I’m Tackling the Appalachian Trail in 2022—How Did I Get Here?
Hello, out there—I’m Scott, welcome to my blog! I’m eager to share my thoughts with you as I hike the entire Appalachian Trail in 2022. Because context is critical for engaging in the story, I’ll first give you the “why” behind my plan to take a hilly 2,000+ mile walk. For me, this is a “Once in a Lifetime” event, and therefore I think it’s appropriate to follow David Byrne’s sage lyrical advice and ask myself: “Well, how did I get here?”
Early Summers in New Hampshire
For starters, we need to rewind back to the 1970s and head to the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, located just a stone’s throw away from the majestic peaks of the White Mountains. Though I’d spend the bulk of my youth growing up on a suburban cul-de-sac in Massachusetts, I had the good fortune of spending all of my elementary school summers at a family campground in New Hampshire.
And when I say that I spent “all of my summers,” it is completely accurate because our routine was to pack up the family vehicle (be it the ’64 Ford Comet or the massive brown ’74 Chevy Impala “family truckster” wagon – sans wood paneling, mercifully) on the first Friday night after school ended and depart very early Saturday morning. My mom, sister, and I would be staying at the campground without a family vehicle for the next eight weeks. And we’d stay there all summer long, coming back home no more than a few days before school started. Outside of a couple of vacation weeks, my dad would drive up each Friday night and return home on Sundays.
I now recognize that this was an unusual summer existence for a kid, and I’m deeply appreciative to my parents for giving me the opportunity. Summer to me became a canvas tent, sleeping bags, the screenhouse, meals on a propane stove, constant outside play, card games by a Coleman lantern, a rotating set of friends often arriving a week at a time year after year, campfires, softball and frisbee, beach time at the lake, but most important to me—I discovered the joy and wonder of hiking.
An Epic Experience on Mount Washington
The first hikes on my own two legs were tackling smaller hills with my family, but at the tender age of seven years old I was ready for the bigtime—the weekly campground group hike, often to one of the White Mountains’ 4,000-foot peaks. This midweek event drew anywhere from 10 to 30 hikers. (Just sign up on the bulletin board by the office, and be ready to leave at seven a.m.!)
I bagged my first NH 4000-footer (Mount Whiteface) on a sweltering August day. A week later I would tackle the big one—all 6,288 feet of Mount Washington! My memories of that day many years ago are few, but each still resonates with incredible intensity:
- The bustling parking lot on a sunny morning as tourists boarded the Cog Railway, its thick black smoke permeating the air
- The welcoming Lakes of the Clouds Hut as we reached the mystical treeline level
- A circus atmosphere at the summit after the long climb, with tourists (everywhere!) arriving via the Cog or Auto Road
- The tense but strangely exciting descent via the rock-strewn Crawford Path as a storm blew in with intense wind, fog, lightning, and then snowflakes blowing across the trail!
Despite some ill-suited trail gear — likely a Sears windbreaker and jeans — I outlasted the weather. In fact, our entire group managed to descend safely. We emerged into a beautifully calm 70-degree day at the base. I had traversed strange, beautiful terrain and seen some truly amazing things. And—WOW!—I was hooked on hiking!
The Guide, the 4000-Footers, and Beyond
And so it came to be that hiking became my favorite summer activity in New Hampshire. Support and encouragement flowed freely from my mother and my father, who cherished his every moment in the mountains. I often could be found reading my new favorite book (the AMC White Mountain Guide, published in 1972, price $7.00). I pored over detailed trail descriptions and contour maps, even memorizing the heights of the NH peaks!
It was within the pages of that beloved book that I learned about the NH 4000-footer club and something called “the Appalachian Trail.” “One day,” I vowed, “I’ll check those boxes.” And I kept on hiking.
Over subsequent years I’d finish the forty-eight NH 4000-foot peaks by age 14, then in my later teens accompany my father in finishing his list. Then college, military duty, marriage, children, work, and general middle age “busy all the time” intervened. Hiking the Appalachian Trail was still something I wanted to do “someday,” and I honestly believed I would attempt it. However, now I had entered my 50s, and when exactly was someday?
Enter the Pandemic and a Lingering Winter
An event that halted the entire world would surprisingly push me forward. The pandemic struck in March 2020, locking down most of us in place. And collectively we grew antsy after a few weeks and needed to get outdoors to break the monotony. But through May my usual hiking destinations in New Hampshire had up to several feet of trail snow. I certainly wasn’t up for tackling that. So I went out and hiked locally—in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire—and loved it.
While descending Mount Sunapee on a wonderful bright May day a thought came upon me at a trail junction. As I glanced at the ridge path that headed to the next mountain, I realized that the hiking I’d been doing in April and May was probably very similar to much of the Appalachian Trail terrain. And it had been wonderful. And that someday was here – I had to start planning for my AT hike. As I descended, I thought about the “when”, and surmised that I’d use 2021 to prep. If all went well, I’d target 2022 to go. I’d see. I had a lot to do and discover before making it official. I’ll share some of that discovery process with you in future posts.
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