WHY THE A.T. & WHERE TO START?

Why the AT?

I’ve been asked so many times why do you want to do the AT?  “What makes you want to take on this difficult adventure?”  “You’ve worked all your life and now you can lay back and take it easy, so why put yourself through this?”  “You know  you’re going to get wet and cold and hot and there’s bears and snakes and you’ll stink.” ” You’re going to be away from your wife, your family, your friends.” And these are just a sampling of all the questions and assertions posed to me since publicly declaring my intention.

OK, OK, OK, All fair questions. Let me sum it up as best I can and maybe put to rest the idea that these questions, posed just right, will deter me from pursuing this goal.

I was born in Pearisburg, VA in 1952 four years after the first documented thru hike by Earl Shaffer. In the mid-60’s I started to notice this annual migration of hikers coming through our small town and by the time I got my driver’s license I looked for these hikers and offered them rides to the trail or to the Holy Family Catholic Church Hostel (still in operation).  I was fascinated by their minimalist  life style in exchange for reaching their goal of completing the trail and perhaps changing them forever.  They told me of relationships formed, of how people assisted them and in some cases shooed them away.  So, i had experience with this group of people and got to where I would go to the Capitol Cafe (no longer in business) and read the hikers entries in the register maintained at the bar.  Since Pearisburg had a Pizza Hut and a beer drinking bar, hikers came to town looking to get clean, get carbed- up and enjoy an adult beverage or two or more.  Their register entries were amusing after a few beers and I enjoyed reading their experiences.  Fast forward 35 -40 years and I end up living in Waynesboro, VA, another trail town, and start seeing the annual migration once again.  I had already made up my mind that once I retired from a career in both Adult and Juvenile Corrections/Detention I was going to give the AT my best shot.  I started putting my equipment together over a three year period and did a couple of multi-day hikes in the Shenandoah National Park.  I had camped a lot over the years and enjoyed the outdoors greatly and this call from within to experience the AT in its entirety wouldn’t let me go.  How can you live in the shadow of the Blue Ridge and the AT all you life and not experience it to the fullest?

I know its going to be wet, cold, hot. I know there are going to be significant challenges along the way.  I love people and I look forward to hearing their stories and sharing their joy and their pain.  I do not enter into this adventure on a whim,  I don’t expect everyone to understand or appreciate what I am undertaking.  My wife would much rather I section hike the AT rather than be gone for 6 months but she has accepted that I will attempt this and if I should fail in my thru hike attempt, I will then take her advice and section hike it to completion.  I just think all the preparation, physically and psychologically, that goes into this is better tackled all at once rather than having to prepare multiple times.  I know I will miss my wife and family but have plans to meet up with them at different junctures of the trip.  After a career spanning 40 years it just makes sense to me that this is a transitional moment in my life while I have time, health and resources.  Who knows, this adventure just may jump start the rest of my life and make me a better person to those I love the most.

I don’t know if I can ever explain completely what it is that draws me to the AT and this quest but I know that if I don’t attempt it, it will be one of the greatest regrets of my life.  I don’t like living life with regret!!!

Where to Start?

maggie damascus

I thought all along as I planned this trip that I would start at Springer Mountain and attempt a NOBO thru hike.  I picked my late Mother’s 100th birthday (she lived to 94) of March 23rd 2016 as my start date.  This date was locked in 3 years ago when I declared my intentions to thru hike the AT.  My research revealed a huge number of hikers starting at Springer in the Spring and I started hearing many hikers say they wished they would have flip-flopped and avoided the throngs of folks starting in the Spring.  Then came Wild and A Walk in the Woods and the predictions for crazy numbers of hikers starting at Springer in the Spring and I rethought my plans.  I registered my hike with the ATC and decided it best to begin my hike in Damascus, VA NOBO to Katahdin, return to Damascus and finish SOBO to Springer. This plan should put me in the Smokies in the fall which is a beautiful time of year and I will have successfully avoided most of the Spring crowds at shelters and the competition for space and given me a modicum of privacy.  So March 23rd at Damascus will begin my 5 million steps.  Hope to see you out there.

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Comments 16

  • George Turner : Feb 16th

    I’m starting March 20th at Marion for pretty much the same reasons. Have fun out there!

    Reply
    • Charles Edwards : Feb 17th

      Thanx George. We won’t be too far apart. Maybe we’ll bump into each other. Enjoy your hike!!!

      Reply
  • Laurie Potteiger : Feb 16th

    I loved reading your story. Hearing the perspective of someone who lived in a trail town during the years of the earliest thru-hikers is really cool.

    Thanks for doing your part to spread out usage on the Trail, and tweaking your long-held dreams to do so. Since you have lived near the A.T. for so many years, I guess you’re ready for the cold and possibility of snow you’ll face going over Mt. Rogers and beyond. It’s no worse than what nobos encounter in the higher mountains further south, but you won’t have hordes of hikers to huddle with for warmth 🙂

    Wishing you the best of luck and hope to meet you!

    Reply
    • Charles Edwards : Feb 17th

      Thanx Laurie. I hope our groundhog was right and we’ll see an early spring. Stay safe out there.

      Reply
  • Laurie Potteiger : Feb 16th

    I loved reading your story. Hearing the perspective of someone who lived in a trail town during the years of the earliest thru-hikers is really super cool.

    Thanks for doing your part to spread out usage on the Trail, and tweaking your long-held dreams to do so. Since you have lived near the A.T. for so many years, I guess you’re ready for the cold and possibility of snow you’ll face going over Mt. Rogers and beyond. It’s no worse than what nobos encounter in the higher mountains further south, but you won’t have hordes of hikers to huddle with for warmth 🙂

    Wishing you the best of luck and hope to meet you!

    Reply
  • Beth : Feb 18th

    Can’t believe we grew up in the same household, in the same trail town and saw it so differently. I am so very proud of you for so many reasons. I love you and will follow you on the AT and/or to the moon and back. Godspeed little brother.

    Reply
    • Charles edwards : Feb 19th

      Thanx so much for your unconditional love and support Sis. I look forward to the send off at Damascus. While our experiences have been vastly different they both stem from the love of our great parents. I know they would both be anxious about this undertaking but we both know they’d be supportive of our goals. Love you little sister.

      Reply
  • Mike Kelly : Feb 19th

    Happy hiking Charles, I’m getting ready to retire, 1 year, 10 months, and plan a flip flop also. 2018 can’t come soon enough. Looking forward to reading your blog’s.
    Mike

    Reply
    • Charles edwards : Feb 19th

      Thanx Mike. Believe me when I say that 1 yr and 10 mos. will be here before you know it. Start your equipment purchases (especially the big three) early. Gauge weight, capacity, warmth and comfort carefully. Get the big 3 of pack, sleeping system and shelter right. Right for you, not what somebody else tells you is right and you’re well on your way. I hope my blog will provide some additional insight for you. Other bloggers have certainly helped me in choosing equipment, preparation and moral support. Happy hiking!!!

      Reply
  • Blaise Vitale : Feb 19th

    Good Luck with your hike! I am also planning a flip-flop hike starting in Virginia on March 29. 2018 as I start my glidepath into retirement. I am interested to see whether Virginia is a good place to start at that time of year. This summer I will be doing an 81 mile Philmont trek with my youngest son. Unless I have a horrible time there, I will be following in your footsteps in two years!

    Reply
  • Charles : Feb 21st

    I think getting the quarter of the trail known as the Va. Blues knocked out first may give me a psychological edge as the milestones start appearing much faster thereafter. Hopefully my blog will be able to share some of that as I take off in 30 days. Good luck in your preparations and have a great hike this summer.

    Reply
  • Libby : Mar 16th

    Charlie,

    I’m so excited for you to get started! My best friend did this and she loved it! Can’t wait to hear more about it. Let me know places I can send you stuff!

    Love you!
    Libby

    Reply
  • Kathy and Jack Plummer : Mar 21st

    Charlie,
    Jack and I will be praying for a safe and enjoyable trek. We know you have been looking forward to this for a long time. Take lots of pictures so you can relive the experience when you get old and can’t remember. We will miss your cheerful face on Sunday mornings.

    Jack and Kathy

    Reply
  • Charles Surber : Mar 25th

    I, too, spent a great deal of my childhood and adolescence in the Blue Ridge, mostly the Parkway and an occasional camping spot. The many experiences, holidays, delicious meals at Aunt Elsie’s table, and so much more are part of our family narrative so it seems logical and reasonable for you to take on the Trail. You and I are very different in many of our interests and the way we have lived our lives, but we are most certainly blood kin in that we ponder, act, take risks, are not averse to change, and try to be decent men–neither you or I could ever match the humanity we witnessed in our homes (Daddy was a mensch, Elsie the most perfect Christian lady I’ve ever known). But it thrills me to see you turn a page and start an adventure that may show the way to the next phase of living. One of my best friends as an undergraduate at UVA hiked the trail and stopped over in Pearisburg for several days–and, yes, he most certainly was dirty, malodorous, and starved–Mamma loved Dave but wouldn’t let him enter the house until he stripped down, emptied his backpack, and spent several hours in the bathroom making himself presentable–while she spent his four days cleaning every single item in the backpack and doing her best to satisfy an endless appetite (Elsie made a meal or two for him, too). I have worked as part of a small team in Dutchess County NY repairing trails, especially early spring; and while living in Warwick NY (lower Hudson Valley) interacted with hikers who stopped off at the Bellview Dairy for delicious ice cream. Charlie, I’ve always admired your love of life, spirit (thinking now of the shenanigans you and brother Stephen used to get into), and, above all else, contribution to making the world a better place through your work. Be safe. Tonight when Mark and I light our Shabbat candles we’ll be thinking of you. Charles Winn

    Reply
  • David Tice : Apr 1st

    Hey Charile,
    Heard about your hike from Diane Journell. Will love to read all about it.
    Have a great hike!
    David Tice

    Reply
  • Steve Clarke : Nov 4th

    Hi Charlie,

    Hope you are still getting these comments as I’m seriously looking at a Damascus start sometime in March of next year and looking for some guidance and input.

    Thanks,

    Steve

    Reply

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