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A Picture (from the Appalachian Trail) That's Worth 2,181 Words

What is this man thinking? If you think you know, have you ever felt the same way?

Thru-Hikers' CompanionI think I do, and I think I have.

The image—a man, with ice crystals clinging to his cap, resting his head and upper body on the sign that marks the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail atop Maine's Mount Katahdin—appears on the cover the 2011 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion, the 18th edition of the guidebook published by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, based in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

It is an interesting, grounded-in-realism choice for a cover. Guidebooks typically gravitate toward bluebird-of-happiness scenes for covers—awestruck hikers, for example, gaping at hard-to-believe landscapes. Makes sense if your goal is to sell books.

The Thru-Hikers' Companion, meanwhile, is a manual for hard-core trekkers, not a travel guide intended to beckon armchair adventurers. If you pick up the Companion, you've done so because you've enlisted for what is likely the hike of your life—a 2,181-mile test of personal resolve, a march to self-discovery.

The cover image, to my eye, reflects any number of epiphanies that a hiker might feel at the end of multi-month, self-propelled journey: exhaustion, relief, reflection, subdued exhilaration, self-examination. Or maybe the dude is just giving himself a sanity check.

Since cover boy looks like he arrived at this spot on a frosty, not-so-hospitable day, I'm guessing this moment has prompted him to ask himself an inevitable question: Was this worth it? Does the satisfaction compensate for the challenges and inconveniences encountered?

That might be tough to answer at, say, the 1,500-mile mark of this 2,181-mile walk. But even though this guy is leaning on his elbows instead of clicking his heels, I'm thinking that now that he stands at journey's end, the answer is a big-time yes. The jubilation phase will just have to wait until after a shower and a 15-hour nap.

So what does the image say to you?

A Walk in the WoodsIn addition to the Companion, here's some additional AT info that offers worthwhile reading: The Appalachian Trail Data Book: 2011 (33rd edition); the best-selling A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering American on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson; AWOL on the Appalachian Trail; The Barefoot Sisters: Walking Home (the story of a shoeless trek on the AT); and Just Passin' Thru, tales told by a shopkeeper near the AT about the cast of hiking characters who have passed through his doors. Plus, check out this spectacular high-speed video of AT hiking created by REI Richmond, Va., store staffer Kevin Gallagher.

Meanwhile, the 2011 AT hiking campaign is in full swing. On Monday (March 28) I spoke to Anita Boyett, a member of the visitor center team at Amicalola Falls State Park near Dahlonega, Ga. Many AT thru-hikers register at the park's visitor center and weigh their packs before heading to Springer Mountain, the AT's southern terminus which lies 8.3 miles away.

As of Monday afternoon, 519 thru-hikers have registered at the visitor center—nearly 50 of whom began their trip just this past weekend. Many others, Boyett points out, simply self-register on the trail.

Boyett marvels at the determination of thru-hikers. One fellow who checked in Saturday was still nursing a pulled leg muscle. Nevertheless, he headed for Springer Mountain on crutches. Carrying a pack. During a thunderstorm. Alone. "He said he couldn't wait any longer," Boyett said. "It was amazing to see."

Finally, here are some interesting historical AT hiking stats, provided by Conservancy information specialists Dave Tarasevich and Matt McLaughlin:

• Hikers who attempted to cover the entire AT in 2010: 1,460.
• Successful 2010 thru-hikers: 398 northbound and 43 southbound, plus 35 flip-flops—people who start at Springer Mountain in Georgia, hike north to a jumping-off point (usually Harper's Ferry, 1,014 miles from their starting point), travel to Maine and then hike south to their exit point.
• Section hikers who completed the trail in 2010: 117. Section hikers are people who complete the AT over a number of years, hiking section by section.
• Highest single-year completions ever: In 2000, not long after Bryson's A Walk in the Woods was published in 1998. The totals: 439 northbound, 70 southbound, 46 flip-flops, and 82 section hikers (637 total completions).
• The first person to hike the trail in one year: Earl Shaffer of York, Pa., 1948.
• The first "2,000 miler" in a single year: Myron Avery, 1936, a former AT Conservancy chairman.


Posted on at 2:34 PM

Tagged: Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Hiking, Springer Mountain, Thru-Hiker's Companion, appalachian trail and backpacking

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Travis S

To me, this image is something I can relate to. It seems to embody the feeling of finally accomplishing a goal upon which one has set their sights for many years, if not a lifetime. It's the moment where you realize "I made it. I did this."

Though it didn't come with anywhere near the same level of physical exertion or exhaustion, I spent 5 years trying to get to the Antarctic, thinking about it every day. When I finally made it there, the moment was something like this. Something of a catharsis.

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BadClimb Staff Member

I grew up with a map of the AT that lived on my wall. I have hiked and cross country skied sections in many states. A thru hike is a dream that is still on my list :) So I am very happy to see this blog post!

I do have to mention though that Harper's Ferry is in W. Va, not Va. With day hikes and climbing trips to Raven Rock, this is a section of the trail that I have almost memorized. The Virginia access point on RT 7 was the point closest to me for about 11 years.

T.D. Wood Staff Member

Hey BC: Thanks for the heads-up on Harpers Ferry. I got my Virginias confused. The piece now refers to the city in its proper state.


Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" is a must read for anyone aiming to take on the AT. Plenty of laughs and a real dose of reality for armchair backpackers.


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