From the Editor: Our fabulous Facebook group Appalachian Trail: Women’s Group has almost 20,000 members – what an amazing source of experience and knowledge! For this post, I asked the group: “Those who have thru-hiked, are thru-hiking, or intend to thru-hike the AT: how did you pick your start date and why? Would you change it if you could go back? Anything you wish you’d known?” Here are just a few of the responses I got (I kicked it off with my own thoughts).
Have more to add to the conversation? Leave a comment below!
“I started Monday, April 25th, 2016. I had a friend’s wedding the Saturday before in Chattanooga, so I was already in the area. I also knew that I HATE being cold and starting early would likely lead to me quitting.
I LOVED my start date as the weather was wonderful, there were still a good number of people around without it being crowded, and I met my trail family the very first night at my first shelter so that felt very fortuitous.” -Nichole Y.
“February 26th. My husband and I are both school teachers and we couldn’t take part of one year off and then part of another. So we had to finish in one school year. Always wanted to NOBO so left early enough to be sure we had time to finish and then get back in time to start teaching at the end of August.” -Cheryl C.
“April 28. Mostly because we took a whopping 8 weeks to plan and execute our AT attempt, including quitting our jobs and moving out of our apartment. I’m very happy with when we went. We missed a lot of crummy weather early on that might have been discouraging. It did get cold toward the end but we were by no means alone out there.” -Kim M.
“Leaving February 22, 2023. Waiting for my son to graduate college, May 2022. Work in retail so planning during our slow time. Mostly want the challenge of some winter, don’t think I really want to be a part of the bubble. It makes me a little sad the AT is so popular now. I’m slow though so by the time I maybe wish I had more people some will be catching up.” -Theresa C.
“Mine was for practical reasons both times – when I could get time off, when the weather would be good, when I could get a ride to the trail. I started 3/14 in 2010 for a Nobo and 4/20 in 2017 for a flip flop. It was a little embarrassing when I was reminded that 420 was a pot related number.” -Amy F.
“I gave my last final exam on May 7th, graded it on my flight and train ride to Harpers Ferry, and started hiking my flip flop hike the next morning (May 8, 2015). So my date was decided by my work. It was a good date for a Flip Flop hike.” -Susan H.
“I started the day before my birthday (did the approach trail) so that I could hit the AT on my birthday. It was absolutely the right choice for me. I’d had some rough times leading up to my thru, and starting on my birthday meant putting myself first, which was what my thru was about.” -Alayne C.
“I’m starting (with a friend) on June 11. We’re both in school (although I took a semester off), so that’s when we are available – plus we wanted to be sure the trails to Katahdin would be open. I’d also like to mention, though, that we both chose to go SOBO on purpose. I love the outdoors and the possibility of occasional solitude. While I’m excited to meet other hikers on the trail, the idea of hiking in the bubble is just not the experience that I’m looking for.” -Val H.
“I’m a pansy about the cold, so February was out. Every single day in March tends to be crowded based on ATC reports of hiker numbers. So that’s why I decided April. I was planning for my birthday, 4/16, because that felt grand and momentous and all. Then based on the ATC registration and my own impatience, I moved it up to 4/12 because only 8 people were registered instead of 22 for the 16th. Then my best friend, who was supposed to hike the approach trail with me on the 12th got exhausted on the stairs, so we adapted our plan and only did the stairs that day, followed by a big lunch at the lodge. So the next day, Friday the 13th, I started from the lodge, finished the Approach, stood on top of Springer, and hiked my first two “real miles” to Stover Creek.
Little did I know April 13 was the perfect day to start: the next day, I met a fellow 4/13 starter (who had camped at Springer shelter that first night) and we hiked all the way to Katahdin together, and we’re still dating ☺ To think, if I had started on the 16th as I originally planned, I probably never would have met him!” -Sibley B.
“I got invited to go to Patagonia for three weeks in January, which meant I had to quit my job, but I didn’t have enough time to come back and find a job and work before starting on a more traditional date. So I started February 3rd. It was 100% the right choice for me- I had plenty of snow to keep things interesting on sections I otherwise would have been bored on, and I loved not being part of the bubble.” -Eloise R.
“March 5th. I wanted to go before the bubble but late enough that I would be less likely to hit insane snow.
My start date was perfect that year. I wouldn’t change it. I was pretty cold a couple nights though. I anticipated that from a theoretical standpoint but didn’t really realize what it would mean for me literally. Maybe it would have been good for me to do a cold overnight before hiking. I may have decided on a warmer sleeping bag if I had.” -Zoë S.
“Mid to late February of 2020. I work at a university and have sabbatical in my spring semester. But, I need to be back by mid-August for the fall semester. I would rather hike in colder weather than hot and humid although won’t be afraid to take 0 days in town if weather is bad. Also, I don’t want to be in the middle of the bubble – I am too old for that (I will turn 57 on the trail)!” -Ann J.
“I have a while, but I intend to start March of 2021. I have to wait until then because I am a college student and will be graduating May 2020. Because I want to nobo, and May is pretty late to be starting in Georgia, I plan to get any random job after I graduate, and then quit and hike the following year. Here’s hoping I can make that happen!” -Ann Marie W.
“My husband and I started on March 6, 2015. We were living in Vermont, so we weren’t worried about cold or snow. We left early to avoid the bubble, and my husband was concerned about how long it would take us to reach Katahdin; I used to hike slowly. We summited on August 31st!” -Victoria W.
“We started in late October. Hiked Spring to the N.O.C. We started back on trail on March 18 at the N.O.C. This weird way of doing it allowed us to hike GA and NC without dealing with crowding or miserable winter weather. It’s been great…except when people want to know when we started and our answer is really odd.” -Win M.
“I started my solo SOBO June 19th 2016. I picked that day because I’m short (5’3″) and when climbing Katahdin with friends several years earlier, I needed a butt push to get up a couple spots. June 19th was Father’s Day & I figured there would be other people around to help me if I needed it that day. Turned out I was able to get up (and down) without any needed assistance 🙂
I picked SOBO because I’m older (40 at the time) & don’t care for big crowds while hiking. I loved my hike! I met amazing people but spent most of my days alone-ish which was perfect for me. I also liked the idea of hiking into fall with the changing seasons. I’m not a huge fan of cold weather either so I picked up my pace the latter part of my hike & finished the end of October.” -Jill C.
“Start date March 9th. Only made it 150 miles….I wanted to start near the front of the bubble. I figured it would give me plenty of time to reach Katahdin, that there would be people around, but that I might miss the ever-present bubble norovirus.
If I could go back I would have started later. The snow and rain were miserable. I kind of wish I had flip flopped. You get kinder weather and there’s still plenty of people.
Oh, I also didn’t know there were tornados. This is common sense to some people but seeing as how we only get the occasional water spout here that doesn’t do damage (where I’m from), it never crossed my mind it could happen. Ever since the tornado I get scared being outside in lightening storms because I think it’s going to happen again.” -Kasey G.
“My start date is 3/20/2020. I’m calling it the “AT Three Twenties”.” -Colleen W.
“3/22 was our original start date last year. It was the anniversary of me being hit by a car that broke my back.” Penny V.
“I retired on September 30, 2015, and began the AT on October 4 in Damascus. I love fall hiking the best, and wanted to start in an area with reasonably good weather to get as far as I could before the snows began. My plan was to hike as far as I could, given weather conditions, and then day hike over the winter before beginning again in the spring.
I’m fortunate to live close enough to SNP that I finished all of the Central and North District and all of the rest of VA north of SNP to PenMar by the end of February. I then returned to full-time hiking until an injury took me off the trail in early June 2016 at about the halfway mileage. I’d said for years that I wanted to do a thru hike when I retired and to use the time to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. It didn’t end up as a thru, but I finished the AT in August of 2018. The hike gave me clarity about my priorities and goals.” -Denise V.
“Currently on the trail and we started April 7th. I love our start date! Other than a few major weather systems that we headed into town to miss, the weather has been incredible. We’re pretty much in the bubble, which I also love. Everyone talks of the bubble with disdain, but we haven’t had any issues. We have met tons of fun people and have never had issues with it being “too crowded”. Most days we still have plenty of time to ourselves and then people to hangout with at night😊” -Rachel C.
“I plan on starting NOBO mid-February 2024, after I retire from the Navy in December 2023. Am trying to avoid the bubble, and would like to go back to school in fall 2024.” -Kristy N.
“3/13/13 NOBO at Amicalola, a palindrome date (same backwards as forwards), at least for date conventions here in the US. I’m a geek like that.” -Renee S.
“I started April 16 in Shenandoah heading north. I picked that date because I wanted to get to Harpers Ferry in time for the Flip Flop festival – I made it and would not change my start date (but it was crazy cold that 1st night!)” -Dawanna B.
“I picked March 20th 2020 because it is the first day of spring (symbolic new beginning) and it is late enough to perhaps miss a little bit of weather but not so late that I feel rushed to get to Katahdin. I am retired so I will look at weather trends and adjust accordingly 😊” -Janet M.
“We started June 2 or 3 on Katahdin. It was a great choice to go SOBO for many reasons. The weather was mostly fabulous, but black flies are evil in Maine. I looked like I had chicken pox on my neck, even though I wore a bug net on my head. They crawled under the elastic!” -Heather W.
“I picked my 52nd birthday as my start day. I’m an April fools baby and that just happened to be Easter last year. That made it an even better day to start and celebrate the spirit of new beginnings.” -Joey S.
“Picked June 15, 2020. Trying to balance flies, mosquitoes, and high water and still finish by end of season.” -Jane T.
“March 15. Too much snow. I would start 2-3 weeks later.” -Roberta L.
“March 10, mainly because I was excited and just wanted to get out there sooner rather than later. Idk if I would have done it differently, I go so anxious watching everyone who started before me on Instagram. BUT if I were to ever do it again, I would push my start date back. Was sleeping in sub freezing temperatures more often than not for well over a month.” -Heidi N.
“I started April 20. I had planned to leave April 3 knowing that I may need to push the date back in case I needed more time to prepare, as long as I didn’t leave any later than May 1 in order to give myself 5 months until October. Due to unexpected foot pain, doctor’s appointments and physical therapy sessions, my date did get pushed back. In the end, I’m so happy I started later because our first night was below freezing and I hated it.
I can’t imagine having nights and nights of cold. Been out here 18 days and only have had a couple of chilly nights of sleeping. On the other hand, I am acclimating as I go and am feeling really pressured to up my miles so I can keep on schedule and that has been really hard because I’m not ready. Still glad to start during all this great weather. Has made the pain more tolerable.” -Beth M.
“The AT was my first long distance trail so I purposely chose the most popular time to start heading in the most popular direction so that other hikers would be around me. I loved that hike and wouldn’t change a thing but now after years of experience I would choose the exact opposite and try to start when I would have the trail to myself.” -Tracy E.
“On my thru hike right now. Left Wednesday, March 27th. My boyfriend and I are hiking together. He wanted to start on a Wednesday to try and avoid too huge of a hiker bubble. Initially he wanted to leave earlier as well, but I was afraid of the cold and we needed a little more time to sort through “at home stuff” before we left.
Now, I wish we would have left a little earlier, as we greatly overestimated our abilities our first month on the trail. We are just now in Erwin and are getting a little concerned we may not be able to finish on time.” -Heather R.
“April 1st because it was warmer but yet I would finish in Maine before it got cold, and also it was after my boyfriend’s birthday so I could celebrate with him 😊” -Patrice Z
“Picked my date where I’d have time to save up and the month so I would have extra time if needed to complete it. Soo determined to be successful!! March 2020 NOBOZ” -Rebecca B.