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  1. #1
    Registered User JPritch's Avatar
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    Default Section Hiking Methodology

    For those of you who have sectioned the trail or done a large chunk of it, how did your actual execution of it differ from your initial plan, and would you change anything about how you hiked the trail?

    Reason I ask, when I started out, I wanted to do as "pure" a section hike as possible - starting in Springer and always picking up where I last left off, in order to experience the trail as closely to doing an actual thru as I could. That kind of morphed into having concurrent sections going on, one from GA-NC-TN and the other in VA because it's in my backyard and I could knock it out at times when I couldn't make the trip further South.

    I now have a few gaps in my hike, and I'm hitting areas that just don't make sense for a quick trip. From paying for a shuttle for a really short section to lack of access points that would work for a quick weekend trip.

    So now the temptation is to just go and do what and where I can. I know the whole experience is unique to every individual, but wondering from those who have been there and done that...any regrets in a patchwork section hike? Any tips to get the most out of the experience as possible?

    Thank You
    While searching for that unknown edge in life, never forget to look home. For the greatest edge you can find in life is to stand in the protective shadow of those who love you.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by JPritch View Post
    For those of you who have sectioned the trail or done a large chunk of it, how did your actual execution of it differ from your initial plan, and would you change anything about how you hiked the trail?

    Reason I ask, when I started out, I wanted to do as "pure" a section hike as possible - starting in Springer and always picking up where I last left off, in order to experience the trail as closely to doing an actual thru as I could. That kind of morphed into having concurrent sections going on, one from GA-NC-TN and the other in VA because it's in my backyard and I could knock it out at times when I couldn't make the trip further South.

    I now have a few gaps in my hike, and I'm hitting areas that just don't make sense for a quick trip. From paying for a shuttle for a really short section to lack of access points that would work for a quick weekend trip.

    So now the temptation is to just go and do what and where I can. I know the whole experience is unique to every individual, but wondering from those who have been there and done that...any regrets in a patchwork section hike? Any tips to get the most out of the experience as possible?

    Thank You
    I've done more of a patchwork, although I recently completed all gaps and now have a contiguous section of 1265 miles. Some of the gaps were tough to fill in due to their shortness (e.g. 6.5 miles). Early on it became evident that although a patchwork wasn't bad, it would be useful to plan ahead to avoid silly short sections and difficult access points. That has largely worked out okay, although a few times other people joining my hike have had to cut it short and wound up leaving me missing a short section that would be difficult to fill in later. That is how I was left with 6.5 miles in the middle of nowhere.

    In that case, I just planned a quick day hike on the way driving to another hike.

    Overall, it is a trade off. Being a purest has an obvious advantage in that you keep things contiguous. But it means you might have to access the trail at remote places (and if you extract from a remote place you have to return to that remote place to restart the next time). Also, it might mean you have to hike in the middle of the thru-hiking bubble.

    By allowing yourself to do discontinguous sections, you can avoid crowds, avoid the wrong seasons. Also you can pick your direction for each section so you do less uphill, align camp spots better with your travel plans, etc.

    If you hike alone or with one other person, doing the contiguous thing might be easier. If you tend to hike with 4 or 5 others, the flexibility of discontiguous hiking is more worth having.

    While it might seem like a disproportionate effort to fill in a short gap (shuttle cost, travel time, etc), it feels really good to mark those sections off once you're done.

  3. #3

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    I’ve done a bit over 40% of the trail. I did want to do it, as you suggested, from one end to the other in order, but that didn’t exactly happen. Other opportunities arose and I jumped on the trail here there and everywhere. When I start a section, I walk across the road or parking lot to the previous or next link, then go do the section I’m starting, to assure myself that I’ve done the whole section. By not being too controlling about how I do my sections, I’ve seen different parts of the trail at different times of the year, which I might not have done if I insisted on going totally NOBO or SOBO. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish, but I hear it’s the journey, not the destination.

  4. #4
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    I'm in the exact same situation. I've section hiked over 800 miles so far and when I started out had the same mentality. Oh I'll start in Hf. And countinluy section every mile every blaze all the way to Springer. Well I have a few gaps as well and me personally I don't care as some gets quite boring no views no overlooks just a green tunnel. I now realize it's just getting out there for a week or so and doing what I can matters more then some bragging rights. Please no offense to anyone just my 2 cents.

  5. #5

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    Leaving gaps gives you a reason to go back and do a section again. It's taken me a long time to fill in some of the gaps. If I do leave a gap, I try to make sure it's a significant distance to make it worth while going back to. Having to travel a long distance to fill in a couple of miles which might have been skipped for some reason doesn't seem to be worth the effort. Or make it part of a much larger repeat of the area in question.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  6. #6
    Registered User QuietStorm's Avatar
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    I started hiking the AT in June, 2016. I didn't start out intending to hike the whole trail but got hooked. I work full-time, so I hiked mostly on weekends. I avoided gaps. I live in Maryland, so going north and south at the same time was easier. Maryland (2016), Pennsylvania (2016-17), W. Virginia (2017), Virginia (2017-18), New Jersey (2017), New York (2017), Connecticut (2017), Massachusetts (2017), Tennessee/NC (2018), Vermont (2018), Georgia (2018), New Hampshire (2019), Maine up to Stratton (2019)

    I did everything but New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and southern Maine on weekends (the Smokies on a long weekend).

    For weekend hikes, I drove after work on Friday, caught a few hours sleep either on the way or at the trailhead, met my shuttle driver, hiked Saturday and usually half or so of Sunday, and then drove back Sunday afternoon-evening. Went to work on Monday.

    The only regret I have is waiting for hiking weather in Maine so I can finish. If not for the ferocious winters in Maine I would be done by now. Heading back to finish on June 27th.

  7. #7
    Registered User Pastor Bryon's Avatar
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    I'm doing a patchwork style as well. Most of my miles have been in Virginia.

    One thing I've done is make sure I finish a state each year, so I feel like I've accomplished something. That has helped me quite a bit the past few years. I still have gaps, but I've also completed something.

  8. #8
    Registered User JPritch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FlyPaper View Post
    it would be useful to plan ahead to avoid silly short sections and difficult access points.
    Quote Originally Posted by Slo-go'en View Post
    If I do leave a gap, I try to make sure it's a significant distance to make it worth while going back to. Having to travel a long distance to fill in a couple of miles which might have been skipped for some reason doesn't seem to be worth the effort.
    So obvious, but great advice. Honestly, I've only ever planned for my current trip and never paid attention to what that leaves me to work with on my next trip.

    I definitely echo the sentiments about the journey over the destination. Hopefully in the end the fact that I went SOBO a few times, or had to go back to fill in a gap will be inconsequential.
    Great advice and insights guys, thanks and keep 'em coming!
    While searching for that unknown edge in life, never forget to look home. For the greatest edge you can find in life is to stand in the protective shadow of those who love you.

  9. #9

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    I am planning a section thru hike of the AT. That is, I plan to hike 14-16 days of each month, then spend 10 or so days at home taking care of stuff. The remaining time is driving to/from the trail. Maybe it gets done in a year, maybe it takes longer. Hence”section thru” hike.

    Something I learned section day hiking the Florida Trail. Do the farthest sections first. The long drives are the hard part for me so looking forward to shorter drives each time will be mentally helpful for me. That said, if there is a snowstorm up north and mild weather in Georgia I plan to go out of sequence and hike the mild weather.

    Hopefully I will begin June 2021 when I retire.

  10. #10
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    I section hiked it all over 6 years. I really liked hiking the direction and location that made the most sense given the amount of time I had and the season. Highlights: great to hike Pennsylvania rocks with a bit of snow cover. Great to hike the southern sections in the winter. Great to hike anywhere in the Fall.
    Lazarus

  11. #11
    Registered User carouselambra's Avatar
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    I have section hiked about 800 miles in the past five years. I have not hiked contiguous, but worked to make sure that my gaps were at least thirty miles so they were at least long enough for a weekend hike. I plan on finishing Newfound Gap to Amicalola in 2020/21 and that will give me to Harper's Ferry. My other concentration in the next few years will be the Pennsylvania rocks and the Whites, thinking that if I want to position myself to finish section hiking the whole trail, the younger I am when I attempt those sections, the better.

  12. #12

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    No regrets with the patchwork nature of the hike. Way more interesting than an ordered hike, which I too thought about for perhaps 5 minutes.

    Tips-When skipping around, take a good look at how you might hike the adjacent sections. If you leave yourself at a deep endpoint, you will be going back there again as a start or finish point. Plan out some of the adjacent sections to judge if you are leaving reasonable time frames to hike them. For instance, is leaving a five day hike between two sections reasonable for your vacation schedule. You don't want a two day hike 600 miles away as another example. Hike in all seasons, and put your seasonal hiking speed to good use to fill in chunks. I hiked through Shenandoah NP in different seasons and this made splitting it up more manageable. Short stretches make for good winter sections.
    "Sleepy alligator in the noonday sun
    Sleepin by the river just like he usually done
    Call for his whisky
    He can call for his tea
    Call all he wanta but he can't call me..."
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  13. #13
    Some days, it's not worth chewing through the restraints.
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    Patchwork hiker here, not particularly concerned with hitting every white blaze, and certainly don't care about the order. IMHO, the best time and place to go hiking is whenever and wherever you can. I don't really care about anyone else's concept of the "right way" to do a hike. I'm also at a point in life where i doubt a thru of any of the triple crown is in the cards. I'd be plenty happy with 2-6 weeks, a couple times a year, in the best weather for the locale.

  14. #14

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    I just hit the trail when the timing was right. There's a lot of logistics involved in section hiking. I wouldn't make it harder on yourself by constricting how you make your miles. I just made sure to leave the last 100 miles in Maine for the very end.

    I think for the mental aspect, it's great to concentrate on knocking off specific states and then move on.
    In June I hiked in the south, later in the summer northern New England.

    A big plus to section hiking is the ability to dodge the bubble. You can have the trail to yourself as a section hiker.
    Springer to Katahdin: 1991-2018

  15. #15

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    I think enjoyment should be the priority, not necessarily completing the trail.

    I did 1000 miles back in the 1970's, and then it took a few decades for me to do the rest of the AT. I was more interested in repeating the fun sections, than just logging miles to "get it done". So I did multiple trips to Maine, and Maryland, and Shenandoah... had a great time. Finally I got it together and finished the trail in my late '50's. But I don't think it's important to finish the trail. Let's face it, nobody else cares!

    I think that enjoyment is important, how ever you want to achieve that... it is about the journey not the destination.

  16. #16

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    Basically I've split my sections up by where the nearist bus station to the trail is located. But I've had the advantage of being able to go out for up to 8 weeks at a time, so that allows doing large sections.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  17. #17

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    Another patchworker here, both in direction and in part of the country. At first, when I was still employed, it was pretty much 2-3 week segments with start and end points chosen for access to public transportation. I fell into a general pattern of going outbound from my home state (Connecticut), with some hikes northbound and others southbound. By 2011 I had done from Harpers Ferry to Pinkham Notch. I wasn't getting any younger (who is?) and decided to concentrate on the northern end of the trail, then finish up in the South at a later date. Fate intervened. Breaking an ankle in the Wildcats took me off trail for about a year and a half. After I retired in 2012, I hiked Harpers Ferry to Amicalola in big chunks, then finished the northern trail in a couple of years. Didn't summit the big K the first time, but I made it the following year.

    Like other posters, I found the whole experience memorable and very satisfying. The older and slower I got, the more grateful I was just to be out there.

  18. #18

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    Depends on the ultimate goal as section hiker. Not all section hikers have it as their ultimate goal to complete a trail end to end. For example, been to GSMNP and S NP upwards of 25 X. Those hikes may have incorporated some or all of the AT but it might not have been necessary. Florida Tr I've only been interested in doing picked sections with absolutely no desire to go end to end. Other trails it's usually an end to end and beyond agenda or nothing.

  19. #19

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    Patchwork most of the way. I did half the trail before I decided I wanted to finish it. I had a hurricane come through one year and had to do a quick change in sections while I was literally driving south (hurricane was supposed to turn offshore and changed track inland overnight). I did have a few relocations and closed sections of trail over 10 years. I ended up doing a pick up hike to clean them up. If at all possible I worked around the bubble to avoid it.It was rare that we didnt have shelters to ourselves. I did have a few soggy early spring sections up north but did a lot of the south in the fall. I did do a five week stretch from the south gate of SNP to Damascus one spring but after that went back to one or two week stretches.

    I did a lot of the trail with a couple of folks. A friend had half the trail under his belt and some good contacts for shuttles in PA. We would drop a car off and get a traditional shuttle back. On a couple of trips we even stashed a resupply bucket to cut down on pack weight. In 2002 me and another friend took two cars down and did cars spots for 5 weeks through much of VA, we got a lot of miles in as we never took a full day off but did take a town night every 4 or 5 days. We would plan the last day of the backpack so we got going very early and then got to the car around lunch. The rest of the day was resupply moving cars restaurant food and a motel or hostel. Next morning we were hiking again. After that we took two cars down for one week stretches and on the pick up trip we took one car and did key swapping. We both had econoboxes and the cost of gas from Northern NH was about what we might pay a shuttle driver. By having our own cars we got in more miles in a trip as we didnt have to wait around for a shuttle and resupplied from the trunk. We also got to see a lot more of the surrounding country, while folks were hiking down the green tunnel we got to check out a lot of real rural forest service roads and got far enough away from the trail to see a lot of places that hikers didnt know existed.

    I dont think I ever would have done the trail solo. Since I tried to hike outside the bubble I really didnt try to synch into the thru hiker attitude. I encourage you to look and ask around to see if there is someone else with the same goals you have and try a one week section hike. Unless its a total mismatch you will figure it out after day or two. and by the end of the section you will know if you want to do another section. Realistically you dont even need to live near each other with the tow car method. I ran into various section partners that just got together to hike and then went their separate ways the rest of the year. BTW during the majority of out hikes we didnt share gear, we were both self sufficent and planned our own meals. My friend switched to an alcohol stove but I stuck with a Pocket Rocket.

  20. #20

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    No methodology for me. I hike the places that appeal to me at that moment. I’m guided by my feelings and what sounds fun...definitely don’t ascribe to a structured plan. The Best Plan is No Plan, (thanks Hikerboy), and I have to agree. Giving up control and going where life takes you is an incredible experience.

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