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Alex Popp: Preparing for challenges of monumental trek
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Provisions for Alex Popp’s trip through the Appalachian Trail are laid out at his house. Popp will begin his 6-month trip March 13. - photo by Alexander Popp

Editor’s note: This is the first in a monthly series of columns. Alex Popp will update The Times on his trek while he is on the trail.


During the past two months, my mind has returned at times to the famous quote from J.R.R Tolkien’s, “The Fellowship of the Ring.”

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

As clichéd as it is, I like it more and more every time I think about it.

In less than two weeks, I will go out my door and take the first steps of a trip spanning more than 2,000 miles and lasting more than six months.

It will challenge me in ways I have never dreamed of.

On March 13, I will join thousands of hikers who make the pilgrimage north from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine on the Appalachian Trail.

I first got the idea to make a solo trip on the AT in the summer before my senior year of college. I was desperately trying to figure out what I was going to do after graduation, but hated the idea of immediately settling into a 9-to-5 work day and 10-year fixed rate mortgage.

So instead, I sold my car to buy gear, gave notice at my job and began planning.

I grew up in a family full of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Eagle Scouts and outdoorsmen. So in many ways, I have been training for this trip my whole life. But during the last month, it has become perfectly clear planning for the AT is a beast of epic proportions. 

The first thing that really shocks you about Appalachian Trail prep is the sheer amount of food you need. For each day that you call the trail home, you need breakfast, lunch and dinner with enough calories to offset the thousands you will use to walk or more aptly hike.

In other words, your body needs as much as possible, and then some.

At several points in the last two months, I have had a living room piled high with boxes of every sort of nonperishable food imaginable. Pop Tarts, Ramen noodles, Annie’s Mac and Cheese, jars of peanut butter, instant oatmeal, foil packs of chicken, tuna and bacon, family-sized packages of mashed potato, noodle and rice meals, and a multicolored galaxy of candy and energy bars. I have spent more than $700 on the stockpile of food I will eat throughout the next six months. 

The second logistical hurdle is how to actually get yourself the food you so desperately need to survive. Luckily, there are many different ways to make this happen. I chose to buy my food in advance and mail myself packages at predetermined spots along the route.

During my trip, I will receive 27 packages supplying me with food, medicine, toiletries and fuel. These packages will be sent about a week before I reach the mail drop or post office to ensure it arrives before I do. Then all I have to do is walk into the post office or wait at the mail drop and claim my package.

I know variations in this plan will arise during my six months on the trail, but six months is a long time to do anything without changes.

For gear, I have put together a medium weight pack of tools and items that will be my only possessions while on the trail. I will sleep in a lightweight hammock, with a rain fly and bug net to keep me covered. Plus, I have a down sleeping bag and underquilt to keep me warm.

Each evening I will cook my meals with a micro pocket-sized cooking stove and lightweight cooking pots. I will purify my water with Aquamira chemical drops and through a Sawyer Squeeze filtration system.

I will have three sets of socks, underwear and shirts; one to wear, one to clean, one for tomorrow. But last and most important, I have a pair of some of the most comfortable boots that I have ever had the pleasure of wearing, the Salomon Quest 4D 2’s, a $250 dollar investment that is well worth it.

I will carry all of these things on my back, and together they will keep me warm, dry and fed.

In my heart I know that the next six months are going to be some of the hardest I have ever faced. But like everyone who makes a journey, I am going to come out a better person because of it.

I have prepared the best that I could, I have my health and plenty of money, and no obligations but the trail.

I am ready for what lies ahead, whatever it might be.

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