It’s 4 p.m. on the Appalachian Trail, and while the sun will be awake for hours yet, “hiker midnight,” which strikes at 9 p.m., is drawing steadily nearer. A couple of hikers wander in from the trail, sighing as they slough their packs and plop down on the picnic table under the shelter roof, debating whether to press on toward the Walnut Mountain Shelter, 5 miles away, or stay here for the night.
A third hiker soon joins them. Nick Hyde, a New Zealander known on the trail as “Mountainear,” looks grateful for an excuse to shed his pack and rest his legs. He’s tired, he says, and very sore. It isn’t long before he, as well as the other two hikers — Khanh “Chicken Feet” Dung and Stan Walters — decide that this is as far as they’ll get tonight.
This Easter marked an important milestone for Jerry Parker, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who completed the 2,160-mile trail before it was cool.
The number of Appalachian Trail hikers passing through the trail’s “psychological midpoint” in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, hit an all-time high this year.
Most people have had the inclination at some point in their lives to just pack it up and hit the road without a finite destination in mind — to just feel the wind on their face with nothing but highway ahead.
Bill Bryson and Steven Katz didn’t really know what they were getting into when they began their Appalachian Trail journey, recounted in the newly released movie “A Walk in the Woods.” From the moment Katz shows up for the adventure — limping, overweight and prone to seizures — to the time an attempt at traversing a stream sends both men flailing in the water, ineptitude is part of the comedy.
But conservation and tourism organizations along the AT are hoping they won’t find themselves similarly unprepared when thru-hiking season starts up this spring. Featuring stars such as Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson and Nick Offerman, the movie is expected to appeal to a wide audience, putting the Appalachian Trail at the forefront of many minds.
If the stack of boxes piling up on the counter of the outfitter store at Nantahala Outdoor Center is any indication, thru-hiker season is coming fast. The parcels of food, reminders of home and creature comforts are welcome diversions from the travel-light lifestyle on the Appalachian Trail, where miles are many and luxuries are few.
“A lot of people ask about what you’re thinking about [on the trail],” said Youngblood, an 18-year-old hiker whose off-trail name is P.J. Coleman, as he sorted through his just-opened box of mail drop goodies. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, you’re thinking about food.”
Hiking the Appalachian Trail had been in the back of Andy Smith’s mind for a while, ever since a coworker at Cherokee Hospital, where he was chief of physical therapy, told Smith about his 1989 thru hike. As 2014 dawned, Smith was 15 years retired and approaching his 65th birthday. He got to thinking that maybe it was time to try a thru hike.
“I really didn’t have a solid reason,” Smith said. “It wasn’t like a long-term goal that I’ve always wanted to do it. It’s something that’s been of interest, so I decided to do it.”
It’s been nearly eight years since Amy “Willow” Allen passed through Western North Carolina as a tired-and-hungry AT through-hiker. But her journey didn’t end at the summit of Mount Katahdin.
“It isn’t something you leave behind,” she said. “Once you become part of that community, it is part of who you are.”
SEE ALSO: Celebrate the Appalachian Trail season
An online visit reveals hundreds of books written on hiking the Appalachian Trail. These range from Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, which is the witty account of a man who hiked part of the trail, to Bill Walker’s SkyWalker: Close Encounters of the Appalachian Trail, in which the author gives us vivid and humorous portraits of some of his fellow trekkers, to Paul Stutzman’s Hiking Through, which tells of the author’s quest for peace and freedom on the Trail. There are at least a score of books offering practical advice on how to hike the Trail; there are even a few that deal solely with preparations for the hike.
A communications tower in Macon County is expected to bring better wireless phone coverage to a remote region but has environmentalists concerned over its visibility from the Appalachian Trail.