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?
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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