If At First You Don’t Succeed…

The Elusive Thru-Hike Completion

Thru-hiking has been a frustrating challenge for me.  A failed attempt on the AT in 2016 due to a mix of my head not being there coupled with a foot injury requiring surgery was the start.  Then came COVID. That was followed by a major abdominal surgery and a subsequent severe sepsis episode in 2021 that left me too weak to walk 2 blocks.  It has been difficult to get this right.  Most people who try never do get it right, in reality.

45 Years on the Trail

So here I am in Autumn 2022 at age 63.  In some ways, I am in about as good shape as I have ever been (a lot of old guys try to make this rediculous claim, trust me).  Earlier this year I did a charity bicycling ride, the AIDS/LifeCycle – 545 miles from San Francisco to LA.  I go to the gym 5 times a week.  I hike.  I feel great, and, to be more accurate, I am in very good shape for someone who will be applying for Social Security before too long.  I also have that annual yearning to do a thru-hike. You know what I mean, right?  You’re at dinner and everyone is talking about work or gossiping about something or someone, and you are lost in your head wondering if a backpacking bidet is worth the .45 ounces added to your base weight and the subtle differences between Top Ramen and Maruchan (no on the bidet and yes on the Top Ramen, if you are interested).   It arrives like clockwork every year about this time.  I get obsessed, and I have to admit that I love the feeling.  If you are reading this, you clearly understand.

I started backpacking when I was a teenager when 5-pound packs and leather boots ruled.  I have done thousands of miles of backpacking, mostly weekend warrior stuff but also many longer trips.  Much of it has been on the AT where I first started and on other trails in the Mid-Atlantic region.  I really love Dolly Sods with all those crazy swamp plants and the trails around Smoke Hole, West Virginia. I have backpacked for 6 weeks in France on Le Chemin de Compostelle also known by its more French bureaucratic name, GR65, which is part of the network of very old pilgrim trails best known to most people as El Camino that lead to St. James Cathedral in Spain.    I have hiked the Cotswold Way in the UK, the Annapurna region of Nepal, the Canadian Rockies, and in Denali National Park.  I love to backpack, and I love nature.

What I have never done is complete a thru-hike.

The AT in ’23

So, my plan for 2023 is a bit complicated.  I am planning an AT thru-hike attempt starting at Springer in late February.  I hope to continue until the end of May/early June.  At that point, I want to jump off trail so I can volunteer for the AIDS/LifeCycle as part of the medical team.  I am an RN and received outstanding care after a bike crash about 12 years ago.  I need to pay back what I received.  Once I am done volunteering, I will go back to the AT, this time starting in Maine and heading south.

2023 is going to be it!


Photograph courtesy of Flickr.com

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Comments 5

  • Stephen : Nov 5th

    I’m starting NOBO in late February too! Looking forward to meeting and maybe getting in some miles along side. Thanks for what you do as a medical professional! What kind of rig did you ride on the AIDS/Lifecycle?

    • David Smith : Nov 5th

      Cannondale Synapse – carbon, ultregra. Nice bike. I got a smoking deal on it since the new model year started – 20% off at REI with an additional 20% off deal. It is a great bike for me.

  • David Firari : Nov 5th

    Glad to hear you’re able to get on the trail after the roadblocks you’ve encountered! I am also starting NOBO in late February this year. I look forward to reading more about your hike and hopefully bumping into you on the trail (on either or both ends of your flip-flop).

  • Stiff Sox : Nov 7th

    I wanted to do a thru hike back in 2004,but something called me home. I skipped a year and got back on the trail and over the course of nine years completed a thru hike. Whether done in one year or over many years, the ATC recognizes a completed hike as a thru hike. You go dude!


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