How we section hike

Two adults and two labradors pose on the McAfee rock outcrop, overlooking the expansive valley.
McAfee’s Knob

I hope to someday thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.  Until that time, I continue to section hike with my husband and dogs.  Since May, 2015, we have been walking our way through some of the 14 states that host the 2,190 mile trail.  We started our AT journey by hiking our home state of Pennsylvania.  We then completed Maryland, New Jersey, Georgia and embarked on conquering the 554 miles through Virginia.  Over one fourth of the AT is located in Virginia, therefore it took us several hiking “seasons” to complete.  The walking part, believe it or not, was the easiest!  The challenging part of section hiking, is getting to the start point.

A grassy trail along the mountain summit, with many peaks in the distance.

Our section hike is northbound, meaning we always start in the south and walk north toward Maine.  While hiking the northern section of Virginia, we each drove a vehicle, depositing one at the finish point and the other at the start.  As we moved further south, we drove from Pennsylvania to a town near our ending destination and slept in a dog-friendly hotel.  In the morning, we picked up a rental car and deposited it at our end point.  We then drove to our starting point 25 – 50 miles south.  Sometimes this drive was short, 15-20 minutes, if Interstate 81 was near the trail.  But most often, we spent 45 minutes to an hour, navigating mountain roads.

Two hikers and two labradors resting on rocks overlooking the vast Shenandoah Valley.
Taking a break in Shenandoah.

Upon arrival to the starting point, we parked our vehicle, triple checked that we had both sets of car keys, and then finally began our walk.  We pre-planned our mileage, based upon shelters/camping spots and water sources.  Hiking during the summer and early fall months provides long days of sunlight, therefore we pushed our mileage to the limit.  Since we did the car-setup thing on Fridays, we didn’t generally get onto the trail until 10 am.  There were times when we began our hike at 4:30 pm, pushing hard to complete 12 miles before total darkness.  Sleeping on the trail allowed us much more time for hiking on Saturday, when we regularly hiked 16-20 miles.  We planned less miles for our Sunday hikes, 8-13, because we needed to pick up our car at the start point, return the rental to town and then drive 4-7 hours home. Most Sundays we arrived home close to 11 pm and then spent another hour unpacking our gear, showering and prepping for our work day Monday.

A backpack wearing black labrador retriever standing on a large boulder, overlooking the valley and mountains beyond.
Our dogs seem to appreciate the views as much as we do. #FaithandToro

The section hike by the numbers

554 – Number of AT miles through Virginia

4 – Number of AT miles through West Virginia; the trail weaves in and out of WV a few times

615 – Number of actual walking miles; 57 miles of walking on side trails to parking, shelter, water and town

34.2 – Number of Virginia AT miles walked in 2015

146.6 – Number of Virginia AT miles walked in 2016

134.5 – Number of Virginia AT miles walked in 2017

243.1 – Number of Virginia AT miles walked in 2018

49 – Number of individual hiking days

19 – Number of hiking weekends;  2 4-day weekends, 7 3-day, 6 2-day and 8 single day

120,787 – Feet of elevation increase; 5,280 feet equals one mile, therefore we increased elevation 22.88 miles

5.1 – Shortest hike (miles); a Sunday in early 2016

22 – Longest hike (miles); a Saturday in the fall 2017

17:59 – Fastest average speed (minute miles) over 10 miles with a day pack (15 pounds); 16.4 miles with 3,888′ of elevation gain

22:41 – Fastest average speed (minute miles) over 10 miles with a backpack (35 pounds); 14.8 miles with 3,947′ of elevation gain

30:28 – Slowest average speed (minute miles) over 10 miles with day pack; I had an allergic reaction to food half-way through and my body was dragging!

33:43 – Slowest average speed (minute miles) over 10 miles with a back pack; The 16.3 mile stretch to and beyond Dragon’s Tooth, was the most difficult section of the AT in Virginia

220 hours, 27 minutes, 54 seconds – Amount of time hiking 615 miles (moving time)

95,801 – Number of calories burned while walking (434 calories per hour); 3,500 calories equals one pound of fat, therefore I burned 27.4 pounds

12 – Number of Virginia towns we visited: rental car, hotel, restaurant

15,685.8 – Number of driving miles: home to the AT and the travel between start and end points; this is more than driving across the United States 3 times

84 – Number of Sheetz stops to and from our hike starting point; Located frequently along Interstate 81, we stopped for unsweetened brewed tea, MTO food (salad for me, chicken sandwich for Brian) and restroom breaks; Sheetz was also the place we went to change clothes after coming off a multiday hike and prior to driving home

A male backpacker and dogs climb down a steep rock face.
The descent from Dragon’s Tooth

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God-loving, healthy lifestyle enthusiast, mother, grandmother, animal obsessed and married to my best friend. Life is good!


  1. Great blog! We live in VA and I've thought about an objective of hiking the VA AT miles. Your information is very helpful. Thanks!
  2. Love you... starting to do my planning/training/prepping cause we will hike NB GA-NC April during Jeff’s break. No clue no gear all new to to us but something we want to do.

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