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Wednesday, 31 March 2010 15:01

Meet the thru-hikers

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It’s a sure sign of spring for Southern Appalachian communities along the Appalachian Trail: hikers loaded down with backpacks hitchhiking to town and back to stock up on supplies, eat that hamburger they’ve been craving, and knock back a few cold beers before hitting the trail again.

They emerge slowly at first, one or two early birds trickling by, and then turn into a steady stream just about now, with dozens a day filtering along the trail on the pilgrimage to Maine.

Last week, The Smoky Mountain News caught up with three thru-hikers who had taken a break in Franklin to refuel and were heading back onto the AT at Winding Stair Gap.

Kate Imp (“Ringleader”), her brother Brandon Imp (“Monkey”), and their friend Emily Ginger (“Lightning”) have set aside their normal lives to walk from Georgia to Maine this year.

“You only have so many chances in life to have big experiences with the people closest to you,” Kate said. “The AT is something known for the community experience more than just the hike itself.”

The three-person team stopped in Franklin for two nights, staying at the Sapphire Inn and eating at Mi Casa and Cody’s Roadhouse before stocking up on fresh food supplies at Ingles. It’s that type of involvement with the town that the Appalachian Trail Community designation was created to encourage.

Kate Imp said knowing that Franklin was a hiker-friendly community made it easier to decide to stop there.

“You’re less on guard. With trail towns there’s the assumption that 99 percent of the people you meet are interested in helping you,” Imp said.

Roughly two weeks into the trail, Franklin is a crucial make-or-break point for thru-hiker hopefuls. They’ve come far enough to realize how tough the journey will be, but not far enough to have developed their “trail legs” or fall into the true rhythm of the trail. The town’s official trail designation recognizes the symbiotic nature of the trail and the town.

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