Bill Weye

Tag: appalachian trail

On The Appalachian Trail — You Won’t Believe The Evolution In 21 Years

I‘m grateful to Bree Carlson, a friend currently working on her thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, for taking the photos above (they’re stitched together). They’re full of surprises, but to understand what’s happening you’ll need some context.

When thru-hikers get to the ceremonial halfway point — the Appalachian Trail Conference in Harper’s Ferry, WV — they take a photo. In the old days, like 1990 when I rolled through, Jean Cashin of the ATC used a Polaroid instant camera. Today it looks like they’re using a digital camera. A hiker’s pedigree is written on the photo: real name, trail name, residence, date of the photo, and the hiker number that season. The ATC counts of all the thru hikers that come to the office, every year. Unlike 1990, it looks like they’re also including the start date and email address of the thru-hiker.

Two Suprises

First, if you didn’t notice, Bree had her photo taken 21 years to the day after mine, on June 14. Sitting here in Massachusetts, I think that’s a little trail magic. It’s a positive omen. Watching Bree from afar, it tells me Bree’s going to finish her thru-hike. It’s not just about coincidence. I had different kind of good omen the first week I was on the Trail, and I rode it all the way to Maine.

Surprise number two: look at how many people are thru-hiking! Bree is hiker 424. In 1990 I was 99. That’s a 328% increase in the number of hikers at the ATC by June 14. Walking in 1990 I met another thru-hiker every 4 or 5 days, but today it’s a crowd. It’s hard for me to believe the increased popularity in thru-hiking, because walking more than 2,000 miles, from Georgia to Maine, isn’t a stroll through the woods. It’s hard work. Why are so many people hiding out on the Trail?

And I bet the little businesses that grow-up along the Trail are probably doing well.

Update: The ATC recently went live with a new hiker photo archive — they’ve scanned all the photos from 1979 to the present, tagged them in a searchable database, and it works. Here’s my photo page with info about the other hikers in the photo. And below, the uncropped photo:

1990 @ ATC office - photo probably by Jean Cashin

Top photos used with permission of Bree Carlson.

Revealed 20 Years Ago On The Appalachian Trail, Discovered Again This Week

I’m writing a book about being a successful adventurer (more about that in the coming weeks), based on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike 20 years ago. Part of the research has been to look back at journal entries and letters that I wrote at the time. Sometimes it’s inspiring reading, and other times sad. Here’s a few paragraphs that’s a little bit of both.

11 May 1990 — Got to get to Damascus, VA to see a doctor about a possible foot infection. I do know one thing, the foot hurts like hell and I can’t walk with a shoe on my left foot. I’ve walked a few miles (about 8-9 miles) with a flip-flop on my left foot and a boot on my right …

When I was walking yesterday and decided the pain was too much to walk with my boot on, I was seriously depressed. I knew it was more than a blister, but didn’t know what it was — except that it hurt like nothing I’ve felt on the trail.

But after putting on the flip-flop and getting over the fact that I would finish the Trail despite the problem, I felt really pumped. For a while I thought, “oh, no, this is it,” but remembered the vow I made to myself, which was that I would finish the trail no matter what — only a serious broken leg would stop me. So, remembering my personal vow got me pumped again; “I’m going to finish, even if it is with a flip-flop and a boot.”

I can’t describe how good I feel about my attitude and fortitude in the face of this situation. I will finish, not despite of the foot problem, but because of it; the problem and my adapting to the situation has given me greater powers. That’s one thing about getting depressed out here is good for — becoming stronger. No one is by your side to comfort you — unless you talk to fellow hikers — you’ve got to find a way out of the depression yourself, or else just quit. Probably three or four times I’ve been really down, then found my way out, only to become stronger. When I’m back in the real world I’ll be an animal — nothing can stop me after finishing the Trail.

After all, what’s harder than testing both mind and body seven days a week, for four and a half months? I got a ride from an older gentleman in Erwin, TN and he asked, “How’s the work going?” Nobody has ever expressed walking the Trail that way who has never walked the Trail themselves. I thought, “how’s the work going” was great, because it is work, for me at least. I like the fact that I’m working out here. Certainly I’ve never been tested as hard.

One thing I liked about wearing the flip-flop (that is, if there is anything to like about it) is that I changed to confront the challenge in front of me; the Trail wasn’t going to become any easier just because I was hurt. I had to adapt to the situation and do the best I could with limited resources. I didn’t beat the Trail, but I worked with what it gave me.

Photo by marklarson and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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