Spring Breaker: Hiking the Pinhoti Trail

[Originally published Sunday, March 13th, 2022 via my newsletter] In less than a week, I’ll hop on a flight to Atlanta and embark on a new kind of journey, the kind I’ve dreamed about for some time but haven’t quite taken the leap to do. I’ve always wondered what I could do on a long distance trail when left to my own devices. How far could I go? What are my limits? How good am I at problem solving? How brave can I be, particularly in the moments when I’m most afraid? Who will I meet? What will I discover on the trail? What will I learn about myself?

This winter and spring, I’ve been coaching high school track and helping out as a substitute teacher in the same school district–and being on an academic calendar means I have spring break! Knowing that, a few months ago I started researching various trails in the US that would be hikeable this time of year (as in, not covered in several feet of snow), and possible to complete in 8 or 9 days. I considered the 223 mile Ouachita Trail in Oklahoma/Arkansas, the 348 mile Pinhoti Trail in Alabama/Georgia, and the 288 Benton MacKaye Trail in Georgia/Tennessee/North Carolina.

Initially I shied away from the idea of hiking the Pinhoti Trail because of the longer distance at 348 miles. To finish within my set time frame would be a big challenge. However, a few things make the trail particularly appealing to me: I love the southern Appalachians, and I’m eager to explore a part of them that I’ve never seen. According to wiki, the construction of the Alabama Pinhoti Trail began in 1970, then in 1983, it was proposed to connect the Pinhoti Trail to the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. The trail as a whole was completed in 2008, so it is still relatively new, though with origins that go way further back. There are some thru-hikers now, such as Nimblewill Nomad aka “Sunny” that have hiked all the way from the southern terminus of the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama to the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (over 2,600 miles)! I actually crossed paths with Sunny on the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire this past fall.

The Pinhoti Trail has grown in popularity more recently, not only for hiking but for Fastest Known Times (or FKTs). Just in the past two years, the overall/men’s supported and self-supported FKTs have been broken (Coree WolteringCaleb YawnWillie Thacker), and the women’s supported and self-supported FKTs have been established (Alyssa ClarkKatherine Baird). I’m inspired by Katherine Baird for her solo ventures, as it’s not as common to see women do self-supported multi-day FKTs (in which you can’t accept any support that’s not equally available to any other hiker). Six months before she hiked the Pinhoti Trail, she also established a women’s unsupported FKT on Minnesota’s Superior Hiking Trail. I admire Alyssa Clark for her supported Pinhoti Trail trek. In her words, she wanted to “put forth the best women’s supported time I could and get as close to striking distance of the men’s record as possible.” Outside of the more recent Pinhoti Trail FKTs, I had a lot of fun reading Rob Youngren‘s and Eric Charette‘s blog entries from Rob’s overall record set in 2010. I’d highly recommend reading their daily entries side by side as it painted a really neat picture of their respective experiences. The stories and community around the trail really draw me in and make me excited about planning an adventure of my own.

So overall, there’s a lot of intrigue in the Pinhoti Trail for me–so the Pinhoti Trail it is! I’m looking at this hike as an exploration of sorts. I have an idea of how I’d like it to go, but of course there are always going to be unexpected challenges and obstacles on top of the expected kind. I’ve never done more than an overnight trip hiking solo (though recently I section hiked a portion of the White Mountains and the 100 Mile Wilderness with my friend KT), and I’ve never set foot on this particular trail. So a lot of this will be new, new, new. I can see it going along swimmingly, and I can also see it being hard, scary, and overwhelming. I might freak out two days in and say, “Nope, not for me!” and promptly get off the trail and on the next flight home. Or I might get two days in and think, “This is the best idea I’ve ever had!” I’m sure there will be moments on the trail that I’m positive it’s the WORST idea I’ve ever had… but those moments typically pass, and of course there’s really only one way to find out.


Thanks for reading. If you enjoy my writing, please consider buying me a coffee, or even better, become a monthly member! Your support helps keep my creative and athletic endeavors going, for which I’m so appreciative. My sincerest thanks to those that have already done so.

I’ll share sporadic updates from the trail on my Instagram account, @pinkfeathers. You can bet that I’ll share a thorough recap afterward on my newsletter. Thanks for following along. ~Mercury

One response to “Spring Breaker: Hiking the Pinhoti Trail”

  1. Big Adventures on Average Talent Avatar

    Sounds like a great ‘bad’ idea! What a fantastic challenge – good luck and can’t wait to hear how it goes (and what you learn!)


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Who is Mercury?

Liz Derstine, trail name “Mercury”, is a distance runner, endurance hiker, writer, and musician residing in Boston, MA. She holds fastest known times for women on the Appalachian Trail (supported, northbound), Long Trail (self-supported), and Pinhoti Trail (self-supported).

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