About the Author: Laurie Freeman is a naturalist, environmentalist and soon-to-be retiree. She earned a BE in mechanical engineering and a MA in biology (ecology, evolution and behavior). Laurie spent the majority of her career as a professor of biology and environmental science at a small upstate NY community college. She and her husband Jim built their home (and homestead) using local material and human powered tools, and she continues to practice self-reliance by gardening and beekeeping. Laurie teaches yoga and runs a small herbal medicinal practice in her community. How she finds time to hike is a mystery. You can follow her AT thru hike on trailjournals, instagram @lauriefreeman and twitter @LaurieJFreeman.
I started thinking about my AT thru hike from the premise that I would walk from Georgia to Maine. I mean, that’s what everyone does, right? It certainly seems that way when you start reading blogs and watching Youtubes of thru-hikers. Through this research I uncovered a couple of facts:
-A thru hike takes about 6 months (averaging 12 miles per day).
-Katahdin closes sometime in mid October.
Given this, and counting back on the calendar, I’d have to start at Springer Mountain, GA mid-April at the latest in order to finish in ME before the closing bell. Though I’m retiring this year, as a college professor I have an obligation to work until the end of the semester in mid-May.
SoBo? No Thank You!
This put me thinking about the less popular SOBO hike. If I started at Katahdin, I would have to wait until the mountain opened. At best that would be at the end of May or beginning of June. Great! That timing would work well with my retirement date.
In short, I cannot fathom dealing with the Maine and NH biting insects for the first month of my hike.
If I couldn’t do a NOBO hike in 2019 and I was unwilling to do a SOBO hike, I resigned myself to putting the hike off until 2020 when I could go NOBO.
What About That Finish?
So what about that epic finish on Katahdin? I have to admit, as much as I enjoy his podcast, the one thing that drives me crazy about Mighty Blue is his remarks that the only way he can imagine finishing is on Katahdin. I do wish he’d try on another perspective. I know from experience that any climb up Katahdin is ‘epic’. I’ve done it twice. A hiker that starts at Harper’s Ferry and gets to the summit of Katahdin has an ‘epic’ ½-way experience that a NOBO or SOBO hiker does not. The point is that ALL thru hikers experience Katahdin and each of us will experience it from our own unique perspective.
With more reading I became aware of the numbers of hikers on the AT. In 2018 there were approximately 3862 hikers that started in GA (according to registrations with the ATC). Another 420 started in Maine and 371 flip flopped (for a total of 4653).
After I read through the ‘what to expect’ on a flip flop hike on the ATCs website. That approach was looking downright attractive. A flip flop hiker would look forward to:
-Experiencing goldilocks weather (not too cold, not too hot).
-Forgiving terrain to start.
-Arriving at the whites (and difficult terrain) when your legs are in good shape but you aren’t totally exhausted from the hike yet.
-Walking south with the fall colors.
-Hunting season in the south (something I’m not concerned about if I cover my pack with a blaze orange cover.)
-Likely cold weather in the Smokies (but by then I should be an expert at outdoor living.)
-Bare trees toward the end of the hike (which is also a positive because there will be more views).
Playing the Odds
What finally clinched the deal was when I read a blog post from the Trek that revealed some interesting statistics. The post was from February 2016 so I’m guessing the numbers are from 2014 or 2015. Here they state that the completion rate for NOBOs was 26%, 31% for SOBOs and a whopping 57% for flip floppers! Well golly, I see no reason to not put the odds in my favor. I haven’t quite settled on a start date. My window is May 25 – June 1. Flip flop here I come!