The Story Is in the Pictures
Learning from the Past
My university is allowing me to attempt an AT thru-hike if I can directly tie it to the research I conduct as a professor. Some of the research that I’ll conduct aims to understand people’s lived experiences. This kind of research not only reports what people say, but creates meaning from the stories in a way that connects with people or uses theory and philosophy to explain the story.
While preparing for my thru-hike and the research I’ll do during it, I’ve bought every book on the AT that I can get my hands on. Among the many stories, I felt connected to Earl Shaffer’s memoir, Walking with Spring. Mr. Shaffer’s book recounts the first thru-hike of the AT that he undertook from April 4 to August 5, 1948. While reviewing the notes I had taken in it, I stopped on the following passage in the first chapter:
“In April-true first month of the year-the woods are at their finest, with the buildings and leafing of trees, the blooming of flowers, the full-flowing streams and waterfalls, the rainswept blue of the sky. And the little old Retina, rugged and dependable, would record the beautiful scenes.”
The “little old Retina” was his camera, and I was curious to learn more about it. I researched Kodak Retina cameras, and found that the Kodak Retina was a series of cameras that ran from 1934-1959. In fact, Sir Edmund Hillary took the famous picture of Tenzing Norgay after climbing Mount Everest for the first time with one. After reviewing the models, I figured out that there were ten possible models that Mr. Shaffer could have used.
After more searching, I found that in 2002 a large collection of Mr. Shaffer’s was donated to the Smithsonian, and that the entire collection had been cataloged. Anyone can read the descriptions of the items and also see scanned copies of the photos that Mr. Shaffer took. The collection indicated that a Kodak camera was included in the collection, but gave no details about it. I emailed the archivist for the collection, who put me in contact with the curator who maintained the actual artifacts. They did not have the model information, but sent me pictures of the camera, and I was able to identify it as a Kodak Retina I Type 148, which was manufactured between 1939-1941. After some hunting on eBay, I was able to find one in remarkable condition for its age, and that’s how I came to own the same camera that Earl Shaffer used on his 1948 thru-hike.
Sharing with the Future
My planned start date is April 4, 2020, the same date that Earl Shaffer started. I had planned for early April because of the feasibility with my teaching schedule. Ironically, when I drafted my original hiking plan with an April 4 start date, without planning, my summit of Katahdin was scheduled for August 5; the same as Earl Shaffer’s. I thought about the similarities and differences that backpacking and the AT itself have experienced between 1948 and 2020, but one thing that I suspect is the same are the stories. Not the stories themselves, but that along the way, people have the opportunity to create meaning for the hike, and make sense of the circumstances that led them to undertake it. Within my research, I’m hoping to bring life to the parallels that unite all hikers, both those from yesteryear and today.
The opportunity to not just “Hike with Spring” in 2020, but to also “Hike with Earl” is a pretty neat opportunity. My little old Retina needs some maintenance before it’s ready to regularly take pictures, but with any luck, it will be ready for my thru-hike this spring. Weighing in at 16.5 ounces, it’s not exactly ultralight, but I’m eager to see the story that I know it can tell.
Twitter & Instagram: @EvBasedAthletic
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.