Q. How far was the trail?
A. The official Appalachian Trail is 2168.8 miles, but that does not include the 8.8 mile approach walk from the bottom of Amicalola Falls in GA, below Springer Mountain; the 5.2 miles to get back down from Katahdin; or the many miles to restock points, post offices, scenic views, water sources, and shelters. All said, a person who completes the trail easily walks over 2200 miles.
Q. And how long did it take you?
A. It took me 95 days, which includes 4 zero days; the final average was almost 23 miles per day. Most people complete the trail over a period of 5 to 7 months; I simply did not have the luxury of time. I’ll be the first to admit that my hike was a different type of hike – I was much more focused on the physical challenge and the backpacking elements than on the social scene and the irresponsibleness afforded while out on the trail. But I think that, in many ways, the rate at which I hiked the trail helped me to complete it: signs of progress were not hard to find, and my momentum was always carrying me.
Q. Do you feel as if you missed anything because of how fast you were going?
A. To some degree, yes. In particular, I wish I had been able to spend more time in the trail towns, getting to know their unique histories and personalities; and to hike more with my family members and my closest friends, which I was unable to do because of the time I would lose. But that is about it – after three months, I knew what it was like to poop in a privy, eat Ramman noodles, and smell like a homeless person; I had persevered through physical injuries (e.g. severe chafing), loneliness and homesickness, and endless miles of nothing but rocks, roots, and trees; and I knew how it was to hike in the rain or to get caught in thunder and hail storms. Most importantly, I still hiked every mile of the 2168 on the trail, and that constitutes a thru-hike in my mind.
Q. Did you have a “fun” summer?
A. No, it was definitely not. I associate “fun” with leisure – and the trail is about as far from leisure as one can possibly get. Any person who starts the trail with the idea that it will be a “fun” experience is completely disillusioned; their romantic notions of the trail will be crushed in the first quarter of the trail – and, for many, it happens earlier than that, as evidenced by the number of hikers waiting for the bus at Neil’s Gap, just 30 miles north of Springer. Remember that the trail, in its most reduced form, is a hike of 2168.8 miles in length – hitting up trail-town bars, taking days off, hostelling it, and spending hours at scenic vistas are not rewarded with “bonus miles.” The only way to finish is by walking; any non-walking activities are distractions.
There is not a second part to this answer. No, it was not fun. However, this summer was extremely rewarding and a great experience – something that I will remember, talk about, and be affected by for the rest of my life. It is yet another example of how the most rewarding activities are those towards which we put the most energy.
Q. What was your trail name?
A. Trail names are assigned – either by the individual or by other hikers – to every hiker on the trail. Then, instead of introducing yourself as, say, “Dan,” you introduce yourself as Funky Avacado, or another strange name that indicates something about your personality or reveals something about your trail history. My trail name was Paul Revere, given to me on the third day of the trek by a crazy man from outside Atlanta, who apparently thought there was enough correlation between me being from Massachusetts and Paul Revere to give me the name. In the end, I found the name was fitting: according to people behind me, I was a myth of sorts – right up there with The Postman and Lightning Bolt, who people had heard about but had never personally met; the name also was associated with being fast. Perhaps the best names belonged to The Trees, two graduate students from the West coast who both were about 6’ 4” and weighed maybe 170 pounds, each with gangly arms and legs. They also had individual identities: meTree and youTree.
Q. What were your favorite sections of the trail?
A. In the south, the best stretches include Roan High Knob, the subsequent balds, and the Hump Mountains, TN; and the Grayson Highlands, in southern Virgini
A. In the north, I loved the Presidentials – I’m biased, as that has always been my mountainous refuge – the Mohossuc’s, Saddleback Mountain, and Katahdin.
Q. Do you think that you will do the trail again?
A. I see myself doing my favorite sections again, perhaps many times. But I do not see myself doing the whole trail again – it was a great experience, but there are other equally rewarding experiences out there that I have not yet tried. (There’s an implicit message in that last statement.)
Q. What were you eating?
A. I was eating anything – and preferably a lot of it. For breakfast, I would typically have 2 sleeves of pop-tarts and a granola bar. For snacks, I would usually split a 1-pound bag of granola cereal and a 11-oz bag of Reeses’ pieces over two days; or I might eat 6 to 8 Sunbelt granola bars. When I was carrying a stove – from GA to VA, and from VT to ME – my dinners got reduced to Ramman noodles (2 packages), coos-coos (1 5-oz box), or roasted garlic mashed potatoes (for 2 cups of water) in tortilla shells; I added textured vegetable protein (TVP) to almost all my dinners. When I did not have my stove, I ate cold cuts on bagels or flavored bread.
Q. What kind of wildlife did you see?
A. Mammals: lots of deer, two moose, 7 or 8 bears including 5 in NJ in two days, a bobcat in the Shenandoahs, a raccoon, rabbits, wild turkeys, squirrels and chipmunks. Reptiles: a half-dozen rattlesnakes and copperheads, box turtles, caterpillars and centipedes, and leeches (just in ME).
Q. Who did you hike with?
A. No one, for an overwhelming majority of it anyhow. Hilary and I hiked the 35-mile stretch between Davenport Gap and Hot Springs together, then another 10 miles in V
A. I had hiking partners for 6 days in and around the Smokies, for a day or two in MA and VT, and for 2 days in Maine. My family – save for Kerri – Joe, and Hilary all hiked up Katahdin with me; my parents put forth a valiant effort but did not make it to the summit.
Q. How have you found the transition back to running?
A. For the first week, I definitely was feeling the effects of not having run or stretched in three months; and I swear that my knees are about 40 years old now while the rest of me is still 21. I have been running now for three weeks and am feeling much better, averaging about 6 miles per day. This quick recovery is no surprise: you can’t hike 2100 miles in 3 months and not be in half-decent shape – my legs were used to moving, unlike when coming off an injury.