Once you put to your mind to it is a simple matter of getting a visa, getting six months of your life free and having enough money so that you can live for that time. Like anything in the states there are many websites devoted to the trail and they can quickly fill in any logistical details to start and finish the trip. I decided to start my trip in the South and finish in the North and in so became what is called a NoBo (north bounder). This is somewhat easier option, as you tend to follow spring northwards. If you start after mid March then you tend to miss the heavy snow in the mountains of Georgia and the same at the other end in Maine.
The start in the south is at Springer Mountain and is somewhat unremarkable. I had just left a New Zealand summer and April 7 2002 at about 6-700m in that part of Georgia is very very cold. Still I was nervous, as I had been looking forward to this day for years. The views are generally good as there are no leaves on any trees and the trail underfoot is excellent. I would compare it to the Queen Charlotte walkway for being well maintained. There is no need for a map however a guidebook makes things a lot easier. On my first day I travelled 14 miles (22kms) to the second shelter where I tented for the night (no one other than me snores or moves around in the tent), with hindsight it was just too far to start with. I woke with sore legs and more hills to climb and my pack was still very full.
Normally every 7-10 miles on the trail there is small shelter. This is like a 3 walled hut normally made of logs or timber that sleeps between 4 -10 people on a wooden sleeping platform. Generally they are sited near a stream or spring and you can get water for the night. Travel tends to be shelter to shelter as 1 shelter is a light day (7 miles or 10km) 2 shelters a good day (14 miles) and three shelters a long day (21 miles or 34 km). This of course is very approximate and to begin with 10-11 miles was a good day for me, where by the end I walked a number of 30-mile days.
Generally the terrain is open and you are never more than day or two away from a road. Therefore you don't really have to carry more than 4-5 days food at the most. However all the lessons of tramping in New Zealand still apply. The weather can be more extreme in both heat and cold and because of the share distance involved the risk of injury is greater. While in New Zealand if you fall and give your knee a bang it is a simple matter of taking a couple of weeks off and you start to get back into it again. However on the trail it is day in day out grind. You can take a day off here or there (called zeros) usually in towns but take to many and you tend to run out of money and get sucked into a town never to come back.
A couple of websites that will really help explain the trail are:
Actually if you want to some of the photos that I posted you can look at http://www.whiteblaze.net/gallery/showgallery.php?cat=500&ppuser=1168
Finally if you have had enough of all this 'foreign muck" and say "why don't we have long distance trail in New Zealand" go directly to http://www.teararoa.org.nz and offer to help Geoff.
To be continued.