Welcome to A Jarhead's Journey!


What Our Mission Is All About!

We need your help! 

My name is Tristan Retzlaff, USMC, Retired, and I am on a mission. 

I am reaching out to the community to help me attain my goal. 

My goal is to raise community awareness of the relentless effects of war and to raise funds for Healing 4 Heroes, a 501(c)(3) charity based in Peachtree City, GA.

 Healing 4 Heroes provided me with my trained service dog Zoey. I'm 100%service-connected disabled Marine Corps Veteran. Service dogs like Zoey make it possible to live better lives and help us deal with our disabilities, seen or unseen. PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, skeletal or muscle injuries are with us constantly. 

Lack of understanding and lack of resources make it difficult to cope. The downward spiral of hopelessness and helplessness can be reversed in many cases with the aid of a service dog.

This is why Zoey and I are going to hike the 2193 miles of the Appalachian Trail. We want to spread the word about military suicide and gain support for Healing 4 Heroes. Professionally trained service dogs are very expensive, approximately $80,000. Most veterans cannot afford that. Healing 4 Heroes takes suitable dogs from high-kill shelters and, working through professional trainers, works with both dog and veterans…at no charge to the veteran. 

Service dogs like my Zoey make it possible to live better lives and help us deal with our disabilities, whether seen or unseen.

Our journey starts on February 1st of 2020, and should take about 6 -8 months to cover the 2193 miles that stretch from Georgia to Maine. I am asking for support to cover Zoey and myself, as well as donations to Healing 4 Heroes ( I walk for those who cannot. I will be their voice to the world, as we are unified in our message.

I can use support either in money or gear needed for both of us on the trail. The more we are able to raise to help us complete our mission to walk the Appalachian Trail makes it more possible for Healing 4 Heroes continue to the amazing work they do. 

I hope you can give this some thought, and help us on our journey. I appreciate you taking the time and any consideration for my request. Anything you do would also be considered a tax exxempt donation to Healing 4 Heroes. I have provided links for information, as well as our Amazon wish list.

Follow us on social media. 

Join us on the trail. 

I will be leaving for Tennessee in early January so I can train in more temperate weather. 

My phone number is 920.858.3326. 



Tristan Retzlaff 

Oshkosh, WI

USMC 1990-94

Infantry, Corporal

2nd Bn 3rd Marine Division

What is A Jarhead's Journey?

Contact Us

Drop us a line!

Better yet, see us in person!

I would love to come to do a fundraising appearnace at your location

 as we travel along the Appalachian Trail in 2020!

A Jarhead's Journey

A Jarhead's Journey Store

Jarhead's Furturma Design

Click the Image to Be taken to the Red Bubble Store

Click the Image to Be Taken to the Red Bubble Store

to Purchase Fundraising Items. 

Designed by Tristan Retzlaff 

and Created by a number of artists.

The funds from this go to support the mission of Veteran Suicide Awareness and also to raise funds for Healing 4 Heroes to help connect Veterans with Service Dogs 

Zoey Fundraising Design

Click the Image to Be taken to the Red Bubble Store

Click the Image to Be Taken to the Red Bubble Store

to Purchase Fundraising Items.

Designed by Tristan Retzlaff and Created by Shannon Potratz

The funds from this go to support the mission of Veteran Suicide Awareness and also to raise funds for Healing 4 Heroes to help connect Veterans with Service Dogs

To Support Them through Paypal click the Donate button

Veteran Suicide Awareness


Are you a Veteran in crisis or concerned about one?

 Connect with the Veterans Crisis Line to reach caring, qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Many of them are Veterans themselves. s here.


Learn to recognize red flags.


People can experience an emotional or mental health crisis due to a wide range of situations. For some, it might be the end of a personal relationship. For others, it might be the loss of a job. For Veterans, these crises can be heightened by their experiences during military service.

When emotional issues reach a crisis point, Veterans and their loved ones should contact the Veterans Crisis Line.

Call 1-800-273-8255 

and Press 1 Chat online 

Text 838255

Many Veterans may not show any signs of intent to harm themselves before doing so, but some actions can be a sign that a person needs help. Veterans in crisis may show behaviors that indicate a risk of self-harm. The following can all be warning signs:

  • Appearing sad or depressed most of the time
  • Hopelessness; feeling like there’s no way out
  • Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, or mood swings
  • Feeling as if there is no reason to live
  • Feeling excessive guilt, shame, or sense of failure
  • Rage or anger
  • Engaging in risky activities without thinking
  • Losing interest in hobbies, work, or school
  • Increasing alcohol or drug misuse
  • Neglecting personal welfare; a deteriorating physical appearance
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Showing violent behavior, like punching a hole in the wall or getting into fights
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Getting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, or writing a will

The following signs require immediate attention:

  • Thinking about hurting or killing yourself
  • Looking for ways to kill yourself
  • Talking about death, dying, or suicide
  • Self-destructive behavior such as drug abuse, weapons, etc.


Find support near you

If you call, text, or chat with the Veterans Crisis Line, 

their support doesn't end when the conversation’s over.

When callers need more support, Veterans Crisis Line responders can refer them to a Suicide Prevention Coordinator (SPC) at their local VA medical center. SPCs follow up and coordinate care for the issues that led to the crisis, like posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, readjustment challenges, sleeping problems, and more.


PsycheArmor Institute


PsychArmor® is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that offers critical resources to Americans so they can effectively engage with and support military service members, Veterans, and their families.

Because fewer than 7% of Americans serve or have served in uniform, most civilians are unfamiliar with military culture. As a result, members of the military and Veteran community often feel misunderstood and reluctant to seek support. Our mission is to bridge that civilian-military gap by educating a nation.

At PsychArmor, we provide free online training videos delivered by national subject matter experts who are fiercely committed to educating the civilian community about military culture. Additionally, our Support Center provides follow-up coaching to reinforce the knowledge conveyed in our courses.


Education is the most effective way to initiate conversations and empowers us to collectively support service members, Veterans, and their families so they can thrive in their real life and online communities.

By leveraging industry experts and trainers, we develop educational content designed to support the unique needs associated with military culture. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors and supporters, PsychArmor is able to provide our online training courses at no cost to the learner. We also work with partners to create tailored curriculum pathways for teams, custom training videos and micro-courses.



EDUCATE yourself by watching their online videos. 

We recommend starting with our cornerstone course

 “15 Things Veterans Want You To Know” 


Step Off!

Come see Jarhead and Zoey off at the start of the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain in Georgia!!


A Jarhead's Journey Starts the Appalachian Trail!

9am - 11am

Springer Mountain Georgia

Event Details


A Jarhead's Journey Starts the Appalachian Trail!

We invite you to join us at Springer Mountain at the start of the Appalachian Trail! Come cheer us as we start the 2193 mile journey.

9am - 11am

Springer Mountain Georgia

Healing 4 Heroes Service Dog Charity


What should you do when you see a Service Dog?

It seems when some people see a Service Dog in public they either act as though it’s a celebrity, a cute toy to be played with or an annoyance, even if it’s just laying there. 

So what should you do when you see a Service Dog? 

What is proper Service Dog etiquette?

Smile and be polite to the Service Dog’s handler, but most of all:

1. Do not pet the Service Dog

2. Do not distract the Service Dog in any way!!

3. Please ignore the Service Dog entirely. You’re not being rude if you don’t acknowledge the Service Dog’s presence.

4. Service Dog etiquette says when Service Dog has a vest on or is in public with its disabled handler (or trainer), it is working, even if it appears as though it is not. Distracting a Service Dog by making noises, offering food, water, toys or petting may be dangerous to the dog’s disabled handler, especially if the dog is a medical alert dog or brace/mobility support dog. 

Many handlers have “invisible disabilities,” such as diabetes, hearing loss or other symptoms not readily apparent, and if a Service Dog is paying attention to someone who’s distracting her, she’s not doing her job for her handler.

Service Dog Etiquette

If you would like to pet the Service Dog, ALWAYS ask the handler first, but don’t be offended if they refuse. 

Some disabled Service Dog handlers don’t like to chat about their Service Dogs. Most like to go about their day, just like you! Also, never ask personal questions about the handler’s disability or intrude on their privacy. Keep these simple Service Dog etiquette tips in mind, and you’ll have a far smoother experience when you see a Service Dog in public.


What Should a Service Dog Act Like?

A Quick Guide to Service Dog Behavior

Since the U.S. doesn’t require Service Dog certifications, the only way to tell a “real” Service Dog from a fake is by behavior. Read on to learn more about what a Service Dog should act like.

Every Service Dog Team is Unique

Every Service Dog team has unique abilities, needs, and work styles. No two teams possess the same training since every disability is different. What works for one team may not work for others. However, it’s vital to note that every “real” Service Dog has one thing in common: they’re individually trained to meet the needs of a person with a disability.

This individual training specifically addresses their person’s needs. The behaviors, tasks, and work the dog does for their handler aren’t “natural” behaviors or things any dog could do. The training is precise and exact. The trained behaviors are on cue, reliable, and replicable. The dog’s response to the cue/command is predictable since it’s a trained behavior.

As an example, a Service Dog who is trained to nudge their handler’s hand when the handler becomes frozen in fear is different from a dog who naturally pushes and shoves with their muzzle. The second dog’s behavior cannot be predicted and it isn’t on cue. Therefore, it’s not a trained behavior and does not count as a Service Dog task, even if it’s helpful.

Emotional Support Is Not a Trained Task

This is why emotional support does not count as a Service Dog task. All dogs can provide emotional support. However, you can’t train a dog to provide emotional support. You can train a dog to provide deep pressure stimulation to ground the handler during a panic attack or to alert the handler to a person approaching from behind.

A dog who is not trained to reliably provide tasks and/or work that help their handler do things they couldn’t do on their own in response to specific cues or commands is not a Service Dog. Dogs in public masquerading as Service Dogs who aren’t Service Dogs do not possess the caliber of training necessary to work calmly and reliably. Fake Service Dogs create a lot of complications for real Service Dog teams. Namely, they create suspicion and access issues for well-trained teams.

Service Dog Behavior: General Manners

Service Dogs appear calm, relaxed, and able to focus while working with their partner in public. They should have good manners. They shouldn’t jump, bark uncontrollably, growl, appear out of control, or act scared of their own shadow. A dog who is afraid of everything or who is reactive cannot focus on their handler’s needs since they’re so focused on the environment.

When you see a Service Dog, it should be obvious the dog has specialized training. They should be calm and focused on their handler. The dog should remain by their handler’s side unless their handler asks them to be somewhere else or they’re doing a trained task that requires them to be away from their handler. They should not overly engage with the environment or with strangers.

Real Service Dogs aren’t destructive, wild, or loud. Some Service Dogs bark in order to alert someone nearby that their handler needs help, but outside of trained task work, a Service Dog shouldn’t excessively vocalize. Service Dogs shouldn’t be reactive to other dogs they see out in public. They should appear calm and give the appearance of a focused professional most of the time.

Service Dog Behavior: Training

A trained Service Dog’s training is obvious. When you see a real Service Dog, most people immediately remark, “Wow, I wish my dog acted like that!” They walk well on leash and move with their handler. Service Dogs hold long stays without issue and they can relax for long periods of time. They don’t react to distractions. They’re accepting of interaction, but don’t seek it out. They perform their work well, regardless of what’s going on around them.

Some Service Dogs perform 3 or 4 tasks, whereas other teams have dozens of tasks. Every team is unique. A trained Service Dog can perform their tasks anywhere the handler needs their assistance. It’s important to remember that just because you don’t see a Service Dog working doesn’t mean they aren’t — Service Dogs spend a lot of time on standby, waiting for their handler to cue them to do something. You cannot ask to see a Service Dog’s task training, but business owners can ask the handler what work or tasks the dog performs for the handler. Handlers should have an answer that’s clear and concise.

Additionally, Service Dogs showcase specialized public access training. They don’t stand in the way or block people’s access to items. They down quietly under tables or chairs while waiting. The dog isn’t a tripping hazard or obstacle. They don’t spook or startle from common, everyday encounters like automatic doors, strollers, or shopping carts.

In a nutshell, a trained Service Dog acts like one. They don’t give the appearance of a pet dog out for a stroll. They aren’t causing issues, they aren’t attacking bystanding dogs, and they aren’t dragging their handler around. They’re professionals.


How Can I Tell If A Service Animal Is Legitimate?


What’s the best way to tell if a dog is a Service Animal and not a pet? Ask! The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows for Service Animal owners to be taken at their word and you are limited to only two questions — and only if it isn’t obvious that the animal is a Service Animal. You may not demand proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed.

Not Every Disability is Apparent
Be aware that many disabilities are invisible, such as deafness, epilepsy, autism, multiple sclerosis (M.S.), life-threatening allergies, psychiatric disabilities and others. In some cases, you may not be able to determine if someone is disabled or the extent of their disability.

It is Illegal to Require Documentation of a Service Dog Team
Many disabled individuals choose to provide a vest for their Service Dog and/or carry identification, however it is not required that they do. You may encounter a disabled individual who chooses to keep their disability private. Their Service Dog may not be wearing a vest and they may not be carrying any documentation on their person. Other disabled individuals choose to make their own identification materials at home. If a team decides to present you with a card or other identification, it is their choice. Registering with us is a formal way for someone to declare they understand what is involved with training and using a Service or Assistance Animal; how important their behavior, and that of their Service or Assistance Dog is to the general public and other Service and Assistance Animal teams; the legal definition of a Service or Assistance Animal; the Minimum Training Standards for a Service or Assistance Animal and what is involved with a Public Access Test.

Vests or other identifying gear is not required.
While we recommend that every team is clearly identified, Federal law is very specific about not requiring vests or other forms of identification. Many disabled individuals who use Service Dogs choose not to provide a vest for their dog because they don’t want to be labeled as disabled. They believe that a vest is like being emblazoned with a Scarlett Letter.

Service Dogs come in all shapes, sizes and breeds.
The ADA does not limit breed or size. For example, large dogs can be used for bracing those with balance or mobility issues. Small dogs are perfectly suited as Hearing Dogs or Medical Alert Dogs.

There is no universally recognized “certification” for Service Dogs (or trainers).
There is no such thing as a universally or legally-recognized certification, registration or training standards for Service Dogs — or trainers. While some trainers and organizations may say they “certify” their graduates, that status is something granted by them and is not recognized under law, and often not by other trainers or organizations. Anyone can call themselves a trainer and because there is such a wide variety of training techniques, styles, schools, online courses and more, there is no universally recognized standard. Some of the best trainers in the world have never graduated from a course, as well, some of the best Service Dog teams do not come from programs.

Dogs may be trained by an individual trainer, an organization or by the disabled handler themselves.
As said above, there are no universal standards for Service Dog trainers. Service Dogs may be trained by an individual trainer, an organization or by the disabled handler themselves.

You are limited by Federal law as to what you can ask.

  • View the U.S. Department of Justice ADA Business Brief: Service Animals in your browser.
  • Download the U.S. Department of Justice ADA Business Brief: Service Animals as a PDF.

The law states:

§ 35.136 Service animals
(f) Inquiries. A public entity shall not ask about the nature or extent of a person’s disability, but may make two inquiries to determine whether an animal qualifies as a service animal. A public entity may ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. A public entity shall not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal. Generally, a public entity may not make these inquiries about a service animal when it is readily apparent that an animal is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability (e.g., the dog is observed guiding an individual who is blind or has low vision, pulling a person’s wheelchair, or providing assistance with stability or balance to an individual with an observable mobility disability).

Source: Part 35 Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services (as amended by the final rule published on September 15, 2010)
Authority: 5 U.S.C. 301; 28 U.S.C. 509, 510; 42 U.S.C. 12134.
Subpart A—General § 35.104 Definitions

View the full ADA Legislation >

Behavior is the best indication whether it’s a well-trained team or not. If a “Service Dog” is interrupting a business’ daily operation with its behavior, causing problems in a housing situation, is a danger to anyone or its conduct is NOT conduct acceptable in a Service Dog (barking, growling, stealing food from other clients, knocking people over, jumping, or many other behaviors), by law, the manager or business owner has every right to ask the person to remove the dog from the premises, “Service Dog” or not.


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The Appalachian Trail

Information and History of the Great Trail


The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, generally known as the Appalachian Trail or simply the A.T., is a marked hiking trail in the Eastern United States extending between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine.[1] The trail is about 2,200 miles (3,500 km) long, though the exact length changes over time as parts are modified or rerouted. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy describes the Appalachian Trail as the longest hiking-only trail in the world. More than 2 million people are said to take a hike on part of the trail at least once each year.

The idea of the Appalachian Trail came about in 1921. The trail itself was completed in 1937 after more than a decade of work, although improvements and changes continue. It is maintained by 31 trail clubs and multiple partnerships, and managed by the National Park Service, United States Forest Service, and the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Most of the trail is in a forest or wildlands, although some portions traverse towns, roads and farms. It passes through 14 states: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Thru-hikers attempt to hike the trail in its entirety in a single season. The number of thru-hikes per year has increased steadily, with 715 northbound and 133 southbound thru-hikes reported for 2017. Many books, documentaries, websites, and fan organizations are dedicated to the pursuit. 

The Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail form what is known as the Triple Crown of Hiking in the United States.

Marker on the trail near Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine commemorating its completion.

The trail was conceived by Benton MacKaye, a forester who wrote his original plan—called "An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning" —shortly after the death of his wife in 1921. MacKaye's idea detailed a grand trail that would connect a series of farms and wilderness work/study camps for city-dwellers along the Appalachian Mountains from the highest point in the North (Mt. Washington in New Hampshire) to the highest in the South (Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina). Hiking was an incidental focus of his plan. In 1922, at the suggestion of Major William A. Welch, director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, his idea was publicized by Raymond H. Torrey with a story in the New York Evening Post under a full-page banner headline reading "A Great Trail from Maine to Georgia!"

On October 7, 1923, the first section of the trail, from Bear Mountain west through Harriman State Park to Arden, New York, was opened. MacKaye then called for a two-day Appalachian Trail conference to be held in March 1925 in Washington, D.C. This meeting inspired the formation of the Appalachian Trail Conference (now called the Appalachian Trail Conservancy) (ATC).

A retired judge named Arthur Perkins and his younger associate Myron Avery took up the cause. In 1929, Perkins, who was also a member of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and its Blue Blazed Trails committee, found Ned Anderson, a farmer in Sherman, Connecticut, who took on the task of mapping and blazing the Connecticut leg of the trail (1929–1933). It ran from Dog Tail Corners in Webatuck, New York, which borders Kent, Connecticut, at Ashley Falls, 50 miles through the northwest corner of the state, up to Bear Mountain at the Massachusetts border. (A portion of the Connecticut trail has since been rerouted (1979–1983) to be more scenic, adhering less to highways and more to wilderness, and includes a Ned K. Anderson Memorial Bridge.)

Anderson's efforts helped spark renewed interest in the trail, and Avery (who led the charge after Perkins' death in 1932) was able to bring other states on board. Upon taking over the ATC, Avery adopted the more practical goal of building a simple hiking trail. He and MacKaye clashed over the ATC's response to a major commercial development along the trail's path; MacKaye left the organization, while Avery was willing to simply reroute the trail. Avery reigned as Chairman of the ATC from 1932 to 1952 (he died that same year).

Avery became the first to walk the trail end-to-end, though not as a thru-hike, in 1936. In August 1937, the trail was completed to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, and the ATC shifted its focus toward protecting the trail lands and mapping the trail for hikers.

Paul M. Fink was honored in 1977 by the Appalachian Trail Conference as "the guiding influence" in establishing the Trail in Tennessee and North Carolina in the 1920s. Fink was inducted into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame in 2019. In 1922, only a year after Benton MacKaye's famous article proposing an Appalachian Trail was written, Fink began corresponding with hiking leaders in New England about building the Trail. When Myron Avery began planning the route of the AT in the south, Fink was the first person he contacted

Many of the trail's present highlights were not part of the trail in 1937: Roan Mountain, North Carolina and Tennessee; the Mount Rogers high country, including Grayson Highlands, Virginia; the Pochuck Creek swamp, New Jersey; Nuclear Lake, New York; Thundering Falls, Vermont; and Saddleback Mountain, Maine. Except for places where the Civilian Conservation Corps was brought in (mostly in Shenandoah National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains, and Maine), the original trail often climbed straight up and down mountains, creating rough hiking conditions and a treadway prone to severe erosion. The ATC's trail crews and volunteer trail-maintenance clubs have relocated or rehabilitated miles of trail since that time.

In 1936, a 121-day Maine to Georgia veteran's group funded and supported thru-hike was reported to have been completed, with all but three miles of new trail cleared and blazed, by six Boy Scouts from New York City and their guides. The completed thru-hike was much later recorded and accepted by the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association.

In 1938, the trail sustained major damage from a hurricane that went through the New England area. This happened right before the start of World War II and many of the people working on the trail were called to active duty.

In 1948, Earl Shaffer of York, Pennsylvania, brought a great deal of attention to the project by publicizing the first claimed thru-hike. The claim was later criticized for the hike's omission of significant portions due to short-cuts and car rides. Shaffer later claimed the first north-to-south thru-hike, the first to claim to do so in each direction. Chester Dziengielewski was later to be named the first southbound thru-hiker. In 1998, Shaffer, nearly 80 years old, hiked the trail, making him the oldest person to claim a completed thru-hike. The first woman to walk the trail in a single season was Peace Pilgrim in 1952, while the first solo woman to complete the hike was 67-year old Emma Gatewood who completed the northbound trek in 1955, taking 146 days. She repeated the achievement two years later.

In the 1960s, the ATC made progress toward protecting the trail from development, thanks to the efforts of politicians and officials. The National Trails System Act of 1968 designated the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail as the first national scenic trails and paved the way for a series of National Scenic Trails within the National Park and National Forest systems. Trail volunteers worked with the National Park Service to map a permanent route for the trail, and by 1971 a permanent route had been marked (though minor changes continue to this day). By the close of the 20th century, the Park Service had completed the purchase of all but a few miles of the trail's span.


Throughout its length, the AT is marked by white paint blazes that are 2 by 6 inches (5 by 15 cm). Side trails to shelters, viewpoints and parking areas use similarly shaped blue blazes. In past years, some sections of the trail also used metal diamond markers with the AT logo, few of which survive.

Lodging and camping

Most hikers carry a lightweight tent, tent hammock or tarp. The trail has more than 250 shelters and campsites available for hikers. The shelters, sometimes called lean-tos (in Maine, Massachusetts, and Connecticut), huts (in Shenandoah National Park), or Adirondack shelters, are generally open, three-walled structures with a wooden floor, although some shelters are much more complex in structure. Shelters are usually spaced a day's hike or less apart, most often near a water source (which may be dry) and with a privy. They generally have spaces for tent sites in the vicinity as the shelters may be full. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) operates a system of eight huts along 56 miles of New Hampshire's White Mountains. These huts are significantly larger than standard trail shelters and offer full-service lodging and meals during the summer months. The Fontana Dam Shelter in North Carolina is more commonly referred to as the Fontana Hilton because of amenities (e.g. flush toilets) and its proximity to an all-you-can-eat buffet and post office. Several AMC huts have an extended self-service season during the fall, with two extending self-service seasons through the winter and spring. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maintains trail cabins, shelters, and huts throughout the Shenandoah region of Virginia. 

Shelters are generally maintained by local volunteers. Almost all shelters have one or more prehung food hangers (generally consisting of a short nylon cord with an upside-down tuna can suspended halfway down its length) where hikers can hang their food bags to keep them out of the reach of rodents. In hiker lingo, these are sometimes called "mouse trapezes." Most shelters also contain “unofficial registries”, which are known as shelter logs. These logs usually come in the form of spiral-bound notebooks that are kept in containers in shelters all along the trail, and signing in them is not required. These logs give hikers a way to leave day-to-day messages while they are on the trail to document where they have been, where they are going, and who/what they have seen. The logs provide a space for informal writing and can also be used to keep track of people on the trail. Most of all, they provide a system of communication for a network of hikers along the trail. 

Shelter logs can provide proof of who summits certain mountains and can warn about dangerous animals or unfriendly people in the area. Hikers may cite when a certain water source is dried up, thus providing crucial information to other hikers.

In addition to official shelters, many people offer their homes, places of business, or inns to accommodate AT hikers. One example is the Little Lyford Pond camps maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Inns are more common in sections of the trail that coincide with national parks, most notably Virginia's Shenandoah National Park.

Trail towns

AT information center in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania

The trail crosses many roads, thus providing ample opportunity for hikers to hitchhike into town for food and other supplies. Many trail towns are accustomed to hikers passing through, and thus many have hotels and hiker-oriented accommodations. Some of the most well-known trail towns are Hot Springs, North Carolina; Erwin, Tennessee; Damascus, Virginia; Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; Duncannon, Pennsylvania; Port Clinton, Pennsylvania; Wingdale, New York; Kent, Connecticut; Salisbury, Connecticut; Great Barrington, Massachusetts; Hanover, New Hampshire; Lincoln, New Hampshire; Gorham, New Hampshire and Monson, Maine. In the areas of the trail closer to trail towns, many hikers have experienced what is sometimes called "trail magic," or assistance from strangers through kind actions, gifts, and other forms of encouragement.[61] Trail magic is sometimes done anonymously. In other instances, persons have provided food and cooked for hikers at a campsite.


The Appalachian Trail is relatively safe. Most injuries or incidents are consistent with comparable outdoor activities. Most hazards are related to weather conditions, human error, plants, animals, diseases, and hostile humans encountered along the trail.

Many animals live around the trail, with bears, snakes, and wild boars posing the greatest threat to human safety. Several rodent- and bug-borne illnesses are also a potential hazard. In scattered instances, foxes, raccoons, and other small animals may bite hikers, posing risk of rabies and other diseases. There has been one reported case (in 1993) of hantavirus (HPS), a rare but dangerous rodent-borne disease affecting the lungs. The afflicted hiker recovered and hiked the trail the following year. The section of the trail that runs through the Mid-Atlantic and New England states has a very high population of deer ticks carrying Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, and corresponds to the highest density of reported Lyme Disease in the country. Poison ivy is common the length of the trail, and more plentiful in the South.

The weather is another major consideration of hikers on the trail. Hiking season of the trail generally starts in mid-to-late spring, when conditions are much more favorable in the South. However, this time may also be characterized by extreme heat, sometimes in excess of 100 °F. Under such conditions, hydration is imperative. Farther north and at higher elevations, the weather can be cold, characterized by low temperatures, strong winds, hail or snow storms and reduced visibility. Prolonged rain, though not typically life-threatening, can undermine stamina and ruin supplies. 

Trail completion

Trail hikers who attempt to complete the entire trail in a single season are called "thru-hikers"; those who traverse the trail during a series of separate trips are known as "section-hikers". Rugged terrain, weather extremes, illness, injury, and the time and effort required make thru-hiking difficult to accomplish. As of 2017, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy estimated that 3,839 hikers set out from Springer Mountain, northbound, 497 from Mount Katahdin, southbound, and reported 1,186 completions of hiking the entire trail, which includes those by both section and through hikers.

Most thru-hikers walk northward from Georgia to Maine, and generally start out in early spring and follow the warm weather as it moves north. These "north-bounders" are also called NOBO (NOrthBOund) or GAME (Georgia(GA)-to-Maine(ME)), while those heading in the opposite direction are termed "south-bounders" (also SOBO or MEGA).

A thru-hike generally requires five to seven months, although some have done it in three months, and several trail runners have completed the trail in less time. Trail runners typically tackle the AT with automobile support teams, without backpacks, and without camping in the woods.

Thru-hikers are classified into many informal groups. "Purists" are hikers who stick to the official AT trail, follow the white blazes, except for side trips to shelters and campsites. "Blue Blazers" cut miles from the full route by taking side trails marked by blue blazes. The generally pejorative name "Yellow Blazers," a reference to yellow road stripes, is given to those who hitchhike to move either down or up the trail.

Part of hiker subculture includes making colorful entries in log books at trail shelters, signed using pseudonyms called "trail names".

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy gives the name "2000 Miler" to anyone who completes the entire trail. The ATC's recognition policy for "2000 Milers" gives equal recognition to thru-hikers and section-hikers, operates on the honor system, and recognizes blue-blazed trails or officially required roadwalks as substitutes for the official, white-blazed route during an emergency such as a flood, a forest fire, or impending storm on an exposed, high-elevation stretch. As of 2018, more than 19,000 people had reported completing the entire trail. The northbound completion rate of hiking the trail in twelve months or fewer varied from 19% to 27% from 2011 to 2018. The southbound completion rate varied between 27% and 30% during the same period.