Barbarian Utopia: Encounters on the Appalachian Trail (2019) - full transcript

A recent college graduate documents his challenging experience hiking all 2,185 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and explores how that trail came to be.

We used to summer in andover, Maine,

and the trail used to
run right by, so I spent

my whole childhood walking
up and down the trail,

fishing and...

One day, I asked my father
where this trail went

and he's like, "this trail
goes all the way to Georgia."

And I'm like, "you're kidding."

"Yep, if you go that way

"you'll go to Georgia, if you go that way,

"you go to mount katahdin."

And ever since then it
was always in the back

of my mind that I've
gotta hike this trail.

April 10th, 2014,

amicalola lodge.

Down here in northern Georgia.

Sleeping bag at the very bottom.

Big jacket and my rain jacket.

And rain pants, don't need those yet.

Hopefully, won't need them too much.

Though I'm sure I will.

- Oh man, that's a jinx.
- And,

let's see, food.

Strap on my tent.

See some bulge in some spots.

All right.

Amicalola state park,

start of the approach
trail, weighing the pack.

Weight is...

Looks like about 44, 43.

And so my journey of
nearly 2200 miles began

with these steps towards
the appalachian trail.

For the next six months,

I followed the trail through 14 states.

My ultimate destination,
Maine's mount katahdin.

To reach the trail's official start point

on springer mountain, I first
climbed the approach trail

in amicalola falls state park.

The park derives its
name from a cherokee word

meaning tumbling waters.

I looked online to see what people thought

of the approach trail.

Seems some people thought
it was really hard

and some people thought
it was a piece of cake.

I guess it depends on

how in shape you are.

I reached the top of springer

already wondering what
I'd gotten myself into.

My goal to hike the
entire appalachian trail

now seemed like a crazy, impossible dream.

But the story of this trail
is of an impossible dream

that came true.

The appalachian trail, as an idea,

came from a guy named Benton mackaye.

Benton mackaye was born in 1879

in stamford, Connecticut.

Even though a young mackaye once wrote,

he would later attend Harvard university.

After graduating in 1905
with a master's in forestry,

mackaye went on to teach at Harvard

and to work for the government
as a regional planner.

In 1915, he married
suffragist and peace advocate

Jessie Hardy stubbs, known as Betty.

But it seems the difficult
life of an activist

took a severe toll on
Betty's mental health.

In 1921, she suffered her
final nervous breakdown.

To help his wife recover,

mackaye planned a trip to the countryside.

While the couple prepared to depart

from grand central station,

Betty fled and jumped to her death

into New York's east river.

Mackaye was heartbroken.

Encouraged by friends, he
distracted himself from grief

by putting his idea for an
appalachian trail on paper.

His proposal was published
October of that year.

Mackaye's original idea
for the project included

the footpath, shelter
camps for hikers to stay at

and two types of communities
where people could live,

community groups, camps
where people could stay

for recreation, recuperation and study

and food and farm camps which
would provide employment

for those wanting to work off the land.

His concept for the trail was to build

a long-distance hiking trail

that would allow people to do long hikes

but also would connect rural communities

along the trail path.

So not many people realize
that the second part

of what I just said,
was part of his vision.

He wrote,

One such menace was rapid urbanization.

The high
value of land in the city

leads to crowded skyscrapers

and people are compelled
to live in crowded quarters

while opportunities for
recreation and healthful living

are limited.

In the early 20th century,

America's urban population was surpassing

the rural population for
the first time in history

and what were once regional cities

were transforming into
sprawling metropolitan areas.

Mackaye knew that metropolitan growth

could lead to cultural homogenization

and stifle the sharing of ideas.

He clearly wanted this
trail to be away from cities

and away from civilization,
which of course

was a lot easier to do
in 1920, 1921 when he was

thinking about this and writing about this

than it would be today.

Soon after its publication,

mackaye's proposal caught the eye

of several prominent
outdoor organizations.

And that's how the
appalachian trail conservancy

was created. It was a
meeting in Washington, D.C.

Of trail leaders from a variety of places,

particularly new england and
the Washington, D.C. area.

They created the
appalachian trail conference

which was our original name.

Under this new organization,

the first sections of dedicated
trail were built in 1924.

While some of its most
important characters

would be introduced later,

the story of the
appalachian trail had begun.

There's some really
actually very beautiful parts

of Georgia


were awesome

and I was imagining how much
better looking they would be

in two or three weeks.

- When spring was there?
- I was like, aw,

it's so gray right now, I'm
sure this is a great view

when there's, you know,
actually looks like

there's trees on it.

When there's
a color besides brown?

- Yeah!
- Most northbound thru-hikers

start in march and early April.

Georgia was tough just
because it was cold and wet

and there was always the
danger of hypothermia.

Our last night in Georgia it actually,

there was like a show
cover when we woke up

so our tent had a little
bit of show on it.

And taking down the tent at
that point in the morning

when it's like 16 degrees
or something like that,

you can't feel your fingers.

One place of relief
from the cold is neel gap,

home of the mountain crossings
outfitter and hostel.

Mount crossings
is an outdoor store,

it's located directly
on the appalachian trail

just under 31 miles
from springer mountain,

which is the Southern
terminus of the trail.

It's the first outdoors
store that hikers come to.

Neel gap is one
of the southernmost points

where hikers can resupply
food and equipment.

The majority of resupplies
are done in trail towns.

I thru-hiked back in 2000,

no one had cell phones
back then so, you know,

people like calling the
day before they hit town

to make reservations in
hotels is really weird.

There's a lot more shuttle
services in and out of town

so there's less
hitchhiking it seems like.

He's like, "I'll give
you guys a hitch back

"as long as you guys
aren't gonna hurt me."

I'm like, "we're hiking
the appalachian trail,

"I don't think any of us
have the energy to hurt you."

The trail towns
are very hiker friendly.


Have you had any favorite trail towns?

I think hiawassee might
have been my favorite,

maybe just because it was
the first one I went into.

As long-distance
hiking has become more

and more popular, a
cottage industry of hostels

has grown along the trail.

For many years, hiawassee was home

to the blueberry patch hostel

which provided a place to stay and eat

for no more than an optional donation.

But all good things must come to an end

and after many years, the
owhers decided to close

the blueberry patch
hostel for good in 2015.

A few days after leaving Georgia

and crossing into north Carolina,

I had another great breakfast

when I hit deep gap on easter Sunday.

The easter feast volunteers
know what hikers want.

Their omelets are appropriately sized

for people who spend their
days walking over mountains.

Now we're gonna
hand this to you but it takes

two hands, you gotta hold
your plate with two hands.

The at easter feast is put on

by thru-hiker Jerry
Parker with the assistance

of his daughter, Megan,
a thru-hiker herself.

Mr. Parker immortalized his 1979 hike

with the beer drinker and ice
cream eater's guide to the at,

the first-ever thru-hiker guidebook.

I had just an old f-150
Ford pickup truck and I

initially went by myself
and sat on the tailgate

and I fed people, either we cooked eggs

or we cooked hotdogs.

I conscripted Megan at, she
thinks it was the age of 12,

she's 28 now.

I conscripted her to help me

and then my sister, who
is the cook over there,

she joined us not too many years after.

- Maybe a year or two?
- A year or two after that.

- Not long.
- And so from the three of us,

we've just sort of grown exponentially.

In addition to omelets,

the easter feast volunteers

freely provide sandwiches,
homemade desserts and more.

It was the best trail magic
I received during my hike.

Trail magic is really anything you do

that's nice for the
appalachian trail hikers,

anyone going through, if
they need food or shelter,

water or a ride or a band-aid,

anything you do to help
someone along the trail

is considered trail magic.

And the people that do that
are called trail angels.

- Trail magic.
- Trail magic is like

the greatest thing
that happens in a day.

I think that really
makes the trail what it is,

it's not just hiking
repetitively every single day,

it's just random acts of
kindness like, you know,

a beer or gatorade, some bag of chips,

some people just leave water.

- Yeah.
- Some people, you know,

they give you a ride unexpectedly
when you didn't even,

weren't even banking on a ride
into town or you need one,

like, all right, cool, I'll take it.

We were in... = Franklin.

Franklin and this
couple just picked us up

and took us to their
house and fed us dinner

and we thought that was
the most amazing thing.

They let us kayaking on their...

Yeah, they gave us...
= on their lake house.

- Yeah.
- With their dog.

Then fed us breakfast and dinner.

And then, two days
later, or three days later,

it happened again at the noc.

Like this other couple just...
Picked us up,

took us out to dinner,
gave us a tour of asheville

then drove us back.
It was great.

I think we've had more nights in a bed

than in a shelter. - No, no.

I didn't expect the community
aspect of it out here,

I expected kind of a backcountry,
solitary kind of thing,

that kind of experience.

I've been overwhelmed with the

generosity people have out here.

Oh gatorade, wonderful, thanks a lot.

With so many what I
call alumni out there,

there's so much more trail
magic 'cause you have

15,000 people that have thru-hiked.

And when I did it, I was
only the 884th person

ever to thru-hike in
the first 50, 60 years.

And Megan was 898th just
to get to Harpers ferry.

There's so many people out
there that have hiked the trail

or have connections with it,

we're all gathered at every
road crossing from here,

from Georgia to Maine,

we're just trying to help somebody out.

Oh, let me help you!

And that really didn't exist,
you know, when I was there.

It's pretty much a utopia out here,

as far as people go.

One imagines Benton mackaye

would be happy to hear the term "utopia"

spoken with regards to the trail.

He was fond of the word.
In a 1927 speech, he said,

But as much as he believed in
it, mackaye rarely went out

to scout, map and build the trail himself.

In 1926, judge g. Arthur Perkins

was appointed to fill a new
england vacancy in the atc.

Perkins rallied new volunteers

to the floundering trail project.

The most important was a
27-year-old maritime lawyer

named myron Avery.

Soon after being
introduced to the project,

Avery pushed for a new
Washington, D.C. meeting

to rework the appalachian
trail conference's purpose.

The new goal was to,

The focus was now on creating a footpath,

building the new communities
that mackaye hoped

would connect to the trail
was no longer a priority.

Avery became atc chairman in 1931.

With his signature measuring wheel,

he led many of the expeditions to scout

and cut the appalachian trail footpath.

It was Avery who
introduced the white blazes

that are still the signature
markers of the at today.

He specifically required
that blazes should be,

I think he had a passion for excellence.

He had a strong commitment to
hiking and outdoor recreation

and the appalachian trail was unique,

it was the first long-distance
hiking trail in the world,

you know, of this length.

And so I think he had a vision for

how do you make this trail sustainable

and he pushed and pushed and pushed

and often made people angry because,

you know, it was kind of
myron's way or no way.

I mean, he said here's the
vision, let's go do it.

He didn't ask for a lot of
ideas from other people.

One trail club
supervisor said of Avery,

The friendly town of
Franklin, north Carolina

encourages hikers to stop by the brew pub

inside the local outfitter

and add their trail names to the wall.

Whether personally chosen
or bestowed by others,

most hikers go by their trail names

in lieu of their real ones.

I included my own recently-bestowed
trail name, no pants.

I got caught in a torrential
downpour, soaking my clothes.

At the nearest shelter, I
hung the wet articles to dry

but continued on, accidentally
leaving one item behind.

Fortunately, another group
of hikers found my pants

and arrived at the next shelter
looking for someone with

no pants.

My pants were returned and
I now had my trail name.

I'm forest.

I'm flojack.


Mother earth gave us our trail names.


My trail name is bee sting.

Did you get
a bee sting early on?

I got stung about six
times up in Maine in one day.

My trail name is indy.

My trail name is frank.

My trail name is Mac daddy.

After looking at several trail names,

my wife and I conferred

with respect to the name resolute.

The dictionary definition
of resolute is to pursue

and keep pursuing an
admirable purpose or cause

and I had started having heart
trouble almost two years ago

and took about a year
and a half to get through

the treatment for that.

So felt like that resolute

described coming back
from a heart condition.

And then an irony of
my story is I found out

the stint that they used

in my heart for my microvascular disease

is called the resolute stint.

I did not know that
until after I'd chosen,

already chosen the name resolute.

- What's your trail name?
- I don't have a trail name.

I think they're kind of silly
and I don't really feel like

having one.

I don't like dislike trail names but

I just feel too ambivalent
to start calling myself

by something like that.

So you go by your regular name?

Yep, my name's Tobias
and that's what I'm doing.

And myself and I have two other friends

and none of us have trail names and we're,

the longer the trail goes along,
we become fewer and fewer,

the nameless, but it works.

North of Franklin is Fontana dam

and great smoky mountains national park.

Here the trail follows
about 71 miles of ridgeline

over some of the highest peaks
in the eastern United States.

So I was really looking
forward to the smokies.

Like really looking forward to them.

And every day people are
bashing on them and like

there's gonna be snow,
there's all these rules so

I'm looking forward to the smokies but

we'll see if they actually are as good

as I think they're gonna be.

One of the rules
unique to the great smokies

is the backcountry permit requirement.

Since 2013, the park has
become the only part of the at

that hikers must pay to enter.

Great smoky mountains
is, as I understand it,

the most-used park in the country

so you can understand why
there are certain restrictions

on people if there's so
many people using it.

But as a hiker you want some freedom

and with the restrictions
you pretty much must

spend your night at the shelter.

If the shelter is not filled,

then you must fill in to get it full

before you camp outside.

And then, you know, you
have the section hikers

who come through and they have
that whole reservation thing.

So, you know, they can roll
into the camp really late

and then be like we have reservations

and, you know, thru-hikers have to get out

and set up tent outside
which happened like twice.

With its towering peaks,

the popularity of the
smokies is no mystery.

Clingmans dome is the roof
of the appalachian trail.

At 6,643 feet above sea level,

it is the highest peak in the smokies,

the highest peak in Tennessee

and the highest peak on the trail.

On clear days, visibility from the top

of the observation
tower reaches 100 miles.

I was a little bit
shocked at clingmans dome,

I was like what the fuck?

Who put that thing of star
trek on top of that mountain?

It looks like a ufo something.

It was a little bit annoying but,

I mean, okay, that's okay.

I hated the smokies.

Not particularly the smokies,

the weather.
The weather in the smokies.

Yeah, I mean, the smokies are nice.

- Stayed wet for nine days.
- We packed 34 people,

34 or 35 people in a
shelter in the smokies

when it's only supposed to be 15 people.

- 12 or something.
- 'Cause it was pouring rain

and we didn't want people to
get cold and rainy out there.

Just shoved 'em all in there.

Though this
wasn't my experience,

the upper elevations here
usually see between 55

and 85 inches of rain a year,

enough to be classified
as temperate rainforests.

It's just awful when
everything you own is wet

and when your shoes are wet,
your feet hurt even worse

and you slip on stuff, it's not fun.

You hike the appalachian river.


The most difficult
thing is, I would say,

trying to like break
down camp in the rain.

You know, being hungry
and not being able to cook

and just ugh.

It can be difficult but

soon as you put the pack
on and start hiking, man,

it's just, I don't know,
just get into the zone

and just keep going.

And eventually it gets better.

I think 1t rained at least 30 days

out of my first 30 days.

So it was just constant swampy feet

and our feet were just gnarly and

it was mud and rain, it
was nasty but super fun.

The funny thing is now,
any time it's a rainy day,

I just feel like I'm
supposed to be out hiking.

= it had rained on us for about

the entire second half of
one day and all the next day

and we got to a shelter, the
shelter was kind of leaky

and everything I owned was wet

but we kind of rigged up
my tarp to stop the wind

and the rain from getting in

and I just took out my
pad and my sleeping bag

and laid down and I was in
this little bubble of warmth

in like a very, very, very hostile world.

And it was very like,
very physical moment.

Like I was really happy with
the state that my body was in.

If that makes sense. - Yeah.

I've rarely appreciated
being warm so much.

And that was cool, I really liked that.

And I fell asleep like a baby.

To escape the bad weather,

catching a ride at newfound gap

is the way to the nearest town.

When we went through the smokies we had

six and a half days or rain.

And one day and two hours in
the morning of sunshine.

So gatlinburg was a respite.

I hope you enjoy
your visit to gatlinburg.

- Shatlinburg.
- Shatlinburg,

that's what we've named it.

It was a huge contrast
between that and the trail,

it was like a trail town crossed with like

a boardwalk at a beach or something

with an amusement park
mixed in, it was weird.

It was so overwhelming.

sit-down theater attraction

what do you call that
alcohol that they put in jars?

- Moonshine.
- Moonshine?

- Moonshine!
- I got really, really,

really drunk, like really drunk.

Yeah, there was a lot of moonshine.

In gatlinburg we had
people taking our picture

while we were hitchhiking. Yeah.

Like they'd just pull up on the corner

and taking pictures of us with
their iPhones or whatever.

They look at you like you're
like a bear or something.

Happy to get back on the trail

after being there? - Oh yeah.

- Yeah.
- Absolutely,

couldn't get back on
the trail soon enough.

My hike through
the great smoky mountains

was made especially memorable

by the time of year I was there.

So I just came there
when spring arrived.

That was awesome.

There's nothing like
spring in the smokies.

These mountains are old,

relatively undisturbed

and the climate is favorable.

So as a result you have
a diverse and spectacular

display of wildflowers.

You never know what you're
going to find around each bend.

My favorite flower, I think,
is the white fringed phacelia,

endemic to the Southern appalachians,

so found nowhere else in the
world and yet within its range,

it's a small flower,
yet somewhat fragrant.

And so when you pass
by, the air has a hint

of the sweet smell of phacelia.

There's nothing like
spring in the smokies.

For about a week and a half,

we were around the north
Carolina-Tennessee border

just bopping back and forth.

North of the smokies,

the north Carolina-Tennessee
section of trail

is known for its vast
balds, such as Max patch.

That whole walk through Max patch,

I mean, even if you're
just gonna day hike it or

section hike that part,
that's just awesome.

We cowboy camped up on Max patch.

- Oh yeah.
- That was really cool.

That was really cool.

There were a bunch of stars out.

Being able to lay out under the stars

and watch the sunset on one side

and the moon rise on the other

and then being able to wake
up and watch the moon set

on one side and the sunrise
on the other was just amazing.

Camping on Max patch
has to be the highlight

of the trip so far.

The towns have been really great.

Everyone is really, in most
towns, are really supportive

and you can tell they love
that the hikers come through.

And like hot Springs was amazing,

I can see how people get stuck there.

Have there been any highlights

as far as towns go, maybe
hot Springs or Damascus?

- Hot Springs.
- Hot Springs.

Like full stop, hot Springs
was the greatest town ever.

Hot Springs
has everything hikers need.

Food resupply, an outfitter,
bars and restaurants

are located directly on the trail

as it runs down main street.

It's not like there's that much stuff,

it's just all hiker friendly.

It was just everything was designed

perfectly for a hiker.

Everything was close together and,

you know, I just, I
really enjoyed that place.

Well, people talk about how
the big benefit is the trail

but to me, part of the trail
is the zero and the nero days.

Going into the towns, to me,
is part of the experience

and part of the memories.

We've run into people
who just got like sucked in

and couldn't leave, they
were there for like nine days

or something absurd.

I think I kinda got sucked
into the hot Springs bubble

ish, you know, I spent
too much time there

and started getting like
oh, I might move here.

But then getting out of it I'm like, no,

that would be stupid,
there's like one street.

The way I look at it is
when you start the trail,

you're just a normal person,
but then you grow this

like thick layer of like
just toughness and wild

and you just become an animal.

And then when you go and
see your friends and family

or spend too much time in town,

the other side of you
kind of takes back over.

So after a
short while in hot Springs,

it was time to be on my way,

north towards the roan highlands.

Roan highlands were incredible.

Yeah, all those balds.

Right after roan mountain, Jane bald

and hump mountain were
just like amazing climbs.

And I saw snow up there. Really?


On may third or something, it was crazy.

Come on, come on, come on!

Every may,
the trail days festival

is held in Damascus, Virginia,

just north of the Tennessee border.

As in hot Springs, the appalachian
trail runs right through

the middle of Damascus, making the town

an ideal home for the festival.

I got a new pack.

Go Gregory. - For free!

- Yay!
- For free,

she got it for free. - Oh, nice.

Yeah, so that was rad.

The parade was awesome,

seeing everyone whooping and hollering.


And all the people of
Damascus come out to watch us

and spray us with water guns
and all that kind of stuff.

It was just kind of
fun to see all the years

of people that were there.

Trail days
brings together hikers

both past and present.

I mean, everybody knew
everybody, pretty much.

- It was cool.
- Everybody was like-

hey, what's up?

It was cool 'cause
like I saw like everybody

who I'd met on the trail before,

we were kind of spread out at this point,

they're all here together. So,

everybody's around, you
know, just a great community

and, yeah, just one big party.

Skinny as a fucking rail, man.

They're eating
themselves at that point.

That's right.

Trail days was...

A lot of people enjoyed themselves.

It was a little bit of a debauchery.

It would've been my scene

if I were a little bit younger.


Cause it was a
lot of people just like

super messed up on a
lot of different stuff.

There was nothing even
going on, it was just like

a lot of tents in a field.

But we stayed in the
quieter part of tent city

so there was like this big baseball field

all the way to the left and
then there's this big fire pit

and that's where the drum circle is

and that's where it gets crazy.

But I'm super impressed with the people

in the drum circle, like the fourth night,

you know, they're just
like, they're still dancing.

I mean, I think it was Thursday night,

one of my friends, ninja
face was on the drums

and his hand was just swollen up after.

Oh wow.

That's how intense he was going at it.


The bonfire drum circle
definitely exhibits

one kind of very excited energy

that people have for being out here but

I think that it would be
cool if they could capture

that community vibe that you
get when you're seeing people

and meeting people in that more like

relaxed kind of setting
instead of, you know..

For six hours around a raging bonfire.

But that's reminiscent of
our society too, you know?

We put a lot of emphasis
on like yeah, rage!

But nice like, hey, let's, you know,

sit and talk to this person.

So did you
guys go to trail days?

Or miss that?

We skipped it.

We ended up getting there a few days early

but when we rolled into
town there were like

already police officers hustling people.

And then it just kind of seemed
like it was a giant party

and we had been in Damascus
for a couple of days

so it was just like time to leave.


But then like right after that you go to

the Grayson highlands
so we got to enjoy it

like basically by ourselves.

One of my favorite
places in the whole country

I only found out about
because I walked through it.

Grayson highlands has got
these bald mountain tops

with rocky outcroppings.

When I went through, the
rhododendrons were blooming

so there's bright purple flowers.

And there's just, you know, wild ponies.

We're sweaty all day so
we're totally covered in salt

all the time and we had this one pony

that just kept licking us.

I'm walking along,
before we get to the ponies

there was a day hiker
just coming down the hill

and she's like, "don't ever trust a pony."

We're just like what?

She goes, "don't ever,
don't you turn your back

"on those ponies.”

She was so serious.

So we're kind of laughing about that,

we get up there, we're
hanging out at the shelter

and, you know, the ponies come along

and we turned our backs on the ponies

and they start to make off with like,

you know, a sweaty pair of socks.

So she was right, never
turn your back on a pony.

I was really like I will stay here,

I will not go back home.

Fuck Germany, fuck everything.

I'll just stay here,
build a hut somewhere.

Go fishing trout in a stream and

have some horses and go horse riding.

But not every
part of the trail experience

is so idyllic.

The total experience has
been pretty incredible.

You know, it's just, it's
definitely the hardest thing

I've ever done.

I mean, I don't know
anyone who's done a thru-hike

that hasn't been in pain
at some point, you know?

There are no pain-free thru-hikes.

Yeah, various injuries.

Knees, ankles.

Left knee right now, right knee earlier.

I had some sort of illness for a while

where I was throwing up a lot.

Lasted like two weeks but

other than that, you got some blisters,

some foot things going on now.
Yeah, foot things,

blisters, hot spots that open
up right now which bother me.

I mean, I don't know if you've had

that many type of blisters but it hurts.

Every step you take...
Every step.

It hurts.

Little tendonitis in the ankles,

little shin splits here,

it's a little sore here.

I think it's because you
keep walking every day.

Well, yeah.

I lost a few toenails
then my back got infected

from pack rash and I
just waited through it

for a week and then
went to the free medics

at trail days. - So bad.

It was so gross.
And it turned out

being like an infected boil.

And then they just had
to pop it and Lance it.

And gave me some antibiotics

and I just had to take them for a week.

I sprained my ankle
coming out of the smokies

and had to take some time off.

And then as soon as my ankle healed

I got an upper respiratory infection.

But both of those times, actually, like

having to

do what my body was telling me to do

and not what my brain was
telling me to do, you know?

My body is telling me not to hike

and my brain was saying
your friends are moving on,

you know, you've got miles
to go, you've got, you know?

Having that like internal struggle of like

doing what you're supposed to do

and doing what you want to do,

it was actually, it was
really, really hard for me

to see people like move on without me.


My friends are right here.

One of the most common illnesses

among hikers is the norovirus.

Though it usually only
lasts for about 48 hours,

the resulting nausea,
vomiting and diarrhea

make hiking difficult.

Noro is spread through
contact with fecal matter

and is most common in
sections of the trail

without privies.

When hiking the appalachian trail,

finding a convenient bathroom
is not always possible.

Have you had any injuries
or any parts that have been

a little bit tough to get through?

I crapped my pants.

Coming out of hot Springs, I
just ate too much greasy food

and I was about 10 miles from
hot Springs and basically

the trail was cut into a hill

and so it was straight
down, trail, straight down

and I just had to crap and I couldn't,

like there's no way to get off and so like

you just hold it as much as you can

and just hope and pray that
there would be a campsite soon

and eventually there was
but it was not soon enough.

And so, you know, there's no
one to clean up after you,

you have to clean up your own shit.

Out here, what can you do?

You can't throw them
away, you have to wash it,

you have to clean up after yourself.

And so it was just
sitting there being like

I'm miserable and I wish I could quit

but I am 10 miles from anything

and have to clean up after myself.

So you clean up after yourself and

go to bed early.

People on the trail know
how to take care of themselves

and know how to like solve problems

and are flexible and like,

it's like little things like
just don't really get to people

on the trail because
there's been so many other

bigger problems that everyone
has had to deal with.

I mean, there's a lot of...

You know, repetition and
monotony on the trail as well

so I mean, it's just, kind
of have to embrace it.

- Yeah.
- All.

For a lot of thru-hikers,

our tolerance for monotony
is especially tested

in the 550 mile trek through Virginia.

Here, many become afflicted
with the Virginia blues.

There was trail days and
then the Grayson highlands

right after that and it
was just like, oh god,

I don't know how the Virginia blues exist.

But after like a month of being here,

I got 'em pretty hard.

Virginia blues, it's a real thing.

It does exist.

You know, I think a lot of
people start to get a little bit

bored in Virginia and that
contributes a lot to it.

It's summertime, a lot of
people are used to going

on vacations, going to the beach,

so you're thinking about
all the other places

that you'd rather be.

Virginia is so big
that such a long stretch

of the at runs through Virginia

so it gets kind of boring
because you don't have

the state lines, sometimes the state lines

are like milestones and you
think you're getting to places

but in Virginia I thought
I'm stuck here forever.

But Virginia
isn't all green tunnel,

the trail crosses the James river

by way of the James river foot bridge,

named appropriately for hiking advocate

and 1987 thru-hiker, William t. Foot.

Further to the north lie the keffer oak,

the largest blazed tree
on the appalachian trail,

and the rock monoliths dragon's tooth..

And mcafee knob, the
most-photographed spot on the at.

It's just like everyone
tells you Virginia's flat

and Virginia's definitely not flat.

Like at all.

I mean, you don't go up
in super high elevations

but you still go up and down
and up and down every day.

Yeah, I heard a lot
that it was gonna be flat

coming into here, Virginia was
definitely not flat at all.

So that rumor definitely is persisting.

It should be time to
put it to bed for good.

Virginia had a reputation of being easy

so I thought, okay,
here's my 25 mile days.

There weren't nearly as
many of 'em as I expected

plus some of them there's rocks.

And I just expected a cake walk,

I was disillusioned by that.

But that being said, I like
the trail towns of Virginia,

I thought Virginia was pretty.

I enjoyed Virginia.

For me,
Virginia was where my hike

began to feel less like a vacation

and more, for better and worse,

like a new lifestyle.

It's nice not having contact with

all the news and hearing about everything

that's going on in the world.

One of the things about the trail

that I really enjoyed
is just the simplicity,

you know pretty much what
you're doing every day,

you're getting up and hiking,

have a good idea of where you're going.

You might stop short, but you've got

this one trail to follow.

I think it's nice to have
a break from the rat race.

You're with nature, with mother earth

and have only your body to listen to,

nothing forcing messages at you,

only things that are living.

Thus every day is so beautiful.

It's life.

If there is a
flat section of Virginia,

it's through shenandoah national park

near the northern end of the state.

It was really, really flat compared to

what we've been doing recently so

we could just like bust a lot of miles

to the next restaurant.

And that was pretty
much what kept me going

through the shenandoah.

The shenandoahs is pretty pampering,

all the camp stores and everything.

Coffee, sandwich, snacks.

It's nice.

The waysides, that was
great, they had great burgers,

you know, sodas.

I ate as much as I could
through shenandoah.

A lot of places to eat
which was really nice.

Yeah, that was the best part.

The wildlife was pretty crazy,
the deer coming up to you.

Even with all
the park-protected animals,

the existence of skyline drive

makes shenandoah less of
a wilderness experience

than other parts of the trail.

The at crosses this road frequently.

When skyline drive was
initially being proposed,

it was a source of great controversy,

controversy that led to
a permanent falling out

between Benton mackaye and myron Avery.

After a while they
had a very sharp split

because mackaye was a dreamer

and was like let's protect
this trail everywhere

and Avery was the okay,
let's get this done.

They wound up splitting over
the proposed skyline drive

in what was already
shenandoah national park.

Through a
depression-era new deal program

called the civilian
conservation corps, or ccc,

the federal government
had assisted in building

the appalachian trail.

To oppose skyline drive

would risk losing the federal
government as an ally.

Mackaye opposed that road,
Avery said it was okay.

The road was following,
gonna follow the route where

the appalachian trail
had actually been put

and they had to move the trail

in order to accommodate the road.

In a later
interview, mackaye said,

The last known correspondence
between Avery and mackaye

depicts them amidst the
argument over skyline drive.

When mackaye wrote to criticize
Avery's support of the road,

Avery wrote back,

Given their different
personalities and approaches,

the falling out between the man of ideas

and the man of action
may have been inevitable.

And yet the combination
of ideas and action

each man provided did
something extraordinary.

And on August 14th, 1937,

a ccc team completed the final stretch

of the appalachian trail.

The dream had become reality.

Technically, a thru-hike involves
walking every white blazed

part of the trail but many
hikers opt to mix things up.

I got to aqua Blaze the shenandoahs

and that was a really cool experience.

In hiker speak,

aqua blazing is when a section of trail

is bypassed on water.

Blue blazing is when hikers
bypass part of the at

on a different trail.

And bypassing part of
the trail in a vehicle

is called yellow blazing.
Yellow blazing-

- it's when you follow the
yellow lines in the road.

Following the yellow lines
in the road, it's basically,

in some people's minds cheating.

Other people's, it's hike your own hike.

Hitchhiking is still hiking.

And then there's pink blazing.

Pink blazing is when you
find that you're attracted

to someone and you change
the course of your hike

to match theirs.

In a passionate way.

And sometimes make a fool of yourself.

The hard thing about
pink blazing is it's like,

well are they following
you, are you following them,

or are you just hiking around each other?

But it's not that
serendipitous, like, oh,

it just so happens that
we're all at the same shelter

again for night seven in a row!

Like at some point, you know
someone's following someone.

I think it started out
where we were following them,

like we're never gonna
hike more than 15 miles

in the smokies and then we
were doing like three 18s

to keep up with them.

And then by the end they were
following us and we're like...

They were doing like 12 mile days

and chilling. - To stay with us.

Whether it's friendships
or like people you hike with,

I think it's way less solo hikers now

and like people who have
started hiking together

and they're either like
real couples or friendships.

I don't know any straight
woman out here who's like...

Completely by themselves.

- Completely by themselves.
- Yeah.

Even if she wants to be.


- No, like, but seriously!
- Maybe.

Maybe you don't wanna be, I don't know.

- I don't know, yeah.
- Be interesting.

Makes it a lot
harder to pink Blaze.

Tell me about it!

I'm chomping at the bit, I'm
ready to get out of Virginia

and start knocking out the states again.

You know, you go through,

West Virginia's only like four miles.

North of Virginia,

the trail moves into Harpers
ferry, West Virginia,

the site of abolitionist
John brown's 1859 raid.

Brown attempted to raid the town's arsenal

in order to start an armed
revolution and end slavery.

He was thwarted and hanged.

But in terms of hikers,

the most significant
place in Harpers ferry

is the office of the
appalachian trail conservancy.

Since its founding in 1925,

the atc has been the leading organization

in building and maintaining the trail.

From 1925 to 1937 we
helped build the trail.

For the next 30 years we came
up with a sustainable plan

for using our trail club
affiliated partners

and our own abilities to
put trail crews on the trail

to actually manage, maintain,

rehab, relocate the trail

and we've got, I think, a
great system for that now.

The atc also
keeps a photo archive

of the hikers that pass through.

All right, looks like
you've hiked 1,000 some miles.

The trail through Harpers ferry

goes past Jefferson rock.

Its namesake, Thomas Jefferson,

would say of the view from the rock,

"this scene is worth a
voyage across the Atlantic.”

North of Harpers ferry,

the trail runs along the
c&o canal into Maryland.

Maryland is home to several state parks,

including the war
correspondents memorial arch

in gathland state park

and Washington monument state park.

Completed in 1827, this
Washington monument

predates the one in D.C. by 61 years.

People think that Maryland is easy.

Maryland is not easy.

None of this trail I've
been on so far is easy.

The sad truth is that most of the people

that start a long hike,

an expedition length backing trip,

the sad truth is that most of them,

for one reason or another,
do not complete it.

I definitely thought about quitting.

I'm not going to quit but, you know,

anybody that says that there's no way

that they would ever think
about quitting a trail,

that's just not true.

Like you're gonna think
about quitting at some point,

it's just a matter of
how you deal with it.

Some days are really
hard, it was kinda like eh,

I didn't see too many people today.

You know, I've gone enough
miles to start thinking about

like, eh, it's enough miles for me.

You know, maybe I'll go home.

I don't know what it is
that makes you just keep going

but it's maybe stubbornness,
stupidity, I don't know.

I sometimes
found that listening to music,

podcasts or audio books helped.

I listen to a lot of books.

Right now I'm listening to
Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

And that kinda gets me in my head

so I'm just trucking along

and not really thinking about stuff.

milestones like the at mid-point

can be another strong motivator.

I really was like hustling
to get this halfway point

'cause I feel like it's a milestone,

it's like you've made it that far.

So it gives you a little juice, hopefully,

to continue on, you know?

Near the mid-point

is the appalachian trail museum.

And you kind of like look at the history

and it gave me like a second wind,

or like more motivation
I guess you could say.

The museum
has exhibits on the trail

and its most famous thru-hikers.

The first thru-hiker was
a guy named Earl shaffer.

He was a veteran of world war il.

Before the
war, shaffer and his friend,

Walter winemiller, dreamed
of hiking the trail together.

But Walter was killed at lwo jima

and shaffer wrote,

In 1948, after reading an
article about the trail,

shaffer decided to revisit his old dream

and walk the army out of his system,

both mentally and physically.

In his memoir, walking
with spring, shaffer,

who used the trail name crazy one,

describes a challenging journey.

At that time the trail
was not easy to follow

in many places, it was
not that well marked.

Three years after the war
ended, the volunteers,

level of volunteerism that was available

during the war was minimal, so
he had to hunt for the trail.

I mean, it wasn't like
today where you follow

one white Blaze after another.

J far yonder lies a long,
high, lonesome trail >

while he
was making his way north,

the appalachian trailway
news published an article,

co-written by myron Avery,
explaining why a thru-hike

would be virtually impossible.

When shaffer finished, he
was thoroughly cross examined

by trail officials to prove
that he had truly walked

the entire trail.

Shaffer would go on to
complete two more thru-hikes,

a north-to-south hike in 1965

and another northbound hike in 1998,

when he was 79 years old.

J and point the way to
heaven's vestibule j

j far yonder lies a long,
high lonesome trail >

by then, large sections of trail

had been rerouted away from flat roads

and over more hills and mountains.

Shaffer felt that this made
the trail too difficult.

He ended his last thru-hike saying,

Between his hikes, shaffer stayed involved

with the trail community,
including serving for five years

as atc corresponding secretary.

He died of cancer in 2002.

In Benton mackaye's original
appalachian trail proposal,

he argued for the mental health benefits

of being in nature.

Since then, various psychological studies

have supported his notions.

As Earl shaffer walked
the trail to find peace

after suffering trauma and loss,

others have followed in his footsteps.

I got medically retired
out for PTSD out of the army


There's like the warrior walk out here,

I've seen a couple of
other army dudes out here,

veterans and shit like that,
just trying to calm down.

I guess maybe you might
calm down a little bit

and see things a little brighter

after you get smacked
down by mother nature

like every day for a few
months, it might help you,

I'm not sure but

it's something to do, right, you know?

For 18 years I've been a
corrections chaplain in Ohio,

you know, married with five kids and

I'd just always looked
at it, despite my desire,

and thought how does anybody ever do that?

You know?

How do you resign from life

for five or six months and just go out and

pursue that?

Then, eight months ago last...

September 21, my wife died.
I'm sorry to hear that.

You know, and that,

it just changes everything so

it went from something I
felt like I wanted to do

to something I felt like I needed to do.

I actually, I had been
pretty depressed for a while

before coming out here and
always known of the trail

as kind of like an option
of something I could do.

I wanted something big to do

and typically when I'm
upset I go on a long walk.

So I decided to go on a really long walk.

So now I'm here.

Inspired by shaffer's 1948 hike,

long-distance backpacking began
to slowly gain popularity.

The numbers of thru-hikers
picked up very slowly.

The next person to do it was
a guy named gene espy in 1952.

In 1955, 67-year-old
Emma "grandma" gatewood

became the first woman
to thru-hike the trail.

Wearing tennis shoes and
carrying a bag rather than

a backpack and sleeping on a
lot of people's front porches,

not seeking publicity but
she got a lot of publicity.

She became a national figure.

I think that she gets probably more credit

than anyone else for popularizing the idea

of hiking the whole appalachian trail.

By the end of the 1960s,

less than 100 people had hiked
the entire appalachian trail.

Over 700 people hiked in the 1970s alone.

Since then, the number of
thru-hikers each decade

more and more people are
finding reasons to thru-hike.

So why'd you guys wanna do the trail?

That's a tough question.

I guess the main reason is I've never,

I've started a lot of things in my life

but I've never really completed something.

And I figured this would
be a pretty good thing

to start and finish.

The idea of hiking the
appalachian trail terrified me

so naturally I had to do it.

Well, I didn't really have
a whole lot of other things

to do, really.

I graduated college about a year ago

and I was an english major
so jobs weren't exactly

thrown my way or anything like that.

I just like to hike.

I know everybody's got like
a really big back story

sometimes but I just like to hike.

Regardless of their reasons

for starting the trail,

many hikers agree on their
least favorite section.

Pa was by far my least favorite state

right now, I guess at this point.

Every rock in northern
Pennsylvania is a point.

And all of 'em are like
that close together

and they're like embedded
into the ground so...

- And they move.
- No flat place to step,

it's all just spikes on the
bottoms of your feet all day.

I wanted to quit pretty much

the whole way through Pennsylvania.

My feet still hurt from the rocks.

I destroyed multiple pairs of inserts.

You're just worried
about rolling your ankle

the whole time and there's
not really much of a view

and the view you get is just farmland.

But the people were nice,

we had some really good trail magic.

In fact, most of the trail

in Southern Pennsylvania
is through flat farmland.

- The last 50-ish miles?
- Yeah.

70 miles or so, that's rocksylvania.

The beginning of it I didn't
feel like was too bad actually.

- It wasn't terrible.
- And it was

super well maintained, I thought.

About 80 miles
north of the Mason-Dixon line

is the town of duncannon,
home to the Doyle hostel

and to the cabin, the only strip bar

located directly on the at.

North of duncannon is
the worst of the rocks.

The way the northbounders
would talk about it

was like, you know,
Pennsylvania was the worst!

At some point your sort
of just expected to see

northbounders impaled on the rocks

when you went through it
just 'cause it was so bad,

apparently, but I mean,

we were like, oh, this is it?

Oh, okay.

If I had any fun
with the rocks of Pennsylvania

it was during the climb up
the zinc superfund site,

the location of a former
zinc smelting operation

that left the side of
blue mountain defoliated.

Climbing the superfund site,

I felt as if I was living
through a true adventure.

My life is a video game.

Like I get to be out here in the world

and I'm walking it.

You know, it's like a
different adventure every day.

The site is located just outside

the town of palmerton.

When I hiked in 2014,

palmerton was a popular hiker rest stop.

But that was soon to change.

There are people out here
that are like serious hikers,

people that are just enjoying it,

but then there's partiers.

Like there's people that you run into

that are just out to drink, you know,

hang out, smoke, not get
up and hike 'til 11 or 12

then, you know, not put in serious miles.

But that's whatever
you wanna do, you know?

To each their own, but, yeah.

I'm not out here to party.

Like there's a big party
culture on the trail.

Occasionally, that party culture

becomes a problem.

For 40 years, palmerton
allowed hikers to stay for free

in the town hall basement.

In 2015, the town ended that service

because of hiker behavior.

A lot of places
unfortunately, like in New York

and closer to new england
where there had been

camping available at
stores and stuff like that,

like behind garden centers and whatever,

but it was all closed to us.

The northbounders ruined it all for us.

- Or, you know, whoever.
- People ruined it.

- Yeah, yeah.
- Other hikers.

- Being irresponsible.
- Laundromats were like,

no, some guy got naked
here, you can't clean

your clothes here anymore. Yeah.

In waynesboro, Virginia, there
was like a free ymca shower

and a free park where we could camp at

and some hikers got
drunk like a few nights

before I got there and ended
up like burning a tent down and

left like trash everywhere
that people had to clean up.

I don't really get how
people get so entitled.

Like we're just walking in the woods,

we can't come out and then, you know,

expect people to just give us things and

expect to be able to just get trashed

and make as much noise
and party everywhere.

Like some people really think that.

It seems like I've heard
more stories this year about

bad hikers and it's really
disheartening because

they're giving the other ones a bad name

and for the most part
people are really helpful,

really friendly, abide by the rules.

And it's just sad that some
hostels are having a hard time

with a bad egg or two.

- Yeah.
- Yeah.

New Jersey was great

'cause you get out of Pennsylvania
and it's just instantly

like way better.

While it has its share of views,

New Jersey is one of the lowest
states on the east coast.

Its highest point of elevation,

the appropriately-named high point,

is only about 1,800 feet above sea level.

The trail here runs close to civilization

but wild animal sightings are common.

Oh my gosh!

New Jersey has definitely
got some serious bear activity.

Black bears,
the only bears found near

the appalachian trail.

Unlike the grizzlies found
in the western United States,

black bears are rarely aggressive.

Bears will poke around here and there

but most of the time they're afraid of you

more than you are them and you
kinda yell and they'll run.

I've had a couple encounters where

they don't really wanna back off,

they get accustomed to people, our food.

There were these kinda comical

posters about a problem bear in the area.

So we sorta laughed at them,
somebody had a sharpie marker

and drew a pair of glasses
on one of the illustrations

so we were kinda laughing about it.

We get to the shelter, we take
all the proper precautions,

we hung our bags up on cables.

In the middle of the night
we hear this like ting ting

ting ting weird sound.

So immediately I think that
mice are getting into our packs.

So I wake up and I turned my headlamp on.

I'm like, "guys, guys, I think the mice

"are getting into our packs!"

And from the other side of the shelter,

another hiker turns his headlamp on

and he's got a view outside of the shelter

and he just goes, "that's a big mouse!"

And it turns out there was
a rather large black bear

just tugging on the cables.

And it had figured out that
if it tugged hard enough

it would break the crimp in the cable.

So all the sudden our
food falls to the ground.

It grabs our food bag,
we go into bear mode

so we're like taking our
pots and pans and just

yelling at it trying to scare it off.

The bear didn't care, it ended
up laying down in front of us

and eating our food.

So we got some camp fuel
and we lit the fire.

And it still didn't care,

it ate all of our food by firelight.

So we waited there,
kinda terrified all night

and there was another
guy sleeping in a tent

and we were able to get
him up to the shelter

just 'cause there's safety in numbers.

And the rest of the night we hear the bear

pulling on the bear cables
where his stuff is hung.

And then in the morning
as the sun's coming up,

we can see the bear still
pulling on the cables,

it sees that we're watching
it and it just gives up

'cause it can't get the food down.

And then it thrashed his tent.

It just tore it apart.

So basically we made
Spears and we tied our

leatherman knives to the
ends of sticks and stuff

and then we all hiked out,
you know, close together.

In the woods,
you're never completely alone.

Snakes, I've seen so many snakes.

- Snakes.
- Yeah.

I've seen an overabundance of the

black rat snakes all over the place,

like most of them have
been over four feet,

I think the biggest one
I saw was like six feet.

The black rat
snake may look intimidating,

however they are not venomous.

Rattlesnakes and copperheads are.

I was about four miles out from camp,

nobody was behind me,
and I hike in chacos

and I looked down and there
was a copperhead at my feet

and it like strikes at my foot

and I like just was
inches away from getting

bit by this copperhead.

I was on a lake with my camera

taking a picture and suddenly a guy said,

"please don't move."

I didn't move, I had my camera like that,

I looked between my legs
and was a copper rattlesnake

between my legs.

I stopped breathing, you know?

When it was three feet away, I breathed,

I turn back, there were
three other ready to strike.

I was in a den rattlesnake,
and I didn't see it coming!

Maybe it's not hard to imagine

why some people think of the woods

as a place where danger
lurks around every corner.

The most shocking
comment I got was like,

"aren't you gonna bring a gun?

"It's so unsafe out here."

I'm like no, that's, a.
That's like 10 pounds

that I don't wanna carry.
Yeah, I have a little

Swiss army knife.
And b. That's just like

adding more risk of it going off.

- Yeah.
- And the whole thing

about the trail is you
wanna bring people together.


I saw one guy with a
gun and I was like...


I have an American friend
that kept on telling me

to get a gun for the bears.

But I didn't take it seriously.

We have bigger snakes in Australia.

- Yeah.
- They're more poisonous but,

lyme disease, I was scared,

I'm scared of that.
Yeah, we're worried.

I still am scared of lyme disease.

Transmitted through tick bite,

lyme disease is an infection
whose symptoms include:

Lyme disease can be
prevented with bug spray

and treated with antibiotics

but it has forced many a thru-hiker

temporarily off the trail.

I got one deer tick bite

so we'll see if that turns into lyme,

otherwise we'll be fine.

All of my female friends
were like bring a gun,

bring mace, like don't trust humans.

violence committed by humans

is incredibly rare.

There have been less than 15
murders or attempted murders

reported along the appalachian
trail since its inception.

By comparison, the FBI
estimates there were over 15,000

murders committed across the
United States in 2015 alone.

In normal life, you
accept all these different

like potential causes of death.

You know, like you drive
your car all the time.

Same thing when you get on the trail,

it's like you accept the
fact that a bear could,

you could have some sort
of encounter with a bear

or you could get struck by lightning

or you could get squashed
by a tree but you just,

you accept the risks
and you don't constantly

live with them in the
front of your mind.

It's just a different
way of living, you know?

If there's scary things,
there's scary things.

Animal sightings
are all but guaranteed

in New York where the trail passes

right through the bear mountain zoo.

Also located directly on the trail

is a train that goes
straight into New York City.

I went to New York City for a day

but I got the hell out of there
as soon as I got in there.

I took the train in, I took the bus out.

Kinda like I'm
ready to get back in the woods

type thing? - Too expensive.

Can't ask anybody anything,
let's get outta here.

People go much more out
of their way on the trail

to be nice to you,
just random strangers,

which is not something you really get,

I think, in day-to-day life.

But it is a really big
part of the trail.

You meet all these
perfectly nice strangers

that will give you a place
to stay and give you food

and you trust them
within just meeting them

and that doesn't really
happen in the real world.

You don't take time to have conversations

and to get to know someone as
quickly as you do on the trail

because you don't have those
distractions around you.

The good in people comes out, I think.

I think most people
are naturally good but

in the city it's kind
of hard to be good,

I think, sometimes, honestly.

Like if I was in D.C. and
someone offered me a bananas

and oatmeal cream pies,
I'd probably walk away.

Call the cops, like, hey.

But on the trail it's
a whole different life.

As it's
closeness to the city implies,

the trail in New York is
often near civilization.

I was annoyed by the
constant sound of cars

as I was hiking through New York.

It seemed like I was
always near a freeway

and I think that detracted
from the wilderness experience.

You rather preferred
sleeping in the like

complete silence in
the middle of the woods

than somewhere where you
can hear the highway.

Though it's not always easy,

the atc works to preserve the
wilderness around the trail.

We were very involved
in having a proposed

huge casino development
in Southern New York

which would've been directly below

and very visible from the trail,

having that project rejected
by the state of New York,

which did approve some new casino sites.

This one was probably the
best-financed proposal

and it had the most opposition

and a large piece of that
was because it would've

really degraded the
appalachian trail view shed.

Most thru-hikers
travel through Connecticut's

51 miles during the
hottest months of the year.

Connecticut, for me, was actually

the least favorable state that I was in

and partly that was due to the weather,

it was hot and humid when
I went through Connecticut.

The mosquitoes were bad.

Connecticut sucked.

Yeah, there were no...
Connecticut was the worst.

There were no views, it was
just pointless up and downs.

- Puds all day.
- The entire way.

- And the people hated us.
- Nobody wanted us there.

North of Connecticut,

the 90 miles of trail in Massachusetts

offer a similar experience.

Where you were like in the lowlands

and walking through swamps
and you couldn't stop,

it was awful.

Yeah I woke up with
my face, my upper lip

out past my nose one
morning from a spider bite.

In, that was in Massachusetts.
Pine swamp shelter.

- Pine swamp shelter.
- I'll never forget it.

That was in
Massachusetts, you said?

- I think so.
- Pine swamp was Connecticut.

- Oh was it?
- Oh wow, Connecticut.

Another reason to not like Connecticut.

Just another strike for Connecticut.

Massachusetts, I probably
would cut that state out

altogether, I don't know if
it's just when I was there

or what but the mosquitoes
were just horrendous

and I almost quit.

After coming all of that way.

The highest
peak in Massachusetts

is mount greylock.

At 3,400 feet, greylock is
one of the tallest mountains

in Southern new england

but it's little more than a hill

compared to the peaks to the north.

The trail in Vermont often reaches around

4,000 feet above sea level.

Mount killington, the
state's second-highest peak,

ascends 4,229 feet.

The southernmost 105
miles of appalachian trail

in Vermont are the same
as Vermont's long trail,

which stretches from
Massachusetts to Canada.

Completed in 1930, the
long trail predates the at

by seven years.

Vermont was probably the best so far,

just the mountaintops in Vermont,

it's really true to the
green mountain state thing.

They were gorgeous, there
were plants I'd never seen,

it was soft at the top.

I think Vermont was the best hiking,

the best trail, you could
hike and not worry about

I broke my finger in Vermont.

Vermont, for the most part,

looks like it hasn't been maintained

pretty much ever.

I mean, it looks like
they built the boardwalks

40 years ago and that was what happened,

that was it, that's the trail.

Some of 'em are so loose, you know,

you step on one side
and the other side comes

completely up, spikes and all!

She steps on one side and I
wasn't paying any attention.

And the other end flies up

and it hits me in the shin

and I just toppled over.
Face plants.

'Cause we were like moving along

and I was holding my
trekking poles in one hand

and I went to try and
ditch my trekking poles

before I fell and instead
I just got my hand

tangled up in it and
when I hit the board...


It like snapped this
finger all the way back.

You know, it was like swollen
but I checked it for movement

and made sure all the
joints bent and I was like,

okay, whatever, it's fine.

'Cause at that point I was
like bleeding all over my shin

and it was like already all swollen.

And the next day I woke up

and my finger was...
He's like wake up, wake up!

And I'm like what? It was huge.

And he's holding his finger
over my face and I'm like

oh god! - It was crazy.

It was like purple and yellow, I mean,

it was twice the size that it normally is.

It was hugely swollen.
But, yeah, boardwalks.

It's funny you
said you didn't think Vermont

was very well maintained
'cause the guy who came through

before said he thought it was
the best maintained state.

I remember it
basically as vermud.

Yeah, it was just muddy.

It's probably different for everybody,

you know, depending on what time of year

you go through there, I'm sure.

But I mean, when we went
through there, it rained

once a day and most of the
boardwalks were under water.

The trail
crosses into New Hampshire

through the town of Hanover...

Home of dartmouth college.

It sometimes can get the
reputation as being like a

snobbish town 'cause of dartmouth.

But everybody there was
just really nice to me.

I had a trail angel
that allowed me to stay

at her house for two days.

I actually got two free doughnuts

at the diner there in town.

You can get a free slice of
pizza at the ramunto's place.

Just a really nice town for
me, I had a good experience.

Hanover, with
its numerous trail angels,

is a perfect rest for hikers

before they enter the white mountains.

Nowhere else on the appalachian trail

has the potential for bad weather

like the white mountains of New Hampshire.

Once you got up on some of those peaks,

there's basically a chance of thunderstorm

after 2 P.M. any day,
anything can happen really.

So there's a couple of times in the whites

where I was forced off the
peak either by lightning or,

you know, raining sideways or hail,

even on like an 80-degree day.

Coming down into the Madison hut

it started sleeting on us.

It was bad, super icy.

I think it took us like a half
hour to do 0.2 or something,

something crazy like that.

New Hampshire, the whites,
was the most difficult

thing I've ever done, physically
and mentally in my life.

We had about seven days
of rain and temperatures

in the high 30s and low 40s.

It was tough but I loved it though.

It was just like being in a giant cloud,

that was the whites for me.

Even when the weather is good,

steep and rocky terrain

makes for some of the most
difficult hiking on the at.

The whites were very challenging.

It's harder to go long miles in the whites

because of the steep terrain.

But my favorite views were
definitely in the whites,

particularly the Southern whites,

I thought were just absolutely gorgeous.

Some of the
most impressive views

are seen from franconia Ridge

and from the mountains of
the presidential range,

most famously, mount Washington.

At 6,289 feet,

mount Washington is the
highest of the white mountains.

In the winter, the peak
can see temperatures

as low as -36 degrees fahrenheit

with a windchill of -94, colder
than the surface of Mars.

But in the summer, it is a
popular tourist destination.

I enjoyed mount Washington

although I felt a bit on display

'cause there's so many tourists

and they're all looking at you sideways.

You get to the top of mount Washington

and you're on top of this amazing mountain

and there's like electronic doors

and like people payinglfor
overpriced pizza.

And it was really funny.

To see less
commercialized white mountains,

on foot is the only way to travel.

Once you get above treeline it's

so fun and exciting that
you don't really even notice

how hard it actually is.

I thought Southern Maine was
way harder than the whites.

The most challenging
part of the trail is Maine.

And when you're a southbound,
the further challenge is

starting with that,
it's a baptism by fire.

It's just so brutal,
the terrain is so brutal.

I think it took me
like an hour and a half

to do the mahoosuc notch.

The mahoosuc notch was like this amazing

jungle gym for hikers.

I loved it, other people hate it.

For me it was just one
of the most fun miles

I've ever hiked anywhere.

The most difficult section
is mahoosuc notch, you know?

And that year, I learned
at monson shelter,

that a blind man did it
with the help of two others.

I don't know if you know
the mahoosuc notch, you

have big holes and a guy
was trusting his fellow,

put your hand there, your
feet, if not, you fall.

He's quite crazy, I think.

What I didn't like was
mahoosuc's arm afterwards

where you have to go up that massive hill

straight after the notch.

I mean, it's hard but you
climb over all these peaks

and you have awesome views.

It's really beautiful
and it's quite different

to the rest of the trail, I found.

Those roots and rocks are a
bit challenging in the rain

but apart from that, I
thought it was stunning

and Maine really does a beautiful pond.

I love the ponds up here.

Some of the most
spectacular ponds in Maine

are seen from the peaks
of the bigelow mountains

such as Avery peak,

named for the great trail builder himself.

Upon the trail's 1937
completion, myron Avery wrote,

In 1952, myron Avery
died at the age of 53.

The task of preserving
the trail passed to others

and new challenges presented themselves.

After world war il, and
certainly as we pushed on

into the 1960s, the 1970s,

there was a lot of subdivision

of rural lands, farmland, forest land,

places where the at had been for,

in some cases, several decades.

That has resulted inlthe
necessity to have a

publicly-owned and
permanently-protected footpath.

In 1968, congress passed

the national trails system act.

Upon signing the act into law,

president lyndon Johnson
spoke of a desire to,

The appalachian trail and
the pacific crest trail

became the first two
trails to be designated

for federal protection.

As of 2018, there are 11
national scenic trails

in the United States.

Congress, in 1978, came back and said,

to the national park service,
you need to protect this trail

for the use of future
generations and you need to do it

by buying land because
that's the only way

we can guarantee that protection.

And they said we're gonna give you money

to do a very ambitious
land acquisition project.

And that's what the park service

and to some extent the us forest service

and also certain states like Pennsylvania

and Massachusetts and
Maryland and New Jersey

have collaborated with the
federal government to do

to the point where today

the trail is 2,189 miles long.

Over 99% of that is on public lands

and is permanently protected.

The national
park service and the atc

have a special government
to nonprofit relationship.

When they made that
big decision to accept

government money and allow
the government into the trail

they were concerned that,

you know, the government would
come in and control things.

And so they signed this
agreement, you know, back in 1984.

According to the agreement,

the national park service only
handles government functions

that can't be delegated,
including those regarding:

The government allows the atc to remain

the primary managers of the trail.

In 2005, the appalachian
trail conference

decided to change its name

to the appalachian trail conservancy.

We wanted to be clear thatlour mission went

just the management of the trail

and the maintenance of the trail

but also went to the long-term
protection of the trail,

the conservation of the trail.

Atc has had a major role, leading role,

in lobbying congress and a
number of administrations

to make protecting the
appalachian trail a high priority

and to get the best possible
route for the trail.

During Benton
mackaye and myron Avery's

argument over skyline
drive, Avery rightly noted

that the road was not interfering

with the wilderness trail
because the appalachian trail

was never a path through true wilderness.

The one thing about the trail

I probably didn't really understand was

it's just not as remote as you
think it's gonna be, for me.

I was really in the
mindset of you gotta bring,

you know, a back up for
this and well what if you're

out there and this, and
the reality of it is,

you know, every five to
10 miles there's a road

that leads a couple miles to
some kind of a town or store.

The longest
stretch of wilderness on the at

is the 100 mile wilderness
in northern Maine.

If you could take one
section of the trail

and encapsulate it as
the broader experience

of what the trail is like,

I think this is probably the best example

because you've got your,
you know, your rock climbs,

you have the roots, the mud,

the fording, it has it all in 100 miles.

The only major
fords on the at are in Maine

and multiple rivers cross the trail

in the 100 mile wilderness.

Oh no!

I was gonna say, you
made that look so easy

with shoes on.

I shouldn't
have let go of the rope

is the thing. - Aw, damn.

- The rocks and the roots.
- Yeah.

It's been taking a lot out of me.

I think everybody's shoes are,

like the tread is not
as great as it has been.

So everybody's just
slipping all over the place.

Walking over 2,000 miles

takes its toll on both
equipment and the body

and many thru-hikers go
through the wilderness

eager to finish their journey.

I think it could have
been done in 50 miles

and skip a lot of the lakes.

The lakes are cool and all but

I feel like at this point
people would rather just

go straight through.

By early October, it's time for

northbound hikers to finish
or risk the winter weather.

"Man is born to die.

"His works are short lived.

"Buildings crumble, monuments
decay and wealth vanishes

"but katahdin, in all its glory,

"forever shall remain the
mountain of the people of Maine."

So wrote governor percival Baxter,

the man who, in 1930,
bought mount katahdin

and its surroundings
for the state of Maine.

Today, the highest peak of
Maine's highest mountain

is named in his honor.

Baxter peak is also the northern terminus

of the appalachian trail.

I hope this works.

Named by the
penobscot indigenous people,

katahdin means "the greatest mountain.”

The trail here is strenuous

but every hand-over-hand
scramble is worth it.

As early as September,

katahdin's upper reaches
can be covered by hoarfrost.

This was the weather when I
first climbed the mountain.

The next year, I returned
to climb the mountain again,

accompanying my dad for the
end of his own thru-hike.

- Woo!
- Yeah.

Up on the tablelands.

At the tableland,
the terrain levels off

for the northernmost 1.6 miles
of the appalachian trail.


After nearly 2,200 miles,

the journey of many a thru-hiker
ends here at Baxter peak.


I had never done any kind
of long-distance backpacking

before this and most of these
other people haven't either


just to

push myself when things got hard,

I used to quit everything I've ever done

except for college.

So it was nice to see
that I could push myself

to actually finish something for once.

What are you gonna miss about

life on the trail when you go back to

the world? Well, I'm gonna miss

how nice people are, people
are so wonderful on the trail.

People out here are awesome.

I mean, you get the variety
that have done nothing

with their lives that just
choose one day to go out there,

there are college kids procrastinating,

there are also old war vets
that are on their third time

hiking this trail and they're
all mashed up into this

lovely little group.

I mean there's so many
different walks of life

represented here, people
that you wouldn't normally

talk to or get a chance to meet
or commune with like at all.

And I think that that's
the most valuable part

of the whole trail experience.

I think I'm friends with a lot,

a lot more different people

than I would be in the real world,

in terms of like age difference and like,

I don't know, personality type or...



- Political beliefs.
- Yeah, die free!

We love him!

Like one of my closest
friends on the trail

is this like really intense libertarian,

he's gonna hate me for saying
this, bro from New Hampshire.

And it's like,

me and him could not be more different

and we're tight, he's great.

We get on really well.

There's not a lot of fluff, you know?

There's not a lot of extraneous

unimportant societal, you know,

facets that often times
I think get in the way of

more genuine human interaction.

Trail magic
is another vital part

of the trail community.

This is awesome, a blessing today.

I learned that all the things I was told

when I was a child about
strangers are totally wrong.

Always take...

Don't do what your mother tells you.

Yeah, you always accept candy,

always accept rides in white panel vans.

If someone invites you to
take a shower at their house,

the answer is yes. - Yes!

After 40 years of work, I got
where I almost hated people.

I've had so many nice people
that I met on the trail,

so many, it's kinda
renewed my faith in people.

That's been a great
thing and it's made me,

it's making me a better person.

Over the last couple days
in the 100 mile wilderness

I was thinking back and reflecting,

thinking about all the people
who are responsible for

making the appalachian
trail what it is today.

Of course, Benton mackaye
who conceived the idea.

And myron Avery who
performed one of the

truly superhuman feats in
conservation slash recreation

history with the initial
building of the trail.

But all the thousands and
thousands of volunteers

who come out every
year, year after year,

decade after decade
to maintain the trail,

maintain the shelters

and make it what it is today.

And as I finish my thru-hike,
I feel a strong calling

to give back to the trail.

Having hiked 2,200 miles almost,

I still have a lot of energy
and a lot of enthusiasm

for the trail and I'm determined to

go and help out, make this
trail an even better trail

for the next generation
of hikers to come along.

Hikers give
back to the at community

by becoming involved with the 31 clubs

that maintain the trail.

98% percent of the work
is being done by volunteers

through these clubs.

We couldn't do,

we couldn't do what we
do without the clubs.

Not only do they manage
the trail on a daily

and weekly basis, but
they're our eyes and ears

that are out there on the trail.

They're suggesting where the trail

might need to be relocated.

They're looking at the boundaries,

they're watching for
inappropriate uses of the trail.

As trail use increases,

volunteers become more
and more important.

Well that certain wear
and tear on the trail,

but more importantly,
just imagine the impacts

on overnight use.

On, you know, shelter sites,

camp sites, backcountry sanitation,

I mean, all of those are
gonna be bigger challenges.

One, two three.

Okay, that's good, now just slide it,

slide it towards...

The future
of the appalachian trail

depends on the trail
clubs and trail community.

This trail's beautiful,
I need to pinch myself.

Things like that can be taken away,

we need to make sure
that doesn't happen.

- We have all kinds of
threats: Subdivisions,

new towns being developed in
valleys next to the trail,

gas pipelines, wind towers,
these are things we face

almost daily, so the
integrity of the trail

is always at stake and atc, communities

that work closely with the atc,

our trail clubs and other
conservation groups,

are united to try to protect this trail

for future generations.

In his plan
for a barbarian utopia,

Benton mackaye envisioned
it as a means of connecting

a massive community.

But while the modern trail

is not the one mackaye
first outlined in 1921,

it is more than just a footpath.

Over the years, a
different sort of community

has grown around it.

- Ooh!
- Ah!

And it's this
community that continues

to make adventures on the
appalachian trail possible.

= I had no idea that I could

do something and love
something that hurt so much.

Basically every single day

I was just totally excited to be out here.

I loved every moment of it.

But at the same time, everything
hurt, I was uncomfortable,

I smelled bad, you know?

In normal life we try to avoid
anything that's uncomfortable

or, you know, just unsavory

and so much of the trail
is, you've got blisters,

your ankle hurts, your knee hurts.

Your shorts are too
sweaty and you've got

some chafing going on.

And, you know, after doing the trail,

I just kind of just dreamed about it.

So partly I learned that

you can get enjoyment
out of something that's

not necessarily always pleasurable.

And then the other thing I
really learned to enjoy is that

you can always, if
you're in a situation

where you have to rely on
the kindness of strangers,

you'll be amazed at how often
strangers are kind to you.

Just anywhere, it's
probably because, you know,

everyone knew in the region
there were hikers and

they wanted to chip in and
help out thru-hikers but

it was absolutely amazing how often

people were kind and just
came at the right moment

or just helped out in the right way.

J far yonder lies a long,
high lonesome trail >

j where Laurel glistens
under a mountain moon j

j where one may go as
though to find the grail >

j to kiss the wind or listen to j

j go and wild meander, mood is strong j

j and may we meet beside
the waters cool 2»

j or on some pinnacle
to shout the song

j and point the way to
heaven's vestibule j

j far yonder lies a long,
high lonesome trail >

j where whippoorwills are
wailing through the trees

j and where the friendly
woodlands never fail j»

j to wake the old and
make new memories j

j along the long, high
appalachian trail »

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