Here’s one of the major ways my adventure run differs from
the normal MO (modus operandi) of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail – instead of
staying in shelters, tents, hostels, B&Bs, motels, or friends’ homes along the
way, we intend to use our camper the whole way. I’m not the first to do this, of
course, but I’m in the minority.
And I expect to take some flak about it!
The best advice I’ve gotten re: camping along the way is
from a gentleman in California whose wife crewed for him along the Trail in a
van. Doug thru-hiked in 2002, and is probably the man referred to in the above
quote. He’s one of many thru-hikers on the ATC correspondence list that is
willing to share his experience with people embarking on their first thru-hike.
He shared loads of helpful information we can use on our trek regarding camping,
trailhead access, maps, dogs, communication, etc.
Ironic note, if he’s the person referred to above – Doug
carried a full pack every day except up Katahdin at the end, even though he
spent only 15 nights on the trail. The other 115 nights were in his VW van. He
wrote, “I carried all my equipment just to say I thru
hiked rather than slack packed.” My opinion is that wouldn't have
diminished his accomplishment one bit.
Jim had a 27’ fifth-wheel camper when we got married. It
was barely adequate for the two of us and one big dog for any length of time,
and definitely not big enough for TWO big dogs. It also needed major
After we got Cody – and in anticipation of traveling a lot
when Jim retired – we traded up to a NuWay Hitch Hiker II fifth-wheeler in the
summer of 2003. At 32’ long, it is so much more comfortable for our little
tribe, even for several months at a time – been there, done that.
When Jim retired in early 2004, we sold our house in
Montana and traveled and lived full time in the camper for four months until we
settled in Virginia. We’d probably be divorced by now if we hadn’t been in the
Over a span of thirteen months from July, 2003 to August,
2004 we hauled that camper 18,288 miles around the country – over 13,000 miles
in 2004. It’s fairly easy to pull with our Ford F-250 diesel truck,
although fuel mileage stinks in the mountains.
It’s not a luxurious camper compared to many rigs out
there, but it’s like the Hilton compared to a tent, van, or truck with a camper
top. I admit we’re spoiled by “comfort camping.”
I expect to take some ribbing about it along the AT – or
even outright hostility from a few minimalists who will consider my effort to
get a 2,000-miler patch less honorable than theirs because they carried their
shelter on their backs. I’m not broadcasting information about the camper while
I’m on the Trail. The thru-hiker grapevine will find out and pass it along
Some folks aren’t going to like our noisy diesel truck,
either. But they might change their minds when we offer to take them into town
when they’re trying to hitch a ride!
HIKING MY OWN HIKE
There’s a popular saying on the AT: “Hike your own
hike.” Well, this is MY hike, and I’m happy with my plans.
There are two big disadvantages to taking the Hitch Hiker: as gas and diesel prices go sky high, so will our expenses hauling the camper
from Georgia to Maine. And it is too big to go into many public campsites like
state parks and national forests where it’s cheaper to camp.
Selling it is NOT an option – we love it and plan to keep
it several more years as we travel around the country. Also not options are
staying in motels for four months or renting a smaller camper. Despite diesel
and campsite costs, using our existing camper is the most cost-effective way for
us to do this trek.
Our plan is to find places to camp for several days at a
time. It’s impractical to move it every day and it won’t go on narrow, windy,
dirt mountain roads to trailheads. We’ll try to locate it centrally for several
days’ runs, then move it near the next section of trail.
We hope to find as many free or inexpensive places to camp
as possible. “Boon docking” will help save us money. We aren’t dependent on hook
ups at campgrounds – Jim installed solar panels (inverter, battery, etc.) as
soon as we got the camper. If it rains all the time, we’ve got a problem. But
we’ve also got propane and a Honda gas generator for power, and large water
We still need to sit down with all the maps and campground
information and find tentative camping spots along the way. We plan to visit
some parks and forests in GA, NC, TN, and southern VA before we leave. We can’t
make reservations anywhere yet; we don’t even know exactly when we’re leaving,
let alone where we’ll be in June.
Plan as we go . . . be flexible and adapt. According to
multiple thru-hiker Warren Doyle, adaptability on the Trail is crucial to
successfully completing it.
Runtrails’ Rule #1: Don’t get injured.
Rule #2: Have fun!
Be flexible and adaptable.