A prospective thru-hiker contacted me to ask for some advice about the Appalachian Trail. Here is how I responded.
Go lightweight - it will hurt less and you just don't need much. Resupply in town instead of having to get to the PO for packages. Have fun in town, but don't stay too long. Party with other hikers, but don't spend too much money on beer so you have enough money to get to Maine. Dry out your feet in the sun a few times a day, or every time you rest. Eat a salad every time you get to town- you'll feel better. Don't rush. The hike will be over before you know it and then you'll have to get a job again. Do some 20 plus mile days so you feel the burn, but take your time on most days. Some hikers are gonna drive you crazy, but they are all part of this awesome hiker fraternity and they all have an interesting story. Take lots of pictures, especially of the hikers. Make sure you get contact info for the people you meet - when the hike is over you can go sleep on their couches and talk gear and trail all night long. Non-hikers are excited about your trip, but don't really care about gear and can't necessarily appreciate the great stories you'll have about hiking in the rain for a week. Mind your manners in trail towns. You are stinky and homeless and you depend on the town for its services. It only takes one badly behaved hiker to make all hikers unwelcome in a little trail town. Offer a donation to trail angels and gas money to people who give you rides. Take the time to talk to the people you meet, even if you've answered the question about how many pairs of shoes you've worn out a million times. Most people don't have the moxy to hike 2000 miles and they are truly excited about what you are doing. Give them that excitement, but be humble. Chances are they have the moxy to do something you would never consider, so listen to their stories. Don't take a cell phone. You won't need it and it is nice to get away from everyone else in your life for a while. And no one wants to hear anyone else yakking on a phone in the middle of the woods. Keep a journal, even if you are tired. You don't have to write a novel, just jot down a few phrases so you can remember the little or big things you see each day. You'll be glad you did when you are back at work and have responsibilities that keep you from getting out in the woods.
Top advice: go slow at first. Georgia will put you in your place with its steep and frequent elevation changes. Let your body break in with eight and ten mile days, then move on to twelve and fifteen. Your knees and ligaments will thank you. Everyone leaving Springer will feel antsy and competitive. Ignore them. The only thing getting you to Katahdin is your mind. Your primary competition is yourself.