The A.T. Guide – Navigating for Dummies

Yippee! Yippee! I found a guide book made for people just like me.  I’m guessing, upon hearing about my impending trip, some of you pictured me wandering in circles staring at the sky and scratching my head.  In fact, despite the white blazes that mark the entire 2,184 mile route, more than one friend has referred to checking into my blog as a way to make sure that I found my way out alive.  I love the confidence.  Really I do.  But never you fear!  Mr. David “Awol” Miller, a prior thru-hiker himself, saw me coming from a hundred miles away and (along with a list of noteworthy contributors) put together The A.T. Guide.

Having scanned the A.T. -related blogs and websites, I discovered that two books are considered reliable: the Thru-Hiker’s Companion – published by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy – and The A.T. Guide, as referenced above.  All fingers pointed to the latter as a better resource, so I purchased a copy of the 2012 Northbound edition on Amazon and checked out a copy of the former from the library, ya know, for good measure.

The blogosphere was definitely right.  While the A.T. Conservancy definitely provides relevant information regarding the physical elements of the trail as well as resources available in the surrounding towns, Miller’s Guide presents the information in a visually well organized way for a luddite like me.  Some of the features I find helpful include:

  • Despite the fact that the trail winds its way through a region, the book presents each section of trail in a Data Spread as though it were virtually linear.
  • There is so much detail that at times the features of the trail are described down to the tenth of a mile.
  • Every shelter marking on the Data Spread indicates how many miles one must hike to reach each of the next three shelters.
  • There is an extensive list of easy-to-understand icons (such as a tent to indicate a campsite or a shopping cart to indicate a town with a grocery store) marking every Data Spread and town map.
  • It includes a list for each town describing relevant hiker resources, such as shuttle services, hostels, and laundries.
  • Every Data Spread has a watermark indicating the elevation change as one progresses through the elements of that page’s hike, which provides an idea of how strenuous that leg of hike might be (important for deciding whether to continue or stay put for the night).

Last but certainly not least, the absolute best reason for anyone like me to LOVE this book is that…

It provides direction in “left/right” terms instead of “east/west” terms.  I am an absolute wreck when it comes to cardinal directions.  It was oh so easy when I was a kid.  My sense of direction in Virginia Beach was “the ocean is to the east.”  I used it as my grounding point.  Well, I started to lose it when I went to college in the foothills of the Shenandoahs.  And don’t even get me started about the year I spent on the west coast; I was all kinds of turned around.  What to do you mean the ocean is to the WEST?!  So I beg you – and many friends (men in particular for some reason) have found this out the hard way – when giving me directions somewhere, please never tell me to come to an intersection and go northwest; it won’t get us anywhere fast.

So thank you, A.T. Guide. Thank you for framing everything for me in terms of north = Maine and south = Georgia, which means east = right and west = left.  I think you and I are going to get along just fine.

Meandering on,



11 thoughts on “The A.T. Guide – Navigating for Dummies

  1. Hi Jor! I just wanted you to know that I stopped by……at 7:00AM while child #1 was yelling from her room, “Mommmmmy, I need to go potty! I need cereal! I need my tutu! Mommmmy, I wake up!” (good think she clarified with sentence number 2). I’m looking forward to reading about your adventure, but let me get this comment out of the way: You are CRAZY:)

    • Ditto! I’ll be sure to talk about the experience through rosy-colored glasses so that, if you or your husband happen to read any posts, you’ll still have it on your “list” next year at this time.

  2. Pingback: Couch Surfing in India or Why I’m Not Afraid to Hike the A.T. « My Meandering Trail

  3. You picked the better of the two books. Awol’s book will have all the detail you need. I don’t know your plans for your first night in Georgia, but the Hiker Hostel will pick you up in Atlanta, bring you to the market for food for supper, and bring you to the trail the next morning. Hostel’s of note you want to stay at: The Blueberry Patch in Hiawassee Georgia, Elmer’s Sunnyside Inn in Hot Springs NC (second best on the trail), Uncle Johnny’s in Erwin TN, Mountain Harbor Hostel in Roan TN, Bears Den 20 miles south of Harper’s Ferry, Ironmaster Hostel in Pine Grove Furnace PA, Tom Lavardies in Dalton MA, The Green Mountain Hostel (best on the trail) in Manchester VT, and White Mountain Hostel in Gorham NH (third best on the trail). There are others as well that you will hit. But these are definite places to stay if you can.

  4. I made advance reservation for the Hiker Hostel. Also, I called ahead the morning before I stayed at Elmer’s Sunnyside Inn. If you want to stay at Elmer’s you should call ahead if you can because it fills up because of it’s history and popularity. If you start in Mid March you are ahead of the Big Bubble and should not have a problem getting rooms. The only place I found it difficult was Damascus, because people tend to linger in Damascus. If you start in Mid March you will be in a fairly large bubble of hikers, but it begins to thin out after a couple of weeks. Also, alot of people stay in hotels and bunk up, 2-4 to a room to cut costs. When you do this, the price is about the same as staying in a hostel. You will find that there is a string of hotels along the trail that cater to hikers, some with free laundry and shuttle service – as Ron’s Hiker Inn in Haiwassee, GA and Franklin NC, or the many Quality Inns along the way. Remember always ask for the hiker rate, it is usually significantly lower than the standard room rates, and if you don’t ask, they don’t offer. FYI, I found it to be more important in the first month to take a zero day at least once a week to let your body recover. It made a difference to hold off injuries, and then as the months went by, zero days stretched out say about every 10 days. But you will find about every 4th to 5th day you need to stop and get food and supplies, take a shower and do laundry. Also, you will find that there will be places that will allow you to stay for free, but sometimes you have to put up with evangelical proselytizing (in the south), and sometimes not.

  5. David Miller’s book “AWOL on the AT” is well worth the read. He talks a lot about his problems with his guide book, thus the inspiration for him writing one.

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