Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
So, you want to find a thruhiking partner...
Unless you currently have a hiking partner with whom you already have a well established trail relationship, your best bet for finding compatible people to hike with on an Appalachian Trail thruhike is if you go ahead and start the trail alone. Given a spring starting time frame, if you plan to stay at or near the shelters on the trail, there will be plenty of people around to keep you company during the "down" times such as breaks and wherever you decide to spend the nights. As a matter of fact, if you want to be alone, you will have to definitely avoid shelters and spend your time at more obscure campsites.
What you will notice within a few days is that you'll only see some people once or twice as they are moving either faster than you and pulling ahead, or slower than you and falling behind. The people you see over and over again are the ones that move at a similar pace as you. It's the people in this group that are likely to become your trail family. You may even find one person in that group with whom you decide to partner up.
If you decide to commit to some sort of partnership on the trail, give it a trial period. If one of you has a double tent and you decide to share, the other should bounce their tent ahead to the next maildrop or town rather than send it home. If you find that you're really not compatible, having to wait until your tent is sent back from home could leave you stuck in town for longer than you would like. If you do end up sending gear home, make sure there's someone there to receive it who can send it back in the future if necessary. Even if your partnership is working out great, an injury or problem "back home" can have the unfortunate affect of pulling just one of you off the trail. The other will need their gear in order to continue.
If you do decide to look for a partner in advance, join the ATC (Appalachian Trail Conservancy) and check out their Public Notices section. They have a heading there specifically for "Hiking partners wanted" and you might find someone else looking for a partner that has already submitted an advertisement or you could put in an ad yourself.
Your local hiking club may also have a newsletter in which you can advertise. I know the AMC Outdoors magazine has an "Outdoor Friends" classified section. Keep in mind, the audience you are looking for is rather small in the grand scheme of things.
You can also join the AT-L National Scenic Trails mailing list at www.backcountry.net. It's a great forum from which you can have any and all AT related questions answered. It's also possible that you might find a hiking partner there. Other web sites such as www.whiteblaze.net may also be useful.
If you do find a partner, go for practice hikes in advance so you know what to expect. Will snoring be an issue? Does one of you sleep late and then cook breakfast, just getting on the trail at the crack of noon while the other gets up with the sun, eats a granola bar, and is on the trail 20 minutes after waking up? Will one of you want to spend time (and money) in town while the other, needing to conserve cash, avoids towns for all but the quickest stops and is loathe to buy anything because everything they need has already been bought and is in their maildrops. All of these things and more can stress a trail relationship.
Be especially open and forthright if you partner up with a potential romantic partner. Trail relationships are few, far between, and can be very special. But, make sure you're both thinking the same thing. I once met a woman who just wanted, and thought she was getting, a platonic partnership. But, he thought it was also going to be a romantic partnership. She ended up stuck in town waiting for her gear to come back from home. It could have gone the other way, too. Talking about such issues in advance could alleviate uncomfortable misunderstandings.
If you do meet someone to partner up with before you start the hike, be sure to set clear expectations. This is especially important if you don't have a chance to go hiking together before you start the trail. Make sure you each have an independent supply of gear for all the reasons noted above. Set a realistic goal to start with. For example, agree that you'll try to stay together for the first stretch into Neels Gap. At that point, you can both decide if you want to stick together. If one person doesn't want to stay together, then you will no longer be partners. You really can't force the issue. Be prepared to keep going on your own.
If at some point, you need or want to get away from someone on the trail, just take an extra zero day and get behind them, or keep going while they take a zero and you'll get ahead. Of course, if you feel like you're in danger, do not hesitate to go to the police.
I did the AT "alone" and came away with a wonderful trail family, many of whom I'm still in touch with today. On the PCT, I agreed to start the trail with an acquaintance. Our commitment didn't go any further. Even though our commitment really ended at the border in Campo, we ended up hiking mostly together for 400 miles. At that point, our priorities were no longer compatible as hiking partners so we went our separate ways.
Be open to changes, too... When I had an injury and the trail family that I had been hiking with since the beginning all got ahead of me, I hit a real low. Due to painful tendonitus, I could barely walk and couldn't get as far as the campsite where they were staying. That night, I ended up camping with a whole new group of people. They were wonderful! They got me water so I wouldn't have to trudge the extra round trip mile to the water source. They included me in their trail family. The low point of my trip had all of a sudden become a high point. While staying with the same people was a comfort, being open to meeting a new group of people on the trail just expanded my trail family all that much more.
Last updated, June 30, 2013.
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