Gilligan on the AT Revisited: 15-Jun-1993
June 15, 2008
This is a 5-month long series of blog posts that are the entries in my journals written on most evenings as I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1993. The journal entry appears first — indented — and then any additional commentary from my 15-years-removed perspective follows.
6/15/93 – Tue.
I made 18.4 miles today and Ron made about 14, and we are staying at Watauga Lake Shelter tonight with Shortcut, Andy, Shawn, and Ron. Everybody except me took a big shortcut around Pond Mountain. They missed the worst of the trail today easily, but it felt good to do a decent length day. I was still to the shelter by 4:30, and Ron seems to be feeling good, too. I had not thought Ron was slowing me down that much, but, hiking alone this afternoon, I realized that he is. It doesn’t really bother me as long as we average 12-17 miles a day. It is nice to have him along.
I’m not as glum today as I was yesterday, and I think it’s because I got a chance to walk alone, which somehow made me fell less lonely than I felt last night.
I thought I might get a lot of writing done tonight, but we’ve been talking so much that it’s not working out that way.
Dear Sir or Madam,
Please find enclosed a sample column of a series of articles that I would like to write for the Beaumont Enterprise. I am a native of southeast Texas who recently graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and am spending five months hiking the Appalachian Trail, which runs 2,144 miles from Georgia to Maine.
The Appalachian Trail has many different aspects that I feel would be of interest to your readers, from the history of the trail itself, to the basic concepts of long distance hiking, to the types of people found on the trail. I have been on the trail for just over a month now and would be able to submit weekly articles for the duration of the trip if you are interested.
Please respond to the address or phone number I have listed, as messages and mail will be forwarded to me from there. I look forward to hearing from you.
2,144 miles. In a car, traveling 60 MPH, that distance can be covered in under 36 hours. On a bike traveling 20 miles an hour, it would take just over 107 hours, or just under two weeks of riding 8 hours a day. Walking, 2,144 miles takes anywhere from 4-6 months, and close to 200 people cover just that distance each year as they backpack from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail.
The Appalachian Trail, or the A.T. as it is referred to by hikers, was the brainchild of Benton Mackaye who, in 1925, set forth a plan in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects for a trail that would follow the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine. His intent was to provide an escape to nature for all of the workers who had begun to gravitate to the industrial cities along the east coast.
It was almost two decades later (?) before the trail was completed, and it was not until 1957 (?) that Earl Shaeffer (?) became the first person to hike its entire length, thus becoming the first “thru-hiker” of the Appalachian Trail. In the 3 1/2 decades since his historic hike, many things have changed: the trail has been rerouted in countless places, backpacking equipment has become lighter and more efficient, camping has become more popular nationwide, and more people have turned to thru-hiking as a means of meditation, introspection, or escape. It is effective for all of these…
Life on the trail is simple and difficult at the same time. It is difficult because it is tiring both physically and psychologically. Aching feet, sore muscles, wet gear, blisters, and dull cuisine are discomforts that every thru-hiker faces at one time or another, often for several days or weeks at a time. But, at the same time, life is simple. Each day has a simple goal: to get to a chosen destination. Reaching that goal may be physically tiring, but there are few distractions or obstacles, other than the terrain that must be covered. In camp, life is simple, too. Early on in the trip, a hiker learns what a difference a couple of pounds of weight can make on a long uphill climb, and he quickly shaves down the contents of his backpack to the bare essentials. Making camp becomes a fixed routine, fixed by a lack of options.
So each day follows a pattern: get up, eat breakfast, break camp, hike, eat lunch, hike, make camp, eat dinner, camp. But the trail is neither tedious nor dull. Each day holds the promise of a new experience: a spectacular view from a mountaintop, the discovery of a new flower, an encounter with a wild animal, or simply a profound thought about life or nature or mankind. The trail is a fixed routine that is not a daily grind, which is a hard thing to imagine in today’s fast-paced, business-dominated, 9-to-5 society.
As far as I know, I never really ran with the idea of getting parts of my journal published as a weekly column in Beaumont’s local newspaper.
June 17th, 2008 at 10:39 am
Be sure and not take the shortcut thru Pond Mountain firing range or you’ll be dodging lead. Isn’t the area around Watauga Lake the best!?!