Southern Agenda

Go Your Own Way

The best route between two points isn’t necessarily a straight line. Some Appalachian Trail trekkers take a flip-flop hike, starting their adventure in the middle in Harpers Ferry, and walking 1,200 miles north. Once they summit Mount Katahdin, Maine, the traditional end, they catch a ride back to their West Virginia starting point. Then they hike another thousand miles south to finish where most people start, at Springer Mountain, Georgia. Harpers Ferry and nearby Brunswick, Maryland, celebrate the contrarian route with an annual Flip Flop Kickoff (April 22–23), with hiking-skills workshops and a communal high-carb breakfast to send adventurers on their way. Flip-flopping saves wear and tear on the trail—during March and April, thousands of people may clog the route near the Georgia starting point. Beginning in the middle helps hikers too, says Deb Coleman, a retired lawyer who completed a flip-flop thru-hike in 2017. Time it right, and you can avoid weather extremes, walking north in what can feel like perpetual spring, and heading south in mostly fall weather. “I like a certain amount of solitude on the trail, and that part appealed to me,” Coleman says. “I never had snow or freezing temperatures. And I only found a full shelter once, which is unheard-of.” The Appalachian Trail Conservancy began promoting the alternate routing in 2015, says Laurie Potteiger, who helped plan the first festival. But year after year, there’s still one misconception she must address: No one is advocating a hike in flip-flops. “You wouldn’t get more than ten feet.”