It was the spring of 1948, and a young man from Pennsylvania had to work out of his mind the many sights, sounds, and losses he experienced during World War II. He took a hike. For four months. On August 5, 1948, Earl Victor Shaffer became the first person known to hike uninterrupted the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, from Mt. Oglethorpe in Georgia through thirteen other states to Katahdin in the central-Maine wilderness. He covered more than 2,000 miles of footpath created in the 1920s and ’30s by volunteers and maintained by volunteers ever since. Earl Shaffer, a woodsman, naturalist and poet, went on to become one of those volunteers with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and worked with the Conservancy to secure federal protection for the Trail, which is now part of the national park system.
The Appalachian Trail, in 1948, had reached a critical point in its history. Maintenance had lapsed in many areas during World War II, with many active workers serving in the armed services. Storm damage, logging operations, and natural growth had erased or cluttered much of the trail. Marking was often faded or gone. The famous footpath seemed on its way to oblivion. Even the people who had done most to bring the Trail to tentative completion a few years before the war were doubtful about its future. With this in mind, a meeting of the Appalachian Trail Conference was set for June of that year at Fontana Village in North Carolina, to rally the member groups and individuals for an attempt at restoration. While in session, the Conference received by mail a message informing them that Earl Shaffer had started from Mt. Oglethorpe in Georgia April 4th, and was now passing through eastern New York State, and was expecting to reach Katahdin in Maine about August 5th. That was a total of four months to cover the 2,050-mile journey.
I have always wanted to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. I’m sure this is true because of extensive camping growing up. When we started camping as a family in the late 1960s, we used a tent. At some point, we graduated to a pop-up camper. We then progressed to a single-axle camping trailer, and ultimately a double-axle unit. I remember a camping trip one year when I was the last one to wake up and come out of the camper. My mother asked me what I wanted for breakfast. Still half asleep, I said, “Beggs and ‘acon.” Mom said, “What?” I said, “I mean ‘acon and beggs.”
As for wanting to hike the entire trail, there’s much I would need to do in order to remotely guarantee I’d survive. First, I presently weigh 247 pounds. Not the most I’ve ever weighed (261 pounds), but far from trim enough to hike for four continuous months. Second, I truly cannot afford the gear I’d need. Hopefully, that, as well as my weight and BMI, will improve before I face the third factor. My age. I understand that much of the Trail is quite treacherous and often rather steep. Indeed, the “easiest” part of the Trail is in Pennsylvania.
I watched the movie “A Walk In the Woods,” based on the book of the same name written (as experienced) by Bill Bryson during his attempt to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. Check out the trailer for the movie at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOF2LIAp9bw. Neither Bryson nor his hiking companion were spring chickens when they undertook their adventure, which was somewhat comforting to me given my yearning to tackle the Trail in my late 50s. I will admit that the idea of a huge backpack hanging off me for four months is particularly troublesome. In any event, if I am ever in decent enough shape to hike the Trail, I’m certain I will not be going in the dead of winter, nor in the heat of the summer. Hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine is on my bucket list.
Excerpts from the book “Walking With Spring” by Earl V. Shaffer.
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