Posted on 27 04 2012
In 2009 Colin Ross and myself Tom Gale left Springer Mt in Georgia on the 16th April with an aim to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. Around 6 months later we achieved that goal: A journey that took us some 2178 miles across 14 states, through Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter and saw our friendship strained to its outer limits and our lives descend to a level where all that really matters is the very basic foundations of life: Food, water, shelter and warmth. Oh and, primarily, where we were getting our next cheese burger from!
The nature of the trip meant we were in a state of near starvation for almost its entirety. Hiking 20-25 miles a day with a pack weighing between 20-40lbs (10-20kg) meant we were burning close to 6500 calories while we were only able to eat around 4000 due to weight. I would try and eat 1200 cal for each meal and snack on a further thousand throughout the day, but still managed to lose a whopping 2.5 stone!
With over 500,000 ft (that’s around 95 miles) of vertical elevation change over the entire trail, we hiked the equivalent of climbing from sea level to the summit of Mt Everest (and down again) over 17 times!!!
The final 3 states saw us staying for a few days with a cult, hiking through knee deep mud, crossing numerous vast mountain ranges (with 70% of the miles done we still had 50% of the physical excursion left), hiking in some of the worst continuous weather we faced on the whole trip: rain, hail, snow, freezing fog and ice all over the trail. We were frequently hiking in the Alpine Zones above treeline near summits and along ridgelines, having to ford vast, freezing, waist deep rivers, frequently running out of food and traversing across bogs so deep that they could easily swallow this 6 ft 7 Englishman with a satisfying, yet final, plopping sound. It was singularly some of the toughest, coldest, emotionally draining, most uncomfortable but rewarding few weeks of the entire trip… It was, as my old man would say, Character Building!
We reached the summit of Mt Katahdin at 1pm on the 10th October 2009 older, wiser, hairier, smellier, skinnier and more tired than either of us had ever been in our lives. The feeling of elation that we were both expecting at acheiving our goal proved elusive, at least at first. What met us instead was an overwhelming feeling of relief, that the hard times and toil were over, that we could go home, we didn’t have to hike anymore.
We could go back to England knowing we had acheived something no one ever beleived we could accomplish, that few people would dare attempt themselves and that threw over our lives the distinct feeling that that trip may have been the most important thing we would ever do and what in the name of sweet jesus do we do with ourselves now… a question i still havent answered.
Climbing down that Mountain was the most difficult descent of the whole trip and i’m not just talking physically (although i’d never felt more tired in my life) we were turning our back on the one thing we’d been thinking about most hours of most days for 6 whole months, we were leaving behind great friends and a way of life so simple in its wants and needs that it left you shaking at the idea of ever wanting to do anything else. We had nothing left to acheive. We were going home.