for hopefully not so expired food, working for stay… everywhere, carrying someone else’s pack on top of mine in exchange for food, and smiling a lot. I’m a food whore, I admit it. Naturally you have the startup energy that just living uses up so ideally you also need to make a thru hike take less time because you’ll need to eat more the longer you take. This is where Argo comes into play! It turns out when you’re a 20 year old, rarely seeing women, and you’re horny as hell, the promise of a “fine lookin’ thru hiker lady up ahead” can really get you moving. Who would have known? I eventually caught up to her and some other May starters who were also moving fast and I must admit, their companionship was a great motivator for me. I never felt like quitting but my fast pace was certainly not easy, even for me and great hikers were what kept me trucking. If I were to summarize the keys to doing a thru hike cheap, they would be:

1.    Hike fast
2.    Eat cheap food aka hiker box food
3.    Make friends
4.    Work for stay everywhere
5.    Become someones trail slave
6.    Become a breatharian

I hope this can help someone who doesn’t think they have the funds for the funs on the AT change their mind. I ended up paying for some hostels and I used some money on gear that broke. Your gear might not. I could see someone totaling $700. It’s also crucial to keep your mind in the right place. The beginning is very discouraging, but trust me, if you really want Katahdin, you will get there!

Much love,


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