If you are considering a northbound thru-hike of the A.T. beginning in early April, here is a way you can simulate the first week without the expense of leaving home: first, clear out a room in your house. Next, cover the floor with about six inches of dry brown leaves. Paint the walls with a series of zigzags – like a ridge beyond which is another ridge – until there are 4 or 5 layers of ridges varying from brown to grey the farther away they are. Top it with a hazy blue-white sky. This will simulate the view from the AT in northern Georgia…. pretty, but with no distinguishing landmarks by which to orient yourself or gauge your progress.
Next, add a bunch of grey poles running from floor to ceiling. Maybe you could get some old telephone poles, cut them, and stand them up throughout the room so they’re randomly distributed, on average about 6 feet from each other. This will simulate the trees, whose branches are so high you rarely look at them since you have to watch the trail while you’re moving.
Next, release a couple dozen squirrels in the room. If you don’t have access to squirrels perhaps you could substitute guinea pigs. But they need to be very active; you’ll probably need to add caffeine to their water dishes. This will simulate the predominant sound one hears on the A.T. in northern Georgia as multitudes of hyperactive squirrels constantly perform spectacular athletic feats – bursting from under the leaves and carrying nuts and acorns up the trees.
Next add a heat lamp, a powerful fan, and a cold shower. Direct them at a centrally located treadmill, and put them each on a timer. The heat lamp should alternate with the cold shower at a ratio of 6 to 1. The fan should operate continuously when the shower is on.
The treadmill should switch randomly between uphill and downhill at durations averaging 20 minutes. Next, employ a couple of 2-year-olds to sit by the treadmill. Their job is to cast things like Lincoln logs, Legos, and rocks onto the tread so you can dodge them as you walk. Please check your state’s child labor laws first.
Now it’s time to strap on a heavy pack and start walking. If you can’t keep it up for 8-10 hours a day for a few days, you will understand why so many people quit during the first leg of the AT.
A nice final touch to your trail simulator would be to leave your front door open and place a sign by it stating “FREE SHOW” and “PLEASE ASK QUESTIONS.” This will simulate the non-thru-hiker you will meet at or near trailheads who will look at you with puzzled expressions and ask, “What are you doing?” and even worse, “Why??”