In my youth, back in the dark ages, a great deal of space in newspapers was devoted to the creation of the Appalachian Trail. I was captivated and intrigued beyond measure. The lure of that adventuresome trail entered my peripheral thoughts for several years before becoming full blown in about 1942. Then, I believed the coolest thing anyone, especially me, could do would be to strap on a backpack and head to Georgia and hike north through the mountains to Maine, a trek of around 2,100 miles. That was during my active Girl Scout days and I was as sure as I was 14 that I could hike that trail. I’d just gather up my gear, say goodbye to friends and head for Georgia. My family could drop me off at Springer Mountain, shower me with hugs and good wishes, and then pick me up months later in Maine. Obviously, there were a few details I overlooked…or dismissed. I’m not sure which.
I have no idea how I thought that was ever going to be possible, but at the time it seemed an easy and doable feat, one I really, really, really wanted to do. It didn’t occur to me that the only car we had barely held together to get dad to work and back each day and probably wouldn’t have made it past the state line. That was the least significant problem with my plan.
That’s all in the same time period where I would have gone with writer/explorer/scientist Thor Heyerdahl who sailed the Kon-Tiki, from South America to Polynesia, had I figured out a way to get on his raft. It never registered in my mind that my getting sick because of the motion on our porch swing or on a Ferris wheel somehow might be connected to the prospect of sea sickness from months of bouncing around in a raft on the boundless ocean. Life has always been one possibility after another for great adventures.
I think part of my desire to do the AT resulted from the major disappointment of not going to Switzerland that summer for an international Girl Scout gathering. I was to be the Girl Scout representative from the U.S., or one of them, due to having a gazillion merit badges, with my expenses paid. The war dampened any possibility of that happening. I remember my disappointment when I learned the conference had been canceled. I also remember my parents looking incredulously at me as if I thought they were actually going to allow me to go wander through war zones to attend a gathering of Girl Scouts. “But it’s in Switzerland”, I argued. “They are neutral. “ It took some time to see the irony in that. Those must have been my “nothing bad can ever happen to me” years. So in my idle time, I concentrated on the AT, as it is commonly called, and the prospect of becoming the first thru-hiker from Salina to negotiate its entirety in a single season.
In 1948, when I was a student at KU, a man by the name of Earl Shaffer, made the AT famous. He completed the first- documented thru-hike and later also completed the first north-to-south thru-hike. In 1998, when Shaffer was nearly 80 years old, he once again hiked the entirety of the trail making him the oldest person ever to complete a thru-hike. What an outstanding fete for an amazing guy.
I’ve been well- aware of my physical limitations for eons so am content to read about others who venture out on that “trail”. The AT is far more physically challenging than one can imagine and certainly enormously more difficult than my youthful imagination ever visited. The Hundred Mile Wilderness in Maine is part of 283 miles of the Trail in Maine with 100,000 feet of climb…the equivalent of three Mt. Everest’s. There are no stores, houses, telephones or paved roads. It is the remotest section of the AT. If something goes wrong in the Hundred Mile Wilderness, you are on your own. As Bryson said, “You can die of an infected blood blister out there.” “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson, is the best way I know to escape into nature without leaving the comfort of home. Through him you can experience the Appalachian Trail. The book is full of laughs and information about the trail. I think you’ll really enjoy it. Bill Bryson is so good at what he does, he could make a story about base paint hilariously funny.