The Appalachian Trail (AT) was first conceived by Benton Mackayve in 1921 and completed in 1937. At the end of his life, Mackaye had whittled down the purpose of the trail to three things:
Northbound hikers (NOBO) being at Springer Mountain in Georgia. The northern terminus of the trail is in Baxter State Park, Maine at the top of Mount Katahdin.
The journey takes anywhere from 5-7 months, with NOBO hikers starting to hike between March 1 - April 15. Along the way, water sources, trail shelters (3 sides wooden structures) and trail towns provide places for rest, hydration, resupply and perhaps a shower.
How often a hiker stops to take a zero day (no hiking), usually in town, is up to them. The mantra I hold closest for my journey is 'hike your own hike'. The trail is there, and available to each hiker, however he or she chooses to use it.
I do not believe in the purists, which argue a hiker should start at one end and go completely through to the other with minimal breaks and always remaining on the trail (no roads, or side trails or short cuts). They say you are not a true thru-hiker unless you hike their way. I do not personally choose to hike in a meandering fashion like flip floppers (jump around to different parts of the trail). I believe that a true hike is the hike you choose to take. I am excited about mine.