About the Author: Socks is on a 7-year quest to complete the Appalachian Trail. She doesn’t care if she travels north, south or plays hopscotch among 14 states. Not a goal-setter by nature, she’s latched on to one that has brought purpose to her wanderlust.

Sometimes I need a break from obsessively studying maps, watching videos and reading about the AT.  When last weekend’s cold and wind blew in a dose of cabin fever, I dragged out a jigsaw puzzle. 

Still, I couldn’t get away from the hold of the trail. While hunting for puzzle pieces the right color and shape to fit together I thought, well, this is how I plan a section hike. 

I look for:

  • a new part of the trail that is a doable drive from my house or a friend or relative’s place – you know, someone I’ve been meaning to visit but, hey, now I have another incentive. 
  • a section that is a reasonable day-hiking stretch – for me that is 10 -12 miles. 
  • if not too complicated, someone else to hike with.

Calendar, distance, logistics resolved, I snap a piece into place. Oh, but then there’s the weather to consider and, as a pampered section-hiker, I try, at least, not to start out in the rain.

My section hikes often present a surprising beginning and end. Unlike a successful thru-hike with its richly photographed terminals, the span of a section hike is subject to change. Sometimes a LASH becomes a SASH, as when leaving Street Gap on the NC/TN line, I got caught in the kind of downpour my father-in-law calls a “toad strangler.”

By the way, if you haven’t had the experience of driving up to access the trail at Street Gap, I do NOT recommend it. Pungeon Fork “Road” is more like a rutted path with rocks purposely placed to keep drivers out – not exactly inviting. It adjoins a bizarre abandoned ski resort that I read was located on the site of a former strip mine – apparently not a marketing plus. Anyway, the road to reach the AT was definitely more challenging than the hike. 

To be sure, the routes to reach the AT are sometimes not welcoming. There are plenty of “No Trespassing” signs and Forest Service roads dotted with “infields” – what a trail maintainer told me was private land surrounded by “gubmint land.” Gated communities are not exclusive to the rich.

But just as often an entry to the AT brings surprises as sweet as the trail. I owe my discovery of delights like these to the Appalachian Trail.

  • the wood-fired pizza and delicious baked goods at Smoky Mountain Bakery near Roan Mountain, 
  • the grilled Muenster cheese on homemade sourdough bread at the Amish market in Burke’s Garden, 
  • the unexpected cranberry bogs in Shady Valley, TN, 
  • the “Ramp Are Here” sign near Hot Springs announcing a pungent spring delicacy was in season, 
  • the soul-satisfying food at Sarah’s Fox Creek General Store near Troutdale, VA.

Thru-hikers can rightfully claim the AT, along with access to occasional trail towns and places to re-supply. They earn each step. But as I ramble back roads to reach the trail’s interior for a section hike, I’m equally drawn to the edge pieces.