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Carey Kish

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island has been adventuring in the woods and mountains of Maine for, well, a long time. If there’s a trail—be it on dirt, rock, snow, water or pavement—he will find it, explore it, and write about it. Carey is a two-time Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, Registered Maine Guide, author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast, editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), and has written a hiking & camping column for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram since 2003. Follow his outdoor travels and musings here, and on Facebook/CareyKish. Let Carey know what you think at MaineOutdoors@aol.com.

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Posted: February 8, 2018

Hiking the Appalachian Trail: One Mainer’s account of the long journey from Georgia to Maine (part 2)

Written by: Carey Kish

Do you dream of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, of slipping away from civilization for a while, paring down to only the simple essentials that can be carried in a backpack, and taking on a challenge that is bigger than yourself? It takes about five million steps to hike the AT from end to end, and the real first steps – to decide to do it and then make a solid plan, are perhaps the most difficult.

The Appalachian Trail isn’t the longest footpath in the world, but it is arguably the most famous and certainly the most traveled. The complete 2,189-mile trek is the ultimate backpacking adventure and the hike of a lifetime for many hikers. Several thousand people attempt the trail every year, but only a fraction who start actually finish.

In 2015, this hiker walked the entire AT – for the second time, the first in 1977 – from Springer Mtn. in Georgia to the summit of Katahdin in Maine, taking 189 glorious days to go the distance. From mid-March to early October, I wrote a series of columns for the Maine Sunday Telegram chronicling the long journey, and I have compiled those accounts into a four-part series.

Part 2 presented here covers the long hike through Virginia (some 550 miles or 1/4 of the entire AT), West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the trail’s halfway point, and on to New Jersey.  I hope you enjoy this armchair adventure and find inspiration through my footsteps enough to maybe tackle the big hike yourself one day. Click on the highlighted links to read each piece. Enjoy!

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Virginia is home to 550 miles or roughly one-quarter of the entire Appalachian Trail and takes a month or more to complete. The state’s famed “triple crown” of scenic mountain vistas is found in a single 35-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail west of Roanoke near Catawba, and includes Dragon’s Tooth, Tinker Cliffs and McAfee Knob.

McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed points on the AT, its rock finger jutting out into space and offering an extraordinary lookout. I crept out to the very edge of the broad shelf to get the prized photos, which were graciously snapped by a fellow hiker. Carey Kish photo.

 

Rain dampens gear and spirit, just briefly. The Georgia-to-Maine trek provides freedom and opportunity for reflection.

Beyond the James River, the trail climbs into a jumble of mountains at the 4,000-foot level, including Cold Mountain, The Priest and Three Ridges. Unfortunately, through five straight days of nearly steady rain I missed most of the vistas. Only the occasional startling bursts of pink from the blooming rhododendrons offered solace amid the gloomy mists on the forest path. Carey Kish photo.

 

Landmarks are reminders of the Civil War. After the long pull through Virginia, Harpers Ferry in West Virginia represents the psychological midpoint for thru-hikers. Then its on to Maryland.

The headquarters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the organization dedicated to conservation and management of the trail, is found in Harpers Ferry, W Va. I stopped in to register as northbound hiker No. 694 for the year, as well as get my Polaroid taken. It was an emotional moment that connected the dots between 1977 and 2015, and when I stepped back outside, tears of happiness were flowing down my cheeks. Carey Kish photo.

 

These boots ain’t made for Pennsylvania. The endless rocks of the Keystone State are known for tearing up boots – and sometimes hikers. Then there are those really bad motels…

The Pennsylvania rocks at best have hikers stumbling about much like a drunken sailor for miles at a time; at worst the jagged rocks grab and tear at boots, twist ankles, snap trekking poles, bloody shins, sap spirits and exhaust already weary walkers. Take a fall on the nasty rocks, and all bets are off. Carey Kish photo.

 

Heading toward New England, one step at a time. With New Jersey done and New York almost, suddenly the home stretch is within reach.

At Vernon, NJ, I holed up for the night in a church hostel, and in the morning went next door to the diner with trail friend Doc to get a proper breakfast. Halfway through my ham and eggs, I got up to use the restroom. It was then I realized I was in my underwear. Yes, I’d forgotten to put my shorts on. Granted, my underwear is black and looks a little like biking shorts, until you notice the fly. Both Doc and the waitress had a good chuckle over my sudden horror. Doc noticed on the walk over but figured I knew what I was doing. Not quite, especially before my first cup of coffee. I’d never had eggs in my underwear before, except at home. Carey Kish photo.

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You can also follow my day-to-day progress on the AT through my blog, picking up here in southern Virginia: Six-Moon Journey: Some days I feel like a beast of burden.

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