This fall, we’re holding a series of Tuesday evening Pints & Paths programs with We spend the the first part of the evening socializing and enjoying a pour from Big Boss Brewing Co. Then, we help you launch the epic hike of your dreams by hearing a hiker who has done one (sometimes more) of the nation’s long hikes (see below for a rundown of trails and presenters). In this space, we recap the hiker’s presentation, focusing on particularly pertinent (and entertaining) advice. Today:  Susan Levy, who thru-hiked the AT in 2015.

The trail Appalachian Trail

The hiker Susan Levy

Her story (briefly) Prior to signing up for our inaugural GetBackpacking! Intro to Backpacking class in September 2014, Susan Levy had never slept in a tent, fretted about getting lost, worried a lot about snakes and ticks. She still wasn’t crazy about ticks and snakes by the end of the 4-week program, but she’d fallen in love with the rest of the backpacking thing. Throughout the rest of fall, she could be seen hiking in full pack at Umstead State Park near her Cary home. Training for something? friends wondered. Indeed: on March 30, 2015, she said goodbye to husband Mike and one of her daughters at Springer Mountain, Ga., and disappeared down the AT for a six-month adventure.

10 things we learned from Susan about the AT and prepping for a long hike

  1. Neels Gap weight-loss program. She started her hike with a pack that weighted … 44 pounds! Three days in, at the customary shakedown at Neels Gap, Ga., she shed four pounds, including a massive rain tarp, some surplus clothing, and a Circle K-checkout-stand’s-worth supply of lighters. “They told me they’d never seen anyone so prepared to start a fire.”
  2. Know your equipment. “Jetboils are good for boiling water but not cooking beans,” Susan shared. While attempting to recreate the campfire scene from “Blazing Saddles,” she melted the inside of her Jetboil with the offending beans.
  3. Reality vs. fantasy. “I went into the hike with visions of oatmeal and tea for breakfast every morning,” says Susan. Then, the realities of rising every morning and facing 15 to 20 miles a day on the trail set in. “I quickly wound up hiking out of camp every morning with a Clif Bar.”
  4. Favorite guidebook for hiking the AT. “The A.T. Guide” by Awol (a k a David Miller). “It’s got everything you need to know and it comes out every year.”
  5. Susan’s Maybe-this-wasn’t-such-a-great-idea moment. Not long after entering Virginia, Susan grew weary; she assumed she’d contracted the dread Virginia Blues malaise. After trying to self-medicate with a pizza, a hamburger and ice cream — before spaghetti dinner at the hostel where she was bunking — she discovered it was something more profound. “Two days later I took a cab to the ER and asked for some anti-everything-coming-out-of-me-make-it-stop medicine.” (After being nursed back to health by hubby Mike, she was back on the trail in little more than a week.)
  6. Aha! moment. “We were at Caladonia State Park in Pennsylvania and I heard this guy talking about shuttling, that there was someone who was shuttling hikers’ gear to the next campsite so they could hike with minimal weight” (“slackpacking,” in trail parlance). “We tried it for a couple days and decided that’s what we were going to do. Then Mudder” — Susan, Mudder, and Advil began hiking together early on; a foot injury took Mudder off the trail, but he wasn’t ready to go home — “offered to shuttle us in his 32-foot trailer. It had bedrooms, a living area, a shower, kitchen — ‘Sign me up!’ I said.”
  7. Trail name? “Kansas. I was born there.”
  8. Favorite state on the trail? “New Hampshire. You spend a lot of time above treeline; the views are great!”
  9. Trail diet? “Cheese, nuts and big Texas Honey Buns.”
  10. What next? The Mountains-to-Sea Trail. “I’ve started section-hiking the trail,” says Susan. “I recently hiked the 8-mile stretch along the Haw River, and in October, a friend and I are going to bike the coastal section.


  • AT Elevation Pocket Profile Map

    “The AT Guide,” by Awol (a k a David Miller), described by Susan as the one guide to stick in your pack. Includes, in a compact format, landmarks, mileages; services along the way; elevation profile maps; maps of 90 towns along the trail; GPS coordinates for more than 300 trail access points, and more. Updated annually. Score a copy here.

  • “Appalachian Trail Elevation Pocket Profile Map,” by AntiGravityGear and featuring data from Awol’s book. The trail broken down into 22 sections of 80 to 100 miles. Each map weighs 4 grams. Score copies here.
  • Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the nonprofit charged with overseeing the trail, has a plethora of helpful information about the trail on its website.

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Pints & Paths Schedule

  • September 19 Bartram Trail, Joe Miller
  • September 26 Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Jerry Barker
  • October 3 Appalachian Trail, Susan Levy
  • October 10 Colorado Trail, Kate Rice
  • October 17 John Muir Trail, Marya McNeish
  • November 7 Foothills Trail, Scott Hicks, Bill Downey Jr., Bonner Ballinger