Appalachian Adventure
The 2000 mile plus East Coast trail is a hiker cult favorite

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Globetrotter, in Virginia
There is a feeling of urgency that permeates the air over small, Springer Mountain in northern Georgia each spring when people from all walks of life converge there to test their metal at the start of the 2,160 miles that are the Appalachian Trail.

We are the thru-hikers — as in 'all the way through the whole trail.'

Of the 3,000+ people that set out on the trail every year, only about 20% actually finish. The first few weeks are the real weeding-out period. The northern Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) is steep and heavily wooded and the trail goes straight up and over mountains. This can be very painful to many a determined, but wobbly-legged, thru-hiker loaded with packs of heavy winter gear and food bags brimming with trail mix. At a pass between two mountains in Georgia, called Neel's Gap, many painful and hilarious stories have been told of what thru-hikers have thrown out of their packs.
"Some Wilderness! You can't swing a dead moose without hitting a logging truck!"

Hiking the entire AT all in one year can play havoc with your sanity. Hiking with fellow mangy hikers for thousands of miles can cause you to reach psychotic stress levels. You are forced to learn things about each other you never really wanted to know.

"Don't follow me you idiot!" The Shaman called back when I tried to hike around him. He led me off the marked path again! I just figured anyone named Shaman would know which way to go. We were now 30 miles into the trail's last section of wilderness, in central Maine. Some Wilderness! You can't swing a dead moose without hitting a logging truck!

We came to the East Branch of the Pleasant River later that day. I put my Tevas on and forged the ankle deep water. As I crossed I was overcome with day hikers crossing the opposite direction. Shaman crossed after me, all the while undressing several female day-hikers with his eyes — just another obstacle to overcome on the "Abstinence Trail", as many a randy thru-hiker has proclaimed it.

Finally hobbling into our shelter for the night, "Globetrotter, can I borrow your pack towel?" Shaman asks as he sees me cleaning up near the stream in front of the shelter. "Gee, two hikers sweaty stench soaked into my towel? Sure why not!" Shaman is good at soaking fellow hikers for things. There is rarely any fair swap with him. "Here try this", as he shoves over a hot Nalgene filled with a combination of Cocoa and Blackberry Jell-O, a Shaman favorite. Not even close to the peanut butter cheesecake I shared with him, and another thru-hiker named Stuck-Teva, the night before. However no thru-hiker is ever stupid enough to refuse free calories, especially when you don't have to carry them in. My straining 35lb. food bag will attest to that.

Making it to Wadleigh Stream lean-to, I thought I was hallucinating — 25-mile days with 60lb packs can do that. But, I did smell a fire and something cooking. "You guys want some trout?" was the question from one of the craziest characters on the trail this year! Mr. Clean, a self-professed extremist was treating us to dinner. He had ten small trout that I wouldn't doubt he swam the length of the lake to catch. Mr. Clean has, during his thru-hike, sewn up his feet with dental floss. He drinks water from a Ziploc bag and carries all his stuff in a seven pound stuff sack wrapped around his head with a compression strap. Now after hiking 2,160 miles north, he's Yo-Yoing and heading south!

It's the next day and Shaman's statement does little to quell my pain as he has led me off trail again. He says, "You can't blame me you dumb ass!" This time the detour is over a large downed tree I didn't have to cross, but did so while in the midst of an unplanned somersault. I jammed the middle finger of my right hand and had no problem extending it to show Shaman, as it was now three sizes larger and purple.

We made a short stop at the Hurd Shelter to check one of the last registers on the trail, in which everyone was leaving flowery goodbye messages. Weezelsep, a crazy German, made a remark that everyone leaving "I love everyone" entries had forgotten all the bad times in the 100 degree heat.

"A day hiker broke the silence with a question all thru-hikers love to hear, 'do you guys want a beer?'"
Ahead we now could hear the familiar sound of logging trucks as we crossed Abol Bridge, and enjoyed a fabulous view of our goal — Mt Katahdin shining in the rosy sunset. We made it through the 100-mile wilderness in five days! The biggest accomplishment being that Shaman didn't succeed in killing me. We celebrated that night with a six pack of Katahdin Lager, before climbing its namesake the next day.

We left in the frigid morning, not yet conscious of how precious this last day was. A little over five miles, and two-and-a-half hours later, after some trick rock climbing, we took the last steps together — moving very slowly and trying to remember every step. At the same time, Shaman and I hugged the sign that marks the northern terminus of the Trail. I was a little choked up. A day hiker broke the silence with a question all thru-hikers love to hear, "do you guys want a beer?"

The last thing I thought as I turned to head back down was if I ever do this again I'm taking more time — six months is still not enough to capture it all. I will never forget my friends on the trail, many of whom I never knew by their real names but only by those given them during the hike — Stuck-Teva, No Stove, Mommas Boots, and Hungry Mother. My best friends were Summer's Breeze, Shaman, Hook and Ladder, Ramble-on, Blu-bud, Finder, Stuck-Teva, Wildflower, Truckee, One Hit, Skeeter, Just Ben, Red, and Coyote.

I have talked to many of my trail friends since we finished, and we all have shared the same reluctance to re-enter modern society after six months in the woods. We feel a little alienated; however, we will always return, in our minds, to our green little world in the Appalachian and we will remember it the rest of our lives.

— Paul Nickodem, Mountain Zone Correspondent
   Photos by Paul Nickodem