The Knowledge Exchange – Hiking the Appalachian Trail

♪ Come with us on a journey, a journey to a place
where information is unlocked, knowledge is gained, and the exchange
of experience is welcome. This is the Knowledge Exchange, presented by Lakeland
Community College. ♪ Thank you. (applause) All right, well,
thanks, welcome, thank you for coming. ♪ I’ve got about 75 slides, so some part of it
is going to go fast. What I would like to do is, the first part,
I’d like to talk a little bit
about the logistics and then go into
just life on the trail, those are some of the things
I think many people usually want to know. So with that said, I think probably
the first question anyone ever has is safety. I think there’s
a general concern that once you’re on the trail, you’ve got not only bears
but humans. I think probably, and I selected this
photograph for a reason, probably the only guy
that I thought, on the trail, that I thought was
a little bit dangerous. But I think the most dangerous
part of the trail is driving, cars, getting there
and getting back. Statistically, there’s two
violent crimes on the trail per decade, at least that’s
what’s being reported. And there are
several million people that use the trail every year. But with that said, when I was on the trail, the year I was on the trail, there were two incidences
of violence that I was aware of. One was two guys were shot. It wasn’t really on the trail, but it was adjacent
to the trail. The person who shot them, he had killed two people
on the trail in 1980 and was caught immediately
and should not have been out, but he was out. And he was apparently
living with his mother, his mother died, and he ended up
back on the trail. And what the story
goes was he was… Two guys were fishing,
they offered him dinner. He ate dinner,
he said he had to go. Pulled out a gun,
shot both of them, and they both
managed to escape and the police caught him
a short time later and then he later died
in police custody. I never did hear what
the reason for that was. And then the other safety
incident that I heard about was a young woman that
apparently was hitchhiking and then what I’d heard
was she was raped. So with that in mind,
you know, how do you do this safely? Again, what I said, I think the worst part,
the most dangerous part is driving to the trail
and driving from the trail. Then once you’re on the trail, I think you avoid camping
anywhere near roads. That’s most likely where
you’re going to get locals that are drinking, you know, local drunk kids
that are drinking and maybe causing trouble. So if you avoid that, if you camp at the shelters
with people, usually on most nights
there’s going to be somebody at the shelters. And then… Avoid hitchhiking,
or if you hitchhike, hitchhike with a partner. And I think
with that in mind, I think you’ve got
a very low probability of being harmed. So the other question
I get is, “Why?” And that’s one
that’s hard to answer. This was something that
I started thinking about in about 2003. I’ve always done things
that were outdoors and it just wouldn’t go away. The thought
just wouldn’t go away. After a few years
of planning, I knew I had to get
some financial things in order in order to take off
basically 20 weeks of work. So when I did that, once that thought entered, I just couldn’t ignore it. And I don’t really
know exactly why, because I knew going into it it wasn’t going
to be all sunshine and there was
a lot of days where it was
raining and cold and things like that. Okay, so another question
I get is what to bring. And this, actually,
I laid everything out. This is basically
most everything. I’ve got a pot. Actually, I had
a much smaller pot for the trail. Fuel for a stove. This was my tent. Water filter. Ground pad that blows up, actually it’s quite comfortable. My sleeping bag. And then my pack. One of the things that… With my stove, everything
actually fits inside. Now what is that? This is a… What nearly everybody uses are alcohol stoves. This is it. You know, you use
denatured alcohol. It’s easy to get on the trail. This is it here. And one of the nice things
is that the stove, instead of if you buy
commercially available stove, they’re usually
maybe a pound, you could get
denatured alcohol in really small quantities. In most of the hostels
along the trail you can find it. And the stove itself only weighs a couple ounces, I made it from beer cans
or soda cans is what everyone does. Total weight
without food and water is about 17 pounds. It became fairly doable. Okay, another question I get is, “What do you eat?” And I think a lot of people
when they first start looking at doing the trail, they’re looking at… …the prepackaged
backpacking foods. I think that was
a total waste of money. Yeah, expensive
and calorie deficient. When you’re on the trail, I think you’re probably
going to be burning 4,000, 5,000, 6,000,
7,000, 8,000 calories a day. I would often walk… There were days
when it was flat, I’d walk 30 miles. But usually I think
I averaged about 17 miles including the zero days. So what you need
is high calorie, calorie-dense foods. What I liked is I’d get
those dry tortellinis and macaroni and cheese. I always had olive oil, I always made sure
every evening I’d put olive oil
in everything to add some extra calories. And everything can be bought
at local grocery stores. There was no need to… I did no pre-planning. The only planning I did
was the airline tickets and a shuttle to the trail
and that was it. Everything else
I got along the way. Some common trail terms. AT is probably one
you’re all familiar with. Zero is a zero mileage day
when you maybe hang out at a hostel or a shelter. Slack packing is… Oftentimes
if you’re at a hostel, they’ll give you
a shuttle to the trail and you can walk back
to the hostel. And it’s kind of
a nice way to walk without having
to carry any weight. Stealth camping
usually refers to camping in unauthorized places
off the trail where you just kind of go off
into the woods someplace where nobody’s likely
to see you. One of my favorites is Yogi. This was… When you’re on the trail, let’s say food becomes
really important. And you never ask for food, but you always make yourself
available for food. (laughs) And so you wanted to be
in the right place at the right time
when food was available and somebody couldn’t help
but invite you to have– to share whatever they had. So that was fun. At one of the last nights, we were at
a commercial campground and we were trying to decide, “Do we pay for camping or do we stealth camp?” And the argument
went something like this, camping costs money but
we were trying to decide if we could Yogi more food than the $10 camping fee. Bounce is another term. If you find
a good grocery store, you could send stuff ahead. Or if you know that there’s
going to be shelters available, you can send
your tent ahead. Just send it to a post office
and pick it up later. White Blaze
is the trail markings. And then yellow blaze refers to
highway road markings. Basically, hitchhikers. There were people
along the trail that did very little walking but always kept up
with everyone, and they were called
yellow blazers. This year is… Springer Mountain in Georgia, I started at the south
and went north. Next to me is
my 12-year-old niece, she was 12-years-old
at the time. She wanted to do the first part. She had a week off
from school. I told her
before she begins that she needs
to go to the gym and she needs to be able
to run five miles. And if she could do that,
she’ll be happy. If she can’t,
she’s going to be miserable. And for about three months, she went to the gym
five days a week, she ran every day, and her trail name
became Sonic because she was faster than most of the adults. Now I also made sure
that she didn’t carry more than 15 pounds
in her pack, but she became
a trail legend that year, because I had ran into people
throughout the entire trail that either knew that
she was walking with me and asked me about her or made comments about
this 12-year-old girl that was on the trail
early on in the trail. So, and then this is what a typical shelter
would look like. At the beginning
of the trail, people tended to hang out
and kind of share stories or drink, smoke,
whatever, you know? By the end of the trail, everyone just wanted to… you get to the shelter, you’re tired,
and that’s it. You made your dinner
and you want to go to sleep and that was it. Plus, at the beginning
there was a lot of people that really didn’t
make it very far. They may have done
a week or two weeks and then ended up
dropping off. Throughout the entire trail, I kept waiting
for like a milestone to feel like something, like the first hundred miles. People said
the first hundred miles you’ll feel like you’ve
accomplished something or the first state
you get into from one state to another. But it always just
seemed like one day after another
after another. Never did feel like
there was any milestones. I remember stopping here. This is our first new state. And then here
are a couple guys that I knew
along the trail. I look at this
photograph and I wonder, “What the heck does the guy
have a hammer for?” He was a carpenter
and he was carrying something like a–
it was a big hammer. I think he said it weighed
like 28 ounces or something like that. I have no idea what he was… But his pack was
super, super heavy. And usually by this time
in the trail, people have figured out what they need
and what they don’t need and they just
mail everything home. Okay, this is at the end. My niece did
the first 103 miles. My sister came
and picked her up. And that’s where we separated. Okay, this guy is
the most amazing person I had ever met on the trail. His name was Zero-Zero because unlike 20/20,
he had… he was legally blind. And when I met him, I had absolutely no idea
he was blind. Somehow he knew my name
and it never occurred… I took this photograph, I had not any idea
that he was blind. I remember him
using his hiking poles like sweeping them across
the ground like he’s blind and I thought
he was goofing off. And somebody the next day
told me that, no, he was blind. And you could Google his name. Not only did
he complete the AT, last year
or the year before, I had read that
he had also completed the Pacific Crest Trail. And the story somebody
had told me about him was that he was supposed
to hike the trail with one of his friends,
his friend never showed up, so his sister brought him
to the trail head and then he started
asking people, “Hey, could I hike behind you?” Most people turned him down, somebody finally said,
“Yeah, sure.” And he went from one group
of people to the other the entire trail. At one point, he had told
somebody that I knew that… He asked him, like,
“Well, how are you doing?” He says, “Well,
I fall down a lot.” So, he fell down
like every single day. It was described
that he had no vision directly ahead of him and very little
peripheral vision. So he could see his feet
a little bit, but the trail
is really rough and rugged and there’s roots and stuff, so he was constantly falling. And he got up, kept going. And you Google his name,
Zero-Zero, you’ll find several articles
about him. But without a doubt
the most amazing person I’d met on the trail, somebody that would endure
that level of suffering and make it to the end and then want to do
another one after that. If anyone’s read Bill Bryson’s
book, Walk in the Woods, he talks a lot
about the balds. And they were
really beautiful places. I think this was the first one. I spent an afternoon here
by myself. And the desolation
was really stunning. I mean, in every direction all you see is mountains. No civilization
in any direction. It was really
a pretty amazing experience that afternoon. For some reason, we kind of had a fear
of the Smoky Mountains. We knew there were a lot
of elevation changes. And every day we were
kind of talking about, “How do we get through this?
How do we get through this?” I mean, the trail gets
a lot of ups and downs. And it turned out
the Smoky Mountains were nowhere near as difficult
as we had expected. And the Smoky Mountains
were actually one of the most beautiful places
on the trail. I don’t think
I have any photographs, but what I’ve found
most beautiful, one of the memories
I have of the trail is walking through the woods and having the woodland
wildflowers out. So you’re walking
along the trail and the trees
didn’t have leaves yet but the woodland
wildflowers were in bloom and it was really
quite beautiful. And the shelters were
kind of nice in the Smokies. They often had a fireplace. What you see on the right is a chain-link fence. Now the park service thought that it
would be a good idea to put a chain-link fence
so that people could camp without bears getting
into the shelter. What they found is that people would lure the bears to the shelter
and then feed them through the chain-link fence. So there was talk
about all of the shelters having the chain-link fences
removed for that reason because it was making
the problem a lot worse rather than helping. And most of them, I think only one or two,
maybe two shelters, I remember they still had
the chain-link fence. Oh, and that guy there
with the red bandana, his name was Red Eyes. He’s one of these guys
that he was without a doubt the best hitchhiker. I am still surprised at how easily
he was able to get a ride. I mean, he could put
his thumb out, he could be off the road,
and people would stop. He just, I guess, kind of
looked like a fun guy. He was also a trainwreck. And we all knew something bad
was going to happen to him. We knew that he wasn’t
going to make it. His brother did
a thru-hike in 2003, I think he did part
of the trail with him then. And he wanted to do
the entire trail. And he was just… We knew something bad
was going to happen. He was taking drugs
and kind of staggering and he often
didn’t even know… I remember one time
I was walking behind him and he was staggering, he had absolutely no idea
that I was even behind him. So eventually
he was arrested in the Shenandoah
National Park. Somebody said he was
making threats to somebody and they called
the cops on him and they found drugs on him so he was arrested
for both drugs and for making threats, so that was the last
I heard of him. I don’t know what happened
to him since then. This is the North Carolina/
Tennessee border. The trail went along
the North Carolina and Tennessee border, so it wasn’t just crossing
in one location. I think the state boundary
was based on the high points
of mountains, at least as far as I could tell
when I was there. So there was a lot
of elevation change, a lot of really
beautiful mountains just along that boundary. The Smokies were,
like I said, spectacularly beautiful. You were at an elevation, it was the highest point, if I remember it correctly, the Smokies were the highest
point in the trail, so you’re often
walking in a cloud. And so you’d see
scenery like this many days. Nothing dries in the Smokies, you’re in a cloud
on 100% humidity. This was a night that
it was almost snowing. I think we may have
had some snow flurries, rained all day. Everyone’s gear’s wet. Absolutely nothing dries. Again, you’re walking
in a cloud. It was… It was… Smoky Mountains. I think this was
after our first, what we’d considered
at the time, like high mileage day. I think it was just
under like 19 miles, I think, we walked
that day out. Once you get out, there’s a lot of hostels at the trail heads where you enter a road, and so this is
kind of a place where after four or five days, you can have access to beer. And it was,
people just hang out and there was
a fireplace there, so you get out,
you’re tired, your feet hurt, and you can relax
and drink beer. The trail goes through what was once some
vibrant communities. And so you find a lot
of things like this. I don’t know if you can read
that or not. It was a grave marker, October, what is it,
31st, 1882, to something 1940. And this was common. There was a lot
of old houses, grave markers,
things like this that you would encounter
along the trail. I don’t know, I was
always moved by that, I was always moved
by walking through, you know, seeing what was
once vibrant communities and now not much was left. This here was without
a doubt my favorite stop. I had the last bed,
that was my bed. I was the last one
to get a bed that night. Elmer’s Sunnyside Hostel in Hot Springs,
North Carolina, I think it was. It was an old Victoria house
run by Elmer. He made really spectacular
breakfasts and dinners. It’s one of these houses where it’s got the old
Victorian wallpaper, books, you can just kind of sit out
on the porch and read or hang out. It was… It was a nice place to rest. This was another war… You know, tombs, graves. I don’t think I… I don’t know
if I actually stopped to look very closely at these. Somebody later that day
told me the story behind that. Supposedly there
were two cousins and a friend of theirs. After the Civil War ended, they were going home
and they were supposedly ambushed and killed
after the war. So that was a story I’d heard
about these graves. Several people
did not bring a tent. I did. I really enjoyed having
a bug-free environment at the end of every day. Several people I knew
put DEET on their face and they would save
a couple pounds. And I just liked
having that, knowing that
at the end of the day I had a place where
there we no mosquitos, no biting flies. It was a little bit of privacy. And, see, these are some
of the balds of Tennessee. Again, this is another really spectacularly
beautiful place. These balds were about
5,000 feet in elevation. Windy and just places where you could see
miles in any direction. And usually there were… And this part of the trail, there really
weren’t any houses, anything except
what you see there. Oh, this is a retired
school teacher. And he was angry
at his principal. And the story he told us was that he was working
for several years. Hiking the Appalachian Trail
was his lifelong dream. And he had shared that
with his kids. And he had
intentionally transferred to several different schools during the previous
two or three years knowing that
he was going to retire, he wanted to contact
as many kids as possible. He worked out some
sort of arrangement with his principal
to share the experience while he was on the trail. Well, his principal
did not come through with the technology and did not allow him
to contact the kids, so he was angry about that. And he was writing these
letters, or postcards. Like he’d read these to us
and we were all thinking like, “Oh, my God, this guy. What’s this principal
thinking?” They wouldn’t
be threatening. He would just be
like saying something about what
a wonderful experience this would have been
to teach the kids this, this, and this. And we were all thinking like, “Wow, this principal
is getting these letters state by state
coming closer. And this guy’s coming closer
and closer and closer.” (laughter) So all summer long,
he was sending the– from every state
he would send his principal another postcard. And another funny thing
about that. He’s got this umbrella hat. Trail Days was a couple days
before that and somebody stole
his umbrella, the only person I know who had
an umbrella on the trail. And so he temporarily
got an umbrella hat before he had an umbrella
mailed to him. So… (laughs) This is another beautiful place. The Mount Rogers area in… Was that Northern Virginia? They had wild ponies, so that was… Oh, and then Virginia. One of the things
I made a point of doing is get up early,
hike while it’s cool. It was called the magic hour, the time just after sunrise or just before sunset. It’s cooler and
a lot of the animals have more activity,
so you would, you know, as you’re walking
you’d see the deer, you’d see the animals. Plus it got you
an early start and I was able to do
long distances while taking plenty of breaks
throughout the day. I wasn’t forced
to continue to walk, but by starting early
and walking the entire day, I tended to get
a lot of miles in. A lot more than I think
the average person was doing. And I think it was
just being disciplined. Just get up early
and get out and walk. Again, I was always fascinated by life along the AT. Who was living there prior in previous decades. This was an old farmhouse
that I encountered. Stones were stacked on top
of each other. I tried to find the date
that this was built and I never did, but you encounter many things, old remnants like this. The lizards were in like
the southern part, you’d hear them all over. It’s one of the things, everywhere you’d go
you’d hear them rustling in the leaves. It kind of became something that’s burned into
your memory on sounds. This is my view
of the Atlantic Ocean. This was supposed
to be a spectacular, spectacularly
beautiful scenery this day. This is all I got. (laughter) It was still pretty amazing walking through
the mist like that. So didn’t quite get
to see the ocean that day though. Again, more trail companions. Shared the trail
with many different things. James River. This was another
spectacularly beautiful day. I remember it being hot
and wanting go swimming, but deciding that
I had to make a choice, “Do I go swimming
or have more time to get to the next campsite
and relax at that day?” And I chose mileage
over swimming. And then you get
a lot signs like this. (laughs) Oh, Trail Magic was a big part
of the trail experience. That’s when
something unexpected happens along the trail. And this time, there was… I met a former thru-hiker. He claimed to have hiked
the trail twice before. His trail name was Crutch. And one of the odd things
about some of the trail people
that you encounter is he had no obvious way
of making a living. But yet, you know… And he’s way too young
to retire. And yet he spends most
of his life along the trail. And he was supposed to be doing
his third thru-hike this year. At some point,
he had given up. He had a car and was
just doing Trail Magic and working on trail projects
for the summer is what he told us. So I met him… …within the first week
of being on the trail and then again
at the 800 mile mark. He had a car, so he offered
to go get us pizzas. Pizzas and beer. And we tried
to give him extra money, he doesn’t want
any extra money. Just wanted only what the pizzas
and beer cost, nothing else. And I never really
did figure out how somebody like that
makes a living. And he’s spent years just hanging out
along the trail. I don’t know, I don’t know. Picking up the beer cans
you guys left. Yeah, yeah. (laughter) I met a few other people
like that too that had no obvious means of making a living. And they just spent most of
their life along the trail. This was in
Waynesboro, Virginia. Temperatures
were 95 degrees. I actually got interviewed
by the local newspaper just walking through the town. They wanted to know how
I was managing on the trail. And about two
or three sentences of mine were in the newspaper. This is really common. Along the trail,
there are old churches. A lot of free hostels,
churches, there’s a YMCA campsite just down the road
from this. This was a hot night, so I
decided to stay here tonight because of the air conditioning, although it’s kind of
a hard place to sleep so I moved to the YMCA
campground the next day. You know, one of the things, when I mention safety, one of the things… People have this idea
that on the trail you’re like an easy target. And to give you a brief story. I had injured my ankle
a couple days before. So the day I was walking
into Waynesburg, my tent accidentally
fell off my pack. And I didn’t realize that until I was getting
a ride into Waynesburg. And I’m like, “Ah, okay.” Tent cost $125,
I didn’t want to lose it, but I knew there was an
outfitter in Waynesburg that I could get another tent. So I decided that,
well, what could I do, let it go,
don’t worry about it. By the time I got here, there was a note for me that my tent
was waiting for me. The guy who’s trail name
was Conan, like Conan the Barbarian. He’s another interesting guy. He worked as a magi
for David Copperfield. Magi was his job title. He was the guy
that would push cars. Like if David wanted
a car to disappear, the magi were the people
that actually pushed it so that they had
a certain number of seconds they had to move objects. Somehow he ended up
with my tent. And I asked him. Oh, no, I didn’t get the tent
from him that day. I ran into him
a couple days later. My tent came to me
by somebody else whose trail name was Baracus, like in the A Team. And I asked him, well,
“How did you get my tent? Who knew that
that was my tent?” And I never did find out, but I could trace it back at least five people had
had my tent that day. And somebody had recognized… See, nobody knows
anyone’s real name, you go by trail names. And somehow they knew that that tent
belonged to me. And I think that there
are such limited access onto the trail
and off of the trail that I think what happens is
that people are very much aware of who’s on the trail
and who’s not. Or who’s on there
or who looks suspicious, who doesn’t look suspicious. And they pay attention
to the details like that. So somebody had seen
that that was my tent and they made sure
it got back to me. And I think that’s why
when I looked up several of the murders
that occurred on the trail, each and every one of them, the murderers were caught
within hours. Nobody lasted more than a day
without being caught. And people knew
who was on the trail. They knew exactly
who was on the trail and every time
they got caught. So if you wanted
to do somebody harm, I think you had one chance
and only one chance, that is, unless the parole board
let’s you out. Then you had two chances. Like the guy that shot
those two fishermen the year I was there. Speaking of crime. This guy was the only person that we all felt
uncomfortable with. His name was Torch. And the very second slide
you saw, he was lighting a fire
with bug spray and a lighter. (laughter) Supposedly,
the story he told us is that he was homeless. Somebody had taken him in and got him some
government assistance. He had $125 a week
coming to him. This was like a Monday. You can see his cooler
in the background. He liked drinking Pepsis,
he liked having ice. This was Monday, he spent
his entire paycheck… His entire weekly money
on Monday. He didn’t have anything
coming until Friday. And what did he buy then? He bought a cooler,
soda, and ice. (laughs) And he was telling us, I didn’t intend to stay
at this shelter, but the two young ladies
were very much afraid of him for good reason. And we all kind of knew of him. And just if there
were people around, we would kind of stay
and make sure, until somebody else came
and nobody else did. That’s why I spent the night. I was going to stay
until somebody else came and nobody else did. But he was talking about how much he wanted
to hurt people. But he said he always hurts
himself instead, and his left arm had at least
a hundred cuts on it. So it was all scarred and… I don’t think he lasted
much longer after this. I never heard anything
of him after this. But I know that in order to… When there is somebody
that is suspicious like that, the people that
are on the trail pay very close attention. And I think that
for that reason, I think that trail violence
is very low. Things that actually happen from people that
are on the trail, I think, is very low. Like I said, statistically, well, the official record is two incidences of violence per decade on the trail for 2,180 miles with something like
five million people using the trail every year. But I think it’s because
people are paying attention to those that
don’t belong there. Rattler. Everyone’s afraid, I think, of rattlers,
rattle snakes. My experience with them, they’ve always
been very docile. They rattle to let you know
that they’re there. And as long as you give them
some distance, they don’t cause
any problems. Another trail companion. Harpers Ferry. This was one
of my favorite stops. I liked the town so much I spent two days here
instead of one. I was going to stay one day. There’s a lot
of historic information along in Harpers Ferry and I wanted
to take that all in, so I spent an extra day there. The Half Gallon Challenge I think may be somewhat famous. But even though it’s at
the halfway point with miles, something happens
in the second half that I think is different
than the first half. I think that if I would have
left the trail at this point, I don’t know that it would have
had much of an impact on me. The second half of the trail is where you
intellectually know what life is like
off of the trail, but it doesn’t
really make sense. You can’t really imagine
that in an emotional way. It seems very distant. It’s like you know
you’re going to be sleeping in your own bed
at some point, but you can’t really feel
what that’s like, you don’t really know
what it’s like. And that happens in the second
half of the trail, I think. I think that somewhere
along the second half, the trail experience
really changes. Another one
of my favorite stops. This was an old
state-of-the-art 1905, I think, hotel that were kind of like a trail hostel. Usually these places
are maybe $10 to $15, maybe $20 a night. And you get a hot shower, which is always nice,
do laundry. So about every four, five days, I try to make it into town
to get a shower, re-supply. Food’s heavy,
so you don’t want to go too many days without– Unless you really have to. I try to limit it
to maybe five days. Because with five days of food, I think my pack was maybe
up to about 35 pounds. And usually when you’re in town, you’re at a low point and then you’ve got
to hike out with 35 pounds. And I always prefer
to keep it light. All through the entire trail, we kept hearing about the rocks
of Pennsylvania. Maybe they were a little worse
than other states, but it was only like
the second half of Pennsylvania, and this is what people
were talking about. Is that the trail itself? That’s the trail itself,
oh yeah. I probably don’t have any… Some of the places, the trail… This is it, I mean,
it’s worse than this even. There were places
where you’re thinking like, “There’s no way
the trail goes there.” Oh, yeah, it goes there. It was… Spent a night in jail. This was another free hostel. The old jail for Palmerton. I was the only one
there that night. I had a different speed
than most people, so I would tend to run
into people for a while, I’d hike with them
for a couple days, and then they would
fall behind and I’d move on. And it just worked out
where I knew there were several people
here before me and then before I was leaving there were several people
that were here after me. It just turned out that
I was the only one there, the only one
in the entire building, as far as I know,
that night. Somebody else,
another trail person. This is the topographic
low point, almost at sea level,
of the trail. The Hudson River. Another odd thing is you’d
find these odd memorials. This one here says
something like, “Say a prayer
for my friend Rick who left the Earth here
on October something, 2007.” I don’t know. I don’t know what
to make of some of those. Kent is probably
the most expensive place along the trail. So expensive I didn’t
want to spend the night, but these two guys wanted
to go in with a room, so… I think a motel room
was like $130, which was super,
super expensive anywhere along the trails. So I did spend the night there
with these two guys. Oh, we’d occasionally run
into trail crews. The trail is almost entirely
voluntarily maintained. And this trail crew
was a group of teenagers doing excellent work. They’re the ones
that keep the trail… You’ll see in a few slides, rain just washes
the trail out, causes a lot of damage, and these are the people that keep the trail together. Getting nearer Hanover. And this is a guy that I met and hiked with for a few days. Mountain Sailor, I guess he was a real sailor
in life. I think he’s told me
that he… I think he was transporting… I think his job was
to transport sailboats for people. I think that’s why
he got his trail name. Thought this was beautiful. Early morning dew
on a spider web. Another hostel. These were just wonderful places
to hang out. You’re tired,
you get off the trail, you get a hot shower,
you can eat. And when I mean eat… (laughs) You really don’t stop eating. (laughter) And you meet
a lot of people and kind of hang out. This is where a lot of times
you do a zero day to recover
before you move on. White Mountains were, again,
spectacularly beautiful. I just can’t overemphasize how beautiful these were. And hard, I mean, super hard. Going down… I found this at
the bottom of the trail after crossing places that I… Wow, I was… (laughs) If you happen
to fall along there… I don’t think
there’s a good outcome along some of those. Auntie Mame and V8, the two on the left are twins. They are 58 years old. They said their father died
unexpectedly at 58, and they decided
they wanted to do something. One of their husbands
hiked the trail the year before, so they decided to hike
the trail together. And I met them much earlier
in the trail. They had to get off
for some family reason and then I just unexpectedly
had met them here. And we spent
an afternoon together. White Mountains, again, these are
spectacularly beautiful. Really scenic. The White Mountains are… Well, they call it
the Presidential Range, they’re named
after the presidents. This is the Franconian Ridge. I believe is… Refers to Lafayette, Washington’s general? I believe I remember
that correctly. Where you walk along
that ridge for a while. One of the most popular
parts of the trail, and for really
very good reason. Mount Washington
is in the distance. And let’s say
the most accurate forecast for this area
is what you can see. I made the mistake
of thinking that… I wanted to see
Mount Washington and I looked at the forecast, everything I could tell was it was going to be
a nice day the next day. And I thought, “Well, okay,
I’ll just spend the night a little bit early,
get up early, spend my day
at Mount Washington.” But this is
the warning going up that it is the worst weather
in the continental U.S. and I ended up with, oh, is it gusts
to 45 miles an hour, sustained winds of something
like 35 miles an hour. And going up over
some of the ridges, the wind was so strong
I would have to crabwalk just to keep from
being blown over. Even my hiking poles
would get blown around, so it was hard to even
use them it was so windy. This was also an experiment. I had cut-off rain pants
for a while, but I bought them at Walmart and they kind of separated and they turned out
to be either a cut-off rain skirt
or kilt. (laughter) I managed
to duct tape them together so that, you know,
and it worked. One of the things,
nobody had rain pants. We just a rain jacket, your pants were always wet. You just endured, one more thing you didn’t
really want to carry. It was a little bit
uncomfortable, but the alternative was
to have to carry something in your pack that
weighed extra weight. Say, if there was
a place on the trail where I could say
it was a milestone, maybe this was it, where I got
to the last state. Again, even making it
to the very end, it never felt like
it was a big deal. We kept thinking
throughout the trail that, “Oh, when we
get to this point, it’s going to feel
like a big deal. We get to this point, it’s
going to feel like a big deal.” And it never really did. It never felt like it was anything more
than the next day. And the next 250 miles was ankle-deep much
and rain every day. Record rain, record cold,
this is it. This was every single day
for weeks. I did not think that
my feet would hold up, but they did. I thought there’s no way you can walk with wet feet 15 miles a day or more and not get blisters or have your feet hold up. And they did. Can’t really explain that, but they did. This is what
many people consider the hardest mile
of the trail, and, yeah, I agree here. This is the trail that
goes under these rocks. If you Google
Mahoosuc Notch, you’ll see a lot
of photographs of other people
walking over boulders. This was definitely one of
the hardest days of the trail. Limeonaid and I hiked
together for a while. She got her name because she
wanted to dye her hair blonde but it turned out green. (laughter) Another is… He got his name
because he had a mohawk at the very beginning
of the trail, which has grown out. This was with the record rain. We were unable to cross
the trail at one point. Maine has no bridges. And we ended up walking
back up the trail and then finding the stream and walking up to a point where we could find
a place to cross. And managed to get across
and tie a line so that we could all cross and then continue. Yeah, hiking above the clouds. You can see one of the mountains
in the distance. So this is Maine,
you’re above the clouds. Really beautiful day. Then the 100 Mile Wilderness. This is the last 100 miles. And I think possibly the most famous part
of the trail. At least a lot of people
seem to know of this part
of the trail. The impression you get is that
it is 100 miles without break, but there are a lot
of forestry roads that run through this. No main roads,
but a lot of forestry roads. I, for some reason, took a
photograph of my feet this day, and it turned out this was
the last day of the rain. We call them zombie feet. This is every single day
for weeks it was walking through muck, ankle-deep muck. Last night on the trail. This is where I had mentioned we had a discussion on, “Do we Yogi? Do we pay $10? Can we get more food
from this pay campground than the $10 cost
or do we stealth camp?” And about half of us
ended up spending the night
at the campground and food came in abundance. It was a good decision. I mean, food came
in abundance that night. Another interesting conversation
we had that night is we were trying to decide, “Well, why did it seem
like it was a good idea?” And nobody had a good idea not only why they were there, but we had asked the question, “Why stick out the rain?” And nobody had a good idea
for that either. It was just…
I can’t really explain it. There were people
that were leaving, there were several
young ladies that left just prior to
the 100 Mile Wilderness. They had gone that whole way, it was raining every day, and they just said,
“That’s enough.” There were people that
were leaving the trail all the way up to the end. And we never really had
a good explanation for that. And then this is where one
of the guys I was with had made a statement that
I think we all agreed with. He said six months
before that he was sitting in his office
and he would think, “Well, what would life
be like on the trail?” And he said, “I really
couldn’t imagine that.” And he said,
“Now I think about what is life going to be
like off of the trail?” And he says, “I really
can’t imagine that either.” And it was just
that by this point… …you know intellectually that you have a bed, you know you’re not going
to be walking every day, but you just can’t
really feel that. That seems like it’s something that is not even… I don’t know, emotionally you just
can’t really understand what that actually means to have a bed to sleep in or not be walking every day. And I think we all agreed
with this statement. And this is the end, the end of the pilgrimage. And I think this is probably as close of a pilgrimage as anyone does these days. Katahdin was always at the end. We were always walking
to Katahdin. It was this distant point that gave us a common bond. You know, you could always
rely on other thru-hikers. You know, they’d help you
if they could. I think we were
all tied together by this common pilgrimage. Get to the end,
get to Katahdin. And even at this point, I remember thinking
that it did not feel like it was anything more
than another day. I thought, “Well, hey,
when I get there, it’s going to feel different.” And it never did. Although I may have forgotten
to touch the sign, so… (laughter) I don’t know. And then what did it cost? I think that I had at least– I went through
four pairs of shoes, about $125 each. I had a super light backpack
at the beginning and over time
the plastic frame, especially in the heat when I needed a lot of water, that frame began to bend and would put all of
its weight on my shoulders. And I began to notice
at first that my shoulders
were hurting at the end of the day. And then as it continued, it was hurting earlier
and earlier in the day and then I realized
my pack was bending. So I had to find another pack. It went through
first with water, with iodine tablets. And after a while I couldn’t
stand the taste of iodine, so I got a UV light filter that worked excellent, it was super light,
worked excellent, until it didn’t work. And then I switched
to a pump filter. And I can show you that
in a minute. There’s transportation
to and from the trail. You’re eating at least
three times the calories, at least I did,
I was eating at least three times
the calories. I think walking burns something
like 400 calories an hour, if I remember correctly. And I’d be walking no less
than about 10 hours a day. And a lot of times
12 to 14 hours a day. So, that plus
your base calorie needs, you’re up to 6,000 or more. I lost,
from what I weigh now, more than 35 pounds. So, it was… Even eating that much, you still have very little. You still don’t get
enough calories. And it took me 131 days. So I think the best estimate is about $4,000 to $5,000 for being on the trail, food. It was mainly food, gear, a few of the hostel stops. You know, $10,
$15 here and there. And the ride back
from Katahdin. I hitchhiked to Millinocket and then took
the Greyhound bus back. And on the Greyhound bus, I learned all kinds of things. One of the things I learned is one young man was putting nails
in his nose. And he assured me
that all of us could do that. And he said that we could do… He’s able to do
three nails at a time, but he assured me
that it’s easy and if I want to try it, he had some extra nails
that I could try. With that said,
are there any questions? -Yes?
-What was the time of year? I started in April and I ended on August 17, 2008. You followed the heat north? I went from south
to north, yep. What was your trail name? My trail name was Rabbit. -Rabbit?
-Long legs. Yeah, I think
the long legs was the… Do you pick your own
or does it get put on you? Well, it’s a combination
of both. There were several people
that had trail names like Meat Bag. (laughter) And I don’t think Meat Bag
chose his trail name. (laughter) How did you get
across the Hudson? There’s a bridge. I think it was
the George Washington Bridge. Oh, okay, so was it a bridge
that cars are on? Cars, yep, yeah. -You had some traffic.
-Right, yeah. There were places
along the trail. You know what’s funny is, you don’t need a map
along the trail except when you’re in town. Somehow you could always… You had the white blaze, but there would be places where even for long periods you would not have
the white blaze. But I never had a problem
with finding the trail. What I had a problem with, once you get into town, the white blaze, they’d still put
the white blaze, but it would be
on the pavement or on the bridges
and stuff like that. That was always
the hardest part I thought, finding your way
through towns, following the trail
through towns. I guess because
it’s not worn. In the woods you have that
nice, worn trail you’re in. Does anybody
go north to south? Yes, about 10%. About 10% go north to… Yeah, and the other thing
that some people do is they go… I think there’s a trail name
for this one. They’ll start in Georgia
and go to Harpers Ferry and then go from
Harpers Ferry to Katahdin and walk back
to Harpers Ferry. But if you start at Katahdin, usually it’s June, I think, before you can get up. The snow is too deep to allow you to get
to the top before June. ♪ This has been
the Knowledge Exchange, a Lakeland Community College
production. ♪


  1. Connor True Story

    May 19, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Wow, great story. I can't wait to do my thru hike.

  2. Bruce Hodson

    May 25, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    What was your trail name, Joe?

  3. denise wittman

    June 1, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    Thanks. Good job with presentation. I enjoyed it very much.

  4. Michael Smith

    June 20, 2014 at 8:11 am

    Great video, definitely enjoyed watching it.

  5. MrBeardog111

    July 7, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    very nive love it

  6. Creighton Miller

    July 10, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Lakeland, if you have an interest in another person like Joe in your area, I'd advise you to connect with John Krauss; he is the leader of the Willoughby Hills BS Troop 562.

  7. Dave Ricin

    July 20, 2014 at 2:54 am

    Hey, I have a question. So I'm really into hammock camping as opposed to tent camping, would you (as a thru-hiker) say that thru-hiking the AT allows for that? By that, I mean is it hard to find suitable trees for a 9 foot hammock set up along the AT? Please, and thank you!

  8. Serena Illauer

    July 25, 2014 at 4:28 am

    Great presentation! I've always wanted to hike the AT.

  9. Tammy Ratcliff

    August 3, 2014 at 7:20 am


  10. Tammy Ratcliff

    August 3, 2014 at 7:23 am

    hello I'm a 54 year women I live east Tn I would to hike for a few days

  11. Stuart Wine

    November 17, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    When you do the trail in two halves it's called "leap frogging". That's the trail word he was looking for at the end. Thanks for sharing your story!

  12. Philip Buckley

    November 30, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    flip flop..

  13. Philip Buckley

    January 4, 2015 at 5:53 am

    has anyone seen a waterproof backpack that could be used on the Appalachian Trail….

  14. Nicholas Elkins

    January 5, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    This dude is why I solo hike.  Painfully boring.

  15. D

    February 17, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Deet on the face = problems down the trail.

  16. Brisdad53

    February 27, 2015 at 10:29 pm

    FYI, Randall Lee Smith, the shooter mentioned at 2:30, died 4 days later in jail from injuries received from crashing one of his victim's cars in an escape attempt from police.

  17. Logan Burnum

    March 30, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    Calorie Deficient? Not so true. Expensive yes. Plus you can get protein,sodium,vitamins, convenience of preparation. Mountain House freeze dried examples such as Beef Stew, Chili Mac, Beef Stroganoff, Rice and Chicken, and Breakfast Skillet range in calories from 4.28 to 5.71 calories per gram.  BUT Knorrs Garlic pasta shells or Knorrs Rice and Pasta=from 3.33 to 3.7 calories per gram. Kraft Mac and Cheese=3.79 calories per gram.  Ramen noodles=4.52 calories per gram. Walmart Trail Mix=5.18 calories per gram. Peanut Butter=6.56 calories per gram.  You can add olive oil to any of these you want.

  18. Molon Labe

    May 31, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Dear Lakeland Community college, it is spelled: K-a-t-a-h-d-i-n. He hiked the AT and isn't aware of the term Flip-Flop?

  19. wwlandXXX

    June 17, 2015 at 5:30 am

    Really enjoyed your video. It let me know what I was going to run into and expect. You mentioned theft… is that a big problem? I'm getting real excited about doing this. Don't know how well I'll do but I want to walk the entire thing. I'm 58 and you mentioned 12 year olds and blind people do this, so I figured I can do it.

  20. wwlandXXX

    June 17, 2015 at 6:06 am

    Is there access to computers on the trail for paying your bills on line?

  21. TomJeffersonWasRight

    July 5, 2015 at 4:07 am

    This is the best balanced description of the AT I have seen on Youtube.  There are videos about hardship, partying, and other aspects, but this covers what i really want to know.

    Thanks ! ! !

  22. Rebel1280

    December 11, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    Awesome, video, will be doing just a short section of it and found this video to be extremely knowledgeable. Are nicknames reserved for people that have done the whole thing? If not, im going to spend weeks thinking of a really good one haha

  23. Michael Blackbird

    May 5, 2016 at 11:19 pm

    Does anyone think he snitched on Red Eyes and got him arrested?? This guy feels like a tool.

  24. B scott

    October 9, 2016 at 2:34 am

    Great video. I've watches probably 100 videos about thru hiking the AT. This is my favorite. Thanks

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