This post is part of a Q&A series written by Appalachian Trail hikers. If you've hiked the AT or are planning to hike the AT, and would like submit a guest post, visit this page for more information. If you want to read more posts from this series, click here.
Note from Jill: Mackenzie and I "met" online, but I wish we had met on the trail because I think we would have hit it off big time. We have a few core things in common (healthy diet, not drinking, hiking with our significant other) and I know we'd get along in real life. Mackenzie and her husband, Beau, blogged while they hiked and they continue to keep it updated while they save up and plan for their next adventure. You can check out their site here -www.beauandmackenzie.blogspot.com.
Where did you start your hike?
Springer, April 2nd
Where did you finish your hike?
Katahdin, Aug 20th
Did you start with a group/partner or solo?
I started out solo, and my husband joined me a month in. Pros and cons- The biggest thing, for me, is having someone to bounce ideas off of and plan your days with and talk to you when you're bored of walking. Cooking and grocery shopping is way better with two people. We had more variety since we shared everything, and we could buy a whole package of something like tortillas to split instead of a solo hiker buying the whole package and leaving half in the hiker box. Some people, I guess, would get sick of their significant other or have fights, but it was fine for us. :) I was worried about moving slower as a couple, since it's double the chances of injury or bad days. Instead, we moved more quickly. I think it was because when you're solo, it's easy to be swayed by a group decision, which is usually to take an extra zero. :) The one thing I think I missed out on in hiking with my husband as making closer bonds with other hikers. I made lots of friends, of course, but it would have been a deeper relationship if I were forced to rely on them instead of my husband for support.
What’s the best thing about hiking?
While I was hiking, the best things were.... not hiking. Like food! And town. And dinnertime at the shelters or campsite. Looking back, the best things were meeting new people and the community of the AT. I miss the feeling that every day I am one day closer to my goal, and that I'm working towards something really big, and going to sleep every night tired and accomplished.
What’s the worst thing about hiking?
1) Rain. 2012 was a good weather year, and luckily, we didn't have all that much rain. Enough to know I don't like it, though. :) 2) Being overhwelmed. In the middle states, it sure gets overwhelming to think about how much trail is ahead of you. And also, 3) looking in your food bag and being sick of everything.
Describe your best day on the trail.
I loved it when things just "clicked". A really good day I can remember is when we unexpectedly got the opportunity to slack pack, caught up to a couple friends we hadn't seen in a while, and then were able to have dinner at a restaurant and camp in the yard (so not having to spend money on a night in town, but still got town food!). Then, since we caught up to a friend, it just so happened he lived nearby and his parents slack packed us the next day and let us stay at their house the next night. Everything just fell into place for us to have an awesome couple of days. Other really good days were when we got to "famous" parts of the trail, like the Grayson Highlands, McAfee Knob, or the Mahoosuc Notch. You've been hearing about them for so long and then you FINALLY get there.
Describe your hardest day on the trail.
I don't know if one specific day stands out. The hardest times for me were at the very beginning when I was mentally adjusting to everything (and adjusting to being alone) and then when my husband joined me, because then he had to adjust to life on the trail when I was raring to go. But I do remember one day in Vermont when we were wishing we had zeroed in the last town are were really dragging our feet. It was raining and we had no desire to keep going. Instead of beating ourselves up we took a nero and a trail angel took us in and we had a nice relaxing day. We were always ready to get back on the trail after a nero or a zero.
No. I put way too much into planning my thru hike to not complete it. Towards the end, I remember feeling really ready to be done. I didn't want to quit, of course, but I was just ready to fast forward the next few weeks to be finished.
How did you prepare for your hike?
I had been thinking about it for years and years. But I actually decided to go a year in advance. I was always researching by reading blogs and books and whiteblaze.net. I would go to REI and talk to the employees who had thru hiked for advice. I am a runner and a gym goer, so physically I was prepared. I did a pretty good job researching and buying gear, because I really didn't change anything once I got on the trail. I kept the same style of hiking shoes, tent, rain gear, etc. And actually, all of my stuff held up fine and I still use it today.
Do you stay in contact with your trail friends?
Yes! Facebook, Trail Days, and texting. I'm hoping I can get together with some of them to do the John Muir Trail or something.
Would you attempt another long distance hike?
Yes. We will do the PCT one day. During our thru hike and immediately after, we proclaimed that we would be retiring from long distance hiking. Of course, it only took a couple months to reconsider that statement. The PCT is not in our immediate plans, but that or the AT again will happen one day.
Would you thru-hike the AT again? Yes, we will as an old retired couple. I like to say we'll take it slower and relax more, but that's probably a lie because I will be just has focused and driven at 64 as I was at 24. :)
Do you have any advice for the next class of thru-hikers?
Oh goodness, I could go on forever. Make progress every day! Remember that you can change your mind about gear and scheduling while you're out there. Don't do mail drops. Take lots of pictures of "mundane" daily things (not just views and cool things). Be open minded about making friends with lots of different people. Nothing is ever as good or as bad as other people tell you. People will convince you you're going to die in the Whites, or that such-and-such restaurant or hostel is the BEST EVER and your hike will not be complete if you don't go there. Neither will meet those expectations. Remember that everything will work out in the end, even if it's not how you planned.