Comment from George: This question is for Laurie. What section of the trail would you recommend me and my two friends to hike in March and April of next year? We're thinking further south because of the temperature that time of year.
Potteiger: George, in March or April, the best places to hike are Georgia and northern Virginia or Maryland. Georgia is the southernmost part of the A.T., but the high mountains in between Georgia and northern Virginia range up to 4,000-6600 feet, and can experience heavy snowfall (comparable to parts of New England) into March and April.
Comment from Craig: Joe, where did you find the best information about what to carry with you? How heavy was your pack normally?
Liles: Hi Craig. To get the best information, I talked to all the former thru-hikers that I could find near my hometown. My pack weighed on average, loaded with food and water, 35 pounds.
Comment from Lance: Are there any trails similar to the A.T. out west, or perhaps even in Canada?
Potteiger: Lance, the Continental Divide Trail and Pacific Crest Trail are two trails in the west that extend from Mexico to Canada. You might be surprised to learn the A.T. is considered more difficult. The western trails are more gradual because graded trails are built to accommodate horses. The A.T. is more rugged.
Comment from Donna: Joe, what sections of the AT stand out most in your mind?
Liles: Hello Donna. Virginia was a very long state at over 500 miles, but there were many great sections there. The Mt. Rogers/Grayson Highlands area was one of my favorites.
Comment from Olivia: Joe, what have you been up to since your hike?
Liles: Olivia, I have been working on several pledges that I made to myself and to the Creation while hiking the AT. One of them was paying attention more to my family members. I have done this by visiting my brother and my sister in their homes. Another has been working on my artwork.
Pauley: Olivia, Joe embraced a physical challenge that is way beyond my ability level. But I think he also took time off from his life intuitively understanding that a dramatic shift might give him a fresh perspective on himself and his life.
What he came back with was not a whole new life but a recognition that he possessed a quality of dedication and perseverance that he could apply to all the aspects of his life.
So he came back changed but his life was not that different. Perhaps a physical challenge is what you need, or maybe a six month investment in a community, church or non-profit would be the dramatic shift that would give you a fresh perspective---on you.
Comment from Eddie: Folks, can you discuss preparing for a thru-hike, i.e. how to get physically fit and how to stay safe on the trail?
Potteiger: Eddie, as Joe said in the online video, the best way to physically prepare for a thru-hike is to hike. Finding hills is critically important, as walking on flat terrain is totally misrepresentative of the A.T.’s terrain. Only about 50-100 miles could be described as truly “flat.” But any aerobic exercise can help, especially combined with strength training for your legs.
The best way to stay safe from bears on the A.T. is to hang your food appropriately at night, following good Leave No Trace practice. One of the smallest animals, the deer tick, is actually a bigger threat (from Lyme disease). Homo sapiens on the A.T. are usually quite friendly, but listening to your instincts is the best way to stay safe. We have safety guidelines and other great info on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Website at http://www.appalachiantrail.org.