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AT – Why I Quit the First Time and Why it will be Better Now

by Staff

I first travelled to Amicalola to hike the AT in March 2020. I barely had the time to start it before the Covid became an issue and made me leave the trail. Roads, hostels, even the trail itself was about to close. So I flew back to France in tears.
I am about to head to Georgia again in March 2024 where I will start my thru hike for the second time.

Four years… Four years have gone by since my last attempt.
Let’s talk about what is different, what are the gear changes and life changes between 2020 and 2024 that, I believe, are making this year better.

Pandemic

Hey ! First thing first : this time there should not be a pandemic stopping me ! Right ?

Savings

I know, money is not the most essential aspect for a hike. But it helps, and the two next topics are going to be related to it. So let’s get that out of the way…
Before hiting the trail in 2020, I had been an aupair for 5 years. I wasn’t earning much money, about 5$/hr at the most. When you are an aupair, you do not pay for food or accomodation, but you’re paid only a little bit, what we call « pocket money ». So making big savings wasn’t easy.
I bought my gear in a way to make it efficient at minimum cost, keeping an eye for any sale or clearance for over a year.
I had managed to save the recommanded minimum to hike the AT in 6 months, and then go back to France with not much left.
It was a bit tight, but fine.

For the last 3 years, I had a proper job for which I was paid full wages. I am far from rich, but I managed to save more and I am more confident I can finish the trail without having to worry about running out money.

Gear

After I rushed back to France in March 2020, I was using my lockdown time to look at new gear.
I was thinking of what I liked and didn’t like about what I have been using for the last couple of weeks on the trail.
Since my hike has been a lot shorter than planned, I still had some savings and I started to use them to change a couple of things.

And let’s be honest, when you’re alone in lockdown for 8 weeks, searching and purchasing gear is a good way to cheer up!

First, I changed my pack.

I went from a Gregory Deva 60 to a Gregory Octal 55, cuting 50% of the pack weight. It also fits my shoulders and heaps a bit better.

Then I changed my shelter.

French Alps with my 8 yo niece and 9 yo nephew

I really like my Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2, but the front entrance was bothering me a little. I swaped for the Dan Durston X-Mid 1p and I love it ! It’s got 2 side doors, it packs pretty small and and is fairly light… I never had any issue with it, even in rain and wind.
I kept my Big Agnes to take my nephews backpacking though, and I have no intention to get rid of it.

Next was my sleeping bag.

I am a cold sleeper, so I got a 0° Outdoor Vitals. Worked well, but I am a side sleeper, and I move a lot during my sleep… So the mummy bag was sometimes ennoying me.
So when Enlightened Equipment was having sales last summer, I decided to buy an EE 0° Revelation quilt. So far I used it only in warm weather, roasting alive, but I really like it ! It is much more confortable for me ! And I think it is about 1lbs lighter than the previous one.

Last, I changed my mattress.

Not that I intended to, but my Klymit Insulated V UL bursted… After patching it up a couple of time, the valv itself was actually leaking… After sleeping on the hard ground a few nights in a row, I gave up and threw it away.
So I decided to go for a big upgrade and bought a Thermarest Xlite NXT Wide (once again, since I move a lot during my sleep, having a wide pad helps to actually stay on the pad…).
I must say, I sleep much better now !

Those majors changes added confort and reduced my base weight by 4,4 lbs.

Practice

Before starting in Amicalola in 2020, I had very few backpacking experience. I was hiking a lot, yes, but not backpacking.
I did only a couple of trips while I was in New Zealand.
During the first one, I was staying in shelters, so I didn’t have to carry or pitch my tent.
For the second one, it was a 4 days hike along 90 miles beach, the very first stretch of the Te Araroa in NZ.
That was it.

But for the last 4 years, I have spent pretty much all my summer breaks and weekends hiking and backpacking. I have walked and camp in the French volcano range, in the Alps, along the Stevenson Trail…

I have spent so many nights in my tent, most of the time by myslef.

I am physically and technically much more prepared in 2024 than I was in 2020.
It am much more confident about my hiking and camping skills.

 

Friends

When I first travelled to the USA in 2020, I was litterally traveling to the US for the first time.
I knew noone, I had barely any connection there… I was kind of on my own.
I was lucky to find my first trail angel on a Facebook group. As I was struggling to find a way to go from Atlanta airport to Amicalola, she offered to pick me up and take me to Amicalola where I met my second Trail Angel who helped me out for a couple of days before hitting the trail.
Then, while on the trail, I met people who would become my little tramily.
I am still in contact with some of them.

Today, I am going to hike the trail knowing I can get help and support from people I can call my friends. They are from AL, GA, NY, CT, NH… I know I can reach out to them if needed.
It makes things less stressful to know that I have got a few friends I can call if I have troubles along the way. Otherwise, I would just have to rely on my relatives living in France with a 6 hours time difference.


So here are the reasons I am feeling more confident about my hike this year.
Of course, it doesn’t mean it is going to be easy, but some aspects that were worrying me 4 years ago got better since.
I am going to meet some of my friends before and during my journey, and I am grateful to have their support and not being completely alone in a foreign country this time.

Now I’ve got only one thing to do : walking !

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