I have started some of my initial planning for my Thru Hike. You know, how far to hike each day, where to stay, mail drop lists, and such. But one question is still hanging out there for me – North or South? It seems a lot of people randomly pick it, or it is based on whatever is more convenient for them. For me, I am not sure which I would rather do. My initial reaction is that I want to hike South, which always leads to the famous toddler response of “why?”. Honestly, I have no real clue… it is just the direction my northern blood inspired me to pick. So let me discuss with myself a little. And yes, I do talk to myself… that does not mean anything.
The argument for going Northbound is simple – you can start sooner and (hopefully) finish sooner. Most NOBOs tend to leave Springer in March or April. From everything I have read, it also seems to be a little easier to go north as the terrain starts a tad simpler and gets gradually more difficult. This would allow you to find your hiking legs while the terrain is less harsh, and be physically ready (or spent??) for the harder stuff. I also like that your first few days or weeks are not immediately taking you deep into secluded forests, far from help, pizza and electricity. This seems practical if you are not too sure of your backpacking skills and want that safety net to fall back on, or think you might need outfitters nearby where you can adjust, swap, or downright start over when it comes to your gear selections. I am not sure that will be a consideration for me, though.
The negative side of this direction is that it seems to be the more popular choice – and therefore, the more crowded. I am actually looking forward to SOME solitude on the trail, and having to fight for a spot in the shelter between two snoring bunkmates every night does not sound too appealing to me. Also, due to Baxter State Park closing for the winter season on October 15, there is a definitive deadline, and any illness, injury, or lollygagging can wreak havoc on your plans to actually finish a Thru Hike.
Traveling Southbound has its merits, too. The obvious is that there is no set-in-stone deadline to finish. Sure, weather in the southern mountains can be just as harsh, but Amicalola Falls State Park does not close its gates for the winter. I like this flexibility. I also somewhat like the punishing thought of having what seems to be some of the harshest and most secluded parts of the trail in the first month! See, I told you I was insane. As stated above, I like the somewhat more solo nature of a southbound trip, too. What can I say, I have always been an introvert and enjoy my alone time.
The downside of heading south is that you have to wait longer to start… Baxter State Park does not open until after May 31, and patience is not one of my fortes. Not being able to start until June or later to start might drive me crazy! Then again, sometimes leaving at the year’s half way point may be easier than taking the middle half of the year off. One thing about going south that I am not sure is even an issue is that it seems, as far as I can tell from my readings, the southern terminus is a bit anticlimactic, whereas northbound hikers have Mt. Katahdin as an inspirational finishing point that they can physically focus on miles ahead of reaching. Maybe I am wrong, though, as I have never seen Springer Mountain myself.
As is always the case, there are some personal considerations that must be taken into account, as well. The first is my desire to attend the National Police Week event my bike club hosts every May. I suppose I could start hiking and then get off the trail for the long weekend, if I needed to, but ultimately, I want to be in the D.C. area for Mother’s Day weekend. I also plan to get off the trail for about a week in July, to attend the bike club’s annual rendezvous event, and I am not sure I want to get off the trail twice like that. If I go Southbound, I would still be in town for the May event, and would then only need to get off trail for the July event. The second consideration, which may be more of a convenience than anything else, is that it would seem easier to take a leave of absence from work starting at the half-way point of the year, instead of taking off the middle portion of the year. However, there is also the chance I will not have a job to come back to – I have not broached that subject yet. That brings up another possible issue, though – October, November and December tend to not be great hiring months for full-time work, at least in this area. Maybe the New Year would be a better time to start that process.
And if I am honest with myself, there is a part of me that likes the idea of finishing atop Mt. Katahdin, with the iconic peak sign and the fabulous views offered. It just seems to be a more highlighted finishing point, as opposed to the top of a hill surrounded by trees.
Luckily for me, I have over a year to figure this out. It is certainly something I will have to spend some time thinking about, though. I wonder what thought processes other Thru Hikers have had with regard to deciding which direction to go. I would love to hear your thoughts on this, so if you have any input, please use the comment box below.
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Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”