Twelve years ago today, I finished my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. It seems like only yesterday when I stepped off Springer Mountain in Georgia and finished six months and eight days later at the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine. It was a wonderful experience and the perfect way to begin a new life.
I had it worked out with my boss. I retired early (age 60) and checked in with him for the last time near Springer Mountain on the morning of 14 Mar ’03 around 11 am. He wished me well, and off I went. Of course, as you know, nothing in life is perfect. It wasn’t a sunny day when I began the hike. We thru-hikers looking at the trail marker above wouldn’t see any sun for nearly three weeks. It was rainy, cold, and miserable–all day and most of the nights. But our hearts were bright; we were an inspired group of thru-hikers.
What I noticed right away was the bonding and camaraderie. No matter what the age, gender, looks, everyone helped others and wished them the best in the months ahead. No, I don’t think anyone of us that first day hiked all the way with a new-found friend. Many dropped out because of weather, injury, lack of money, loneliness, whatever, but the sense that we are all in this together was palpable. It was good to feel that.
Despite what I’ve heard recently about shenanigans on the A.T., I never met a problem character on the trail. I encountered a few who smoked pot, but they were discrete and never bothered anyone. In New Hampshire, near Dartmouth college, I’d heard of some fellow thru-hikers who drank too much with some frat boys–it made the papers–but this was off-trail and not unusual in a college town. No, on trail it was all business. Serious business if you wanted to stay uninjured and healthy so you could handle the White Mountains and the rigorous terrain of northern New England. Having come so far, you had to finish. I never saw one beer on the trail. Too heavy to carry such luxury and not smart thinking for any thru-hiker.
I’d love to do another A.T. thru-hike. Alas, fond memories are the next best thing.