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2,200 miles...one step at a time

David A. Ramsey • Feb 10, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Why in the world would a person want to opt out of their regular daily life for up to five months — leaving family, friends and work behind — and walk more than 2,ooo miles through the Appalachian wilderness, from Springer Mountain, GA to Mt. Katahdin, ME? Could be there are about as many answers to that question as there are people who have done it, the number of which is approximately 20,000. This number includes both thru-hikers, who complete the entire A.T. in one continuous hike, and section-hikers, who hike portions of the trail over a period of years until they complete it all. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which manages and protects the A.T., roughly 80% of all who have completed the A.T. were thru-hikers, who knocked out all those miles in a single year. I have long been fascinated with long distance hiking, having outfitted and assisted countless such hikers during my 22 years at the long-established Mahoney’s Outfitters. Over that time I have accumulated a lot of A.T. — related information, some of usable importance and some simply entertaining. It’s certain that A.T. stories, facts and statistics number at least in the hundreds of thousands, but I’ll just share a few of my favorites.

Most interesting A.T. hikers

● Earl Shaffer, who in 1948 was the first to hike the A.T. end to end in a single year. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of that historic event, Mr. Shaffer repeated it in 1998 — with the same primitive army gear — at age 79.

● The sisters who completed a “yo-yo” thru-hike (hiking the trail end to end and then turning around and hiking all the way back) without wearing shoes. Their trail name was, of course, The Barefoot Sisters.

● The late Bill Irwin, who was the first blind person to thru-hike the A.T. It took him eight months with the assistance of his guide dog, Orient. Check out this inspiring story in Bill’s book, Blind Courage.

● The Crawford Family, who completed their thru-hike in 2018. Dad, mom and six children, ages 2 to 16. Incredible.

Fascinating A.T. facts

● If you hiked the A.T. wearing a step-tracker, it would register more than 5,000,000 by the time you reached the end.

● An A.T. thru-hiker travels the equivalent of 16 trips up Mount Everest and negotiates nearly 500,000 feet in elevation gain and loss — almost 90 miles.

● The highest point along the entire trail is right here in Tennessee — 6,643 ft. Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

● The most scenic areas of the A.T., according to most thru-hikers, are the highlands of NE Tennessee/W North Carolina and the region near Mount Katahdin in Maine.

● A thru-hiker requires 5,500 calories to maintain body weight in a typical day on the A.T. That’s about a dozen or so Big Macs, in case you’re wondering.

● Most thru-hikers go through an average of 4-5 pairs of shoes, almost 1 pair per month on the trail.

Think you might want to give the Appalachian Trail your best shot? Unless you already have exactly the type of equipment and clothing for such an expedition, you’ll make an initial cash outlay of roughly $1,500 to $2,000 to get geared up. Then count on about $5,000 to $6,000 for the 5-month trip to cover food, lodging, transportation, gear upgrades, laundry, etc. One of the main mistakes made by would-be A.T. thru-hikers is not getting the necessary expert assistance in choosing the right gear and planning their hike. I’ve lost count of the hikers who have come to Mahoney’s for help after hiking 300 or so miles from Georgia with the wrong equipment and wrong information in their heads. The other big dream killer is underestimating the mental challenge of getting up every day in an unknown wilderness, placing one foot in front of the other and walking 15 to 20 miles, often through blistering heat, torrential rain or freezing snow and ice. But if you think you might have what it takes to tackle such an adventure, there is more information than ever available to help you succeed. Hey, it’s only 2,200 miles...one step at a time! David A. Ramsey is a regionally and nationally recognized writer and photographer from Unicoi, TN. His recently released book, Rocky Fork: Hidden Jewel of the Blue Ridge Wild, is available on his website, www.ramseyphotos.com, and at Mahoney’s in Johnson City.

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