I first learned of the Benton MacKaye Trail in 2016 while hiking the Appalachian Trail. After I returned home from my AT thru-hike, I decided I was going to hike it, at some point in the future. It became one of the trails I was considering hiking in 2017, and in January of that year, I got a guidebook and maps from the Benton MacKaye Trail Association.
After putting together a preliminary itinerary, I was probably a week or two away from deciding to hike it in Spring 2017, when I got a job offer, and a springtime hike became impractical. Hiking plans for that year got pushed to the summer, and not wanting to hike in Georgia in the summer, I wound up on the Long Trail instead. With the Pacific Crest Trail scheduled for 2018, that put the BMT on the radar for 2019 — and this time, I scheduled my work so I’d be able to do a springtime hike.
As with the Long Trail, I put together a hike plan about 13.5 miles/day, knowing I’d be out of trail shape and wanting a (relatively) more leisurely pace so I could enjoy the trail. That hike plan included a mail drop or two in an attempt to limit time spent off-trail. That hike plan then set untouched for almost two years, when I revisited it after returning from the PCT.
While on the PCT, I picked up a new partner, CareFree, from Germany. She had already decided to hike the Continental Divide Trail with me in 2020 (which is still the plan!), and so I was very happy to have her join my BMT hike.
Together, we (by which I mean, mostly CareFree) went through the BMTA’s guidebook (updated this year) and Guthook guides and made some changes to my original plan, eliminating the mail drops, and adding a bad-weather option through the Smokies that adds an extra town stop, just in case.
As February passed and deadlines for my work projects clarified, we set April 15 as our start date. In late March, we committed to that date, purchasing Amtrak tickets from DC to Gainesville, GA. My friends Andrew and Monica, who helped with transport for AT and LT, again offered their assistance in getting from my house to the train station. And my friend Michael, who graciously gave me a ride from Gainesville to Amicalola Falls State Park for the AT, again agreed to give the two of us a ride to the trail. So tomorrow, we’ll be starting off in good hands.
We currently have no idea how we’re getting back home from the trail, but we’ll figure that out soon enough. It’s never been a problem before, and I don’t expect it to be a problem now.
With three trails and over 5,100 miles under my belt, and no new major gear purchases for this hike, the only gear testing I needed to do was to make sure that my Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 Tent tent was still leak proof. After setting it up for the first time since day 3 of the Long Trail, patching a few damaged areas (likely caused by the way it was packed when I last used it), and making a trip to Home Depot to buy a garden hose to test for leaks, the now-three-year-old tent passed with flying colors.
All my prior hikes have included a test day-hike with all my gear. Time constraints this time unfortunately prevented me from doing a test hike, but since my pack ought to be a little bit lighter than on the PCT, I’m sure I’ll be fine.
Since CareFree and I will be hiking together, we were able to make one change to reduce our pack weight: we’re sharing one tent, splitting the weight between the two of us. The Copper Spur might not be as light as the Zpacks Duplex I carried on the PCT, but when I only have to carry half a tent, the weight becomes a lot more favorable.
I’m excited for Monday. I’ll get to see a friend I haven’t seen in three years, and start my fourth long-distance trail, my first with a parter. And together, we will about double the distance and time we’ll have hiked together.
Off we go!