Winton Porter owns Mountain Crossings, an outfitter and hostel strategically placed 31 miles from the southern terminus at the Walasi-Yi Center in North Georgia. By the time thru-hikers reach Porter’s doorstep, most of them realize they have no idea what they’re doing and turn to Porter for help. Porter and his staff sort through and repack 500-600 backpacks a year, fit thru-hikers in appropriate footwear, and give new backpackers the knowledge they need to complete the 2,000-mile trek to Katahdin.
What’s the most common mistake you see new thru-hikers make?
Porter: Most people simply buy too much of the wrong gear, overloading their packs unnecessarily. Every year, we send 9,000 pounds of gear home. I spend a lot of my time convincing people not to buy stuff. At the same time, I’ll see people out there in March with 35-degree bags. That’s like bringing a knife to a gun fight. They’ve got these 45-pound packs, but they don’t have a warm sleeping bag.
If you could let people know one thing before they start out on their thru-hike, before they’re 30 miles into it, what would it be?
P: If I had a store at the beginning of the trail, nobody would listen to me. But you hike 30 miles, spend three days walking in ill-fitted shoes, you’ll be open to suggestions. But I’d give them two pieces of advice: Don’t skimp on the sleeping bag, and find an outfitter who’s willing to fit you with the right boots. Everyone asks me, “What’s the best boot for hiking the trail?” It’s the one that fits you best.
Anything about the trail you’d like to warn people about?
P: Not the trail itself, but all the info on the Internet about backpacking the trail. The Internet is a double-edged sword. Beware of the printed word. I had one person in here convinced they didn’t need a sleeping pad because they read it on a blog somewhere. People will read something online and think it applies to them. Someone’s gonna die because they’re armed with information that does not apply to them or their situation.
Have you ever seen anyone so ill-prepared that you had to talk them out of their thru-hike attempt?
P: I’ve tried to talk some people out of going through with it. I don’t want to pull dead bodies off the trail. But I’m also usually the one person these hikers meet who tells them they can hike 2,000 miles, given that they are smart about it. I’m also often the only person in these people’s lives who tells them they can thru-hike the A.T. When you tell your friends and family you’re going to thru-hike the A.T., nobody believes you. They all expect you to fail. And here you are, 30 miles in and you’re hurting, so you doubt yourself and you start thinking about quitting. It’s a real psychological piece.
How do you train for 2,175 miles on the A.T.?
P: Start by walking ten miles in the rain every chance you get. Once you get in shape physically, it becomes a mental game.