This is the fourth interview in a series about preparing for and reflecting on the three long-distance trails that comprise the Triple Crown: the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.
Michèle "Peppermint" Hoffmann traveled from Germany to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2018, starting March 22nd at the Approach Trail in Georgia and finishing September 5th on Katahdin in Maine. The Appalachian Trail was her first hike longer than a week. She answered some questions for us via email about her gear choices and thru-hiking strategy. Interview has been edited for clarity.
What did you bring?
I was not ultra-light. Sure, I examined the weight, but also it was worth carrying some luxury items like my Kindle ebook reader, two extra pairs of socks, and a two person tent for myself, to have some extra space. The big three were my Osprey Aura 65 (pack), a Carinthia D400 down mummy sleeping bag, and an MSR Free Lite 2 tent. Most of my clothes were made out of Merino wool—keeps warm even if wet.
What excited you about the Vecto?
I saw the video where you showed how robust that water bag is and it's small and lightweight. When the first one I ordered failed on the first try (there was a material failure on the seal), you sent a new one all the way to Germany within a few days and that one worked for the whole 5.5 months!
How did you handle hygiene on the trail?
Most important for me was to have my underwear from Merino wool. This wool does not smell. And I had three pairs of socks and undies. I hate smelling, and feel so bad if I start smell. It worked. I slept in clothes that I only wore in my tent and so kept the sleeping bad and tent clean(er).
I tried to get a real shower about once a week—in between I had baby wipes for a rough "shower" in my tent and, for sure, the creeks and lakes.
I’ve been taking a birth control pill for years now and talked to my doctor before the trail. She gave me the ok for taking the pill without a break and to suppress my period for the 6 months. That worked perfect for me.
Did you hike alone or with companions?
I started on my own. But I met a guy from England at my hostel the night before beginning the trail, and we decided to start our first day together. This is how it works for the whole trip: you meet people, you keep walking together for some hours, days, or weeks. Sometimes you meet them again, sometimes not. Sometimes you think somebody has left the trail and then you meet him eight weeks later again. And sometimes you just decide to walk on your own.
Did you have any fears about being a woman on the trail? How did you deal with those concerns?
Not at all. Ok, beforehand: yes. But on the trail and around it, I felt safe. I had some safety rules like never camping alone when closer than one mile to a road. (I was hoping no bad guy would walk more than a mile to find a lonesome hiker to kill). Or never camp near someone who makes you feel unsafe. If I met someone I had a bad feeling about—and that was maybe two or three times—I kept walking or camped at a place where were other hikers. But all in all, I would feel safe hiking alone again.
Going in what did you anticipate to be the most difficult stretch of the trail and what ended up being the hardest part of the trail?
I anticipated it would be Virginia—not because of the physical part but for the mental part. I heard a lot about the "Virginia Blues." In Virginia you have been on the trail for some weeks, the exciting "new" feeling is gone and the hike is your daily business. Many hikers get the Blues in Virginia and leave the Trail. It’s a very long state (around 500 miles) and you don’t get a new milestone like crossing a border for a long time.
But Virginia was unexpectedly easy and I liked it. The very hard part was northern Pennsylvania. I had problems walking on those small sharp rocks, which are there every single step. Also, the Whites were very hard, but they also were so beautiful that I kept walking and loving the trail.
What were the details of your resupply strategy?
Resupply on the AT is very easy. There are a lot of streets crossing the trail or near the trail. People around the trail are extremely friendly and give you a ride everywhere, so it's easy to go to a town every three to five days. I stopped in a hotel or hostel about once a week to have a shower, some real food, and a bed. I resupplied the usual dehydrated food, peanut butter, oatmeal, and lots of protein and candy bars. Always took some dried fruits.
Any budgeting tips?
I think it’s a good base to have around $1000 a month—then you are able to stop at a hotel if you want, to eat in a restaurant without counting pennies, and to replace gear if necessary. Some people start with much less, some people with lot more.
Finally, any big trail plans soon?
Unfortunately no big hiking plans. My bank balance says I have to work for a while now. I'm just planning a smaller hike for about 100 miles around the Danish Island Bornholm in June. And I’ll do some smaller hikes in Germany and Austria hikes. But there’s already something in my mind: the PCT maybe in 2020. But who knows?
Thank you, Michèle! We hope to see you on the Pacific Crest Trail next year. If you'd like to keep track of Michèle's European hikes, follow her on Instagram.