Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is a footpath that traverses from Georgia to Maine, up and down mountains on the East Coast clocking in at 2,174 miles!  Many people have never heard of this vast trail that was conceived in 1921 and finally establish in 1937.  The original intent of the trail was to create a "super trail" as an escape from industry to establish a series of work, study and agricultural camps along the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains and to connect those to the mountains of the north (Mt. Washington in NH and Mt. Katadhin in Maine.) The trail was proposed by Benton MacKay and hikers worked to blaze the trails and support the cause.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy  (ATC) works with 31 trail maintaining clubs from Georgia to Maine to maintain the trail.  Most of the workers are volunteers with a love of hiking and all that it brings. Locally, there are 3 clubs that take care of the NH trails on the Appalachian Trail: The Dartmouth Outing Club, the Randolph Mountain Club and the AMC, the Appalachian Mountain Club.

I must admit that I had not heard of the trail until my brother, an avid hiker, mentioned his goal to hike it someday.  There are huts and camping grounds on the trail and there is lots of information out there to research such an undertaking.  Apparently hiking the Appalachian Trail is a dream of a lot of people.  One of Jon's tennis partners has hiked it!  But, just because a lot of people are interested in the trail does not mean that many succeed.  At last count, the ATC estimates that 1 in 4 people who set out on the trail actually complete the 6 month hike.

In the 1970s -757 people were recorded as completing the trail.  That number has increased each year with 6,302 hikers completing the trail from the years 2000 - 2010. (25% of people hiking the trail are women. 125 people have recorded hiking the trail two or more times!)

There are many ways to complete the trail, just as there are many types of hikers.
There are section hikers, who complete portions of the trail at their leisure (so to speak) hiking the entire trail throughout a lifetime.
There are thru-hikers who set out on the trail with a backpack who walk every step of the way (or intend to) over the course of a 6 - 8 month span.  There are those called "purists" who walk every step of the trail, never leaving for an local town excursion or taking a shorter trail to save time or avoid physical conditions (rugged terrain, etc). There are the "blue-blazers" who might take a side trail that a purist would ignore following the blue blazes on the trail.  And there are the "yellow blazers" who will hitchhike to various locations on the trail for food, medical treatment, comfort or to save time.

I recently read the book The Things You Find on the Appalachian Trail: A Memoir of Discovery, Endurance and a Lazy Dog by Kevin Runolfson, who hiked the trail in 2001.  It is a wonderful, fun book to read.  The book is written from his own journal and is a very easy read.  The author talks about specific towns and incidents on the trail, including "trail angels" (people who help others on the trail) and "trail magic" (generous and helpful things and people he encountered on his trek).  This is definitely a great book to read if you are interested in hiking the trail or if like me, you just enjoy a fun read about a challenging experience.


DamianC said...

Great Post,
Greg Cook is a trail angel and takes in hikers allowing them to have a "zero day" and get a hot meal and shower at his house. He lives near the trail where it approaches Norwich, Vt and Hanover NH.
Vermont has a mini version of the AT called the Long trail, which traverses the state South to North. I someday hope to section hike this with the misses and the kids. The Long trail was the first type of Long Distance Hiking trail in the states!

DannyB said...

The Long Trail sounds more like my speed.

And I am not at all surprised to hear that Greg is a trail angel. He is pretty much an angel already!