Only Three More Days

Three days from now I will summit Katahdin again. This time I will take Hunt Trail (the Appalachian Trail in Baxter State Park). The following day, I will head south to the 100-Mile-Wilderness. I am as prepared as I can be. It’s been a long time since my last post, so before I head out I want to answer some of the questions that people have asked and more importantly say…..


Thank you to family and friends for fantastic support and encouragement. Not one person has told me that I am crazy or losing my mind. I am particularly grateful to Becky, my wife, who has been patient and encouraging during the past year and a half while I prepared for this trek. She even had an Appalachian Trail kick-off party for me. For this event, she had folk musician Butch Ross come from Tennessee to perform.


Becky asked our friends to bring song suggestions related to hiking, walking, and/or camping. Butch went on line to look for songs, but could not find much that fit the bill. I commented that the trail hits 14 different states, so songs that mention any of them might be appropriate. Also, in my opinion, weather related songs could be relevant.  I have a lot of albums on my MP3 player, and I got some good suggestions for listening music. Thank you for suggestions and for the albums given to me. I transferred the albums friends gave me to my MP3 player and will listen to them when I need something fresh for my listening pleasure. The songs that I have designated specifically for my AT playlist are:

  1. Shenandoah – Butch Ross,
  2. Road to Damascus – Grant Peeples,
  3. My Advice to Pilgrims – Grant Peeples (poem),
  4. Virginia Morning – Tom Paxton,
  5. Skeeters’ll Gitcha – Tom Paxton,
  6. Georgia I’m Here – Joe Crookston,
  7. Fall Down as the Rain – Joe Crookston,
  8. Good Luck John – Joe Crookston,
  9. Wilderness Alone – Joe Crookston,
  10. Winter Wind – Sarah Mac Band,
  11. The Distance – Brian Smalley,
  12. Tree – Audrey Auld,
  13. Moonlight in Vermont – Willie Nelson,
  14. Blue Skies – Willie Nelson,
  15. Georgia on my Mind – Willie Nelson,
  16. Raindrops Keep Fallin’ – B.J. Thomas,
  17. Peace Trail – Neil Young,
  18. Camping – The New Christy Minstrels,
  19. Get Up, Stand Up – Bob Marley,
  20. Tubthumping (I get knocked down, but I get up again) – Chumbawamba,
  21. Don’t Stop Believing – Journey
  22. Ashes the Rain and I – James Gang, and, of course
  23. Happy Trails to You – Roy Rodgers (Note: Butch led us in singing this during his performance)

Here are some of the questions that I’ve had


The most frequent question is some form of, “Why?” One variation was an incredulous, “What made you want to do THAT?”  I have wanted to thru hike the AT since I first heard about it in the early 70s. The answer: I like to walk; I like to camp. Some people like to play golf, some like to run marathons, others like to play soccer. To me, thru hiking the Appalachian Trail is the ultimate in recreation. There is no metaphysical desire to find myself. In fact, I am more likely to lose my SELF while contending with the vagaries of nature.

What are you doing to prepare?

Last year I did quite a bit of hiking, some of which I covered in previous posts (Grand Canyon, Katahdin, and part of 100-Mile-Wilderness). I did round-trip day hikes from 19-E to Hump Mountain (10 miles) and Newfound Gap to Clingman’s Dome (16 miles).  I also did the approach trail from Amicalola State Park to Springer Mountain (camped at Black Gap Shelter).

Walking is not enough

For the past three years, I have averaged over 5 miles per day walking while getting the AHA recommended 10,000 steps per day. In January of this year, I got on a Medicare medical plan that allows free enrollment at LA Fitness. I thought I was in pretty good shape, but I started going there three days per week because it was free. I spend 30 minutes on the stair climber and 30 minutes on the treadmill at maximum incline, followed by 2 hours of weight training.  When I first started, at 2.5 miles per hour (mph) my heart rate on the treadmill was hitting well over 130 beats per minute (bpm) and I would have to pause a couple times during the 30 minutes. My resting pulse at the time was around 67-68.


My resting pulse now runs 58-60. Last week, on the treadmill (maximum incline) at 2.8 mph, my heart rate ran about 115 bpm.  Last week I also went to a park that has mountain bike trails through some un-reclaimed mined areas. The trails have a lot of ups and downs over the old spoil piles, and there are a lot of trip hazards and ankle benders like roots and rocks. I carried my pack with 30 pounds and did 9 miles in 5 hours on Tuesday (temperature in the low 90s) and 7.5 miles in 4 hours on Thursday (temperature in the high 80s).

Mental Preparation

Preparing to hike the Appalachian Trail is more than just physical training. I have also been trying to prepare mentally. Reading books like Zach Davis’ Appalachian Trials and Where’s the Next Shelter by Gary Sizer are helpful in that regard.  Getting my annual medical examination was another step in that mental preparation, which segues to….

Why are you waiting so late (in the year) to start? Don’t most people start in Georgia?

Well, my annual medical exam is in mid April each year and I did not want to leave from Springer Mountain in May.  I had my physical, and all of my lab work looked good except for….elevated bilirubin. My doctor said it was probably not a problem since I did not look jaundiced, but she wanted to be able to give me a clean bill of health before I head out to hike for six months. She had me go back to the lab and give a blood sample for direct and total bilirubin levels. Results came back normal. Whew!

Are you in good enough shape to hike the whole trail? 

Now when I get that question, my answer is, “No, but I’ll be in good enough shape by the time I complete it.”

Are you hiking alone?

I am hiking solo, I do not expect to be alone. There are 20, or so, people registered with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to start on the same day that I am starting.

When are you starting?

Becky and I are flying to Portland, Maine on Wednesday, May 31st (it’s almost here, at last). She is renting a car, and we will drive to Millinocket where we will spend that night at the Appalachian Trail Lodge.  Early Thursday morning, the AT Lodge will shuttle me to Baxter State Park. Becky will be off on her own to visit friends in New England states, then she will take the train home.  I plan to hike Katahdin on June 1st, spend the night at Katahdin Stream Campground, and head south to the 100-Mile-Wilderness on Friday, June 2nd.

Are you back packing, or “backpacking”…?

That was a real question with the finger quotation marks added to relate the question to S. Carolina governor Mark Sanford’s disappearance in 2009. My answer: I am thru hiking the Appalachian Trail with a backpack.

Are you taking protection?

No, I am not going to do anything that requires protection.

Uhh…Not that kind of protection…I mean, are you taking a gun?

Sorry, I was still thinking about that previous question.  No, I am not taking a gun.

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Comments 14

  • Mary Ann Clifford : May 29th

    Tom, I don’t really know you well, just been to a couple of house concerts. But wanted to wish you the best of luck and safe travels. Look forward to future posts.

    • Tom Abel : May 30th

      Thank you. See you at a house concert in 6 months, or so.

  • Karen Dennis Zwissler : May 30th

    Just reading all this….I am in awe of your spirit and your determination to complete this goal…hiking the AT. As a retired teacher, I always tried to teach my students to set goals (some taking baby steps to complete) but knowing “success builds success”. You will never regret this journey! Can’t wait to continue reading building your newsletters and blogs.
    One step at a time my friend. God is watching over you because I asked Him too!!

    • Tom Abel : May 30th

      Thanks for following and for your prayers.

  • Katherine Abel : May 30th

    When I have told my acquaintances that you’re hitting the trail, a REALLY common question is “is he taking a gun?” and they’re utterly shocked and concerned for your life (and sanity) when I say that you’re not taking one. It’s a puzzling question for me, because although I’ve gone shooting, I still can’t fathom the “need” for a gun unless one is hunting for food, which you’re not doing.

  • Tom Abel : May 30th

    Too much weight. I think there are a lot of sections of the trail where guns are not allowed. Come join me on the trail for a few days if you get a chance.

    • Katherine Abel : Jun 1st

      I definitely will try to. Keep me updated as to where you are.

  • Sara : May 30th

    Your last couple answers to questions may have caused me to gaffaw loudly in my cubicle. Wishing you many wonderful moments which turn into amazing memories, and zero reasons to regret not bringing “protection”… happy trails and safe travels!

    • Tom Abel : May 30th

      Thanks for reading to the end. Nice to hear when I can make someone laugh.

  • stealthblew : May 30th

    Please prepare yourself for the black fly season in Maine and New Hampshire. Hopefully they will subside by the time you reach Vermont.
    Have a great trip.

    • Tom Abel : May 30th

      Thanks, I’m covered.

  • Bob : May 31st

    Tom, best wishes on your hike. I will be turning 65 this July 29th. and I am giving serious consideration of doing a flip flop in 2018. I look forward to reading your posts and learning what is working and what isn’t from someone my age. Happy Trails.

  • firehound : Jun 1st


    Best Wishes, I’m Jealous – A solo Sobo. Good Luck Stay & Hike Safe !

  • Don McHale : Jun 2nd

    Have a Great Hike. South Bound is the Way I prefer also,


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