Traveling the Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

near Roan Mountain, Tennessee

To be immersed in a foreign world, one doesn’t necessarily need to leave the country. If you’re American, for example, you could go to parts of Miami. Even better, you could take a hike on the Appalachian Trail.

Completed in 1937, the 2175-mile long Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine. Many people, myself included, know the trail primarily through day hikes or weekend backpacking excursions. I took the picture above, for instance, in early December while on a day hike with friends in northeast Tennessee.

Others, however, know the trail because they have hiked the whole darned thing. Called thru-hikers, these veterans will attest that all you need to do to enter another world is leave the indoors (which abound in light switches, mattresses, and the occasional swivel chair) and step into the outdoors (which abound in several billion trees and hard sleeping surfaces). Next you will need to step, and step, and—well, you’ll need to keep stepping for a very long time. You are now in foreign territory, on foot and surrounded by trees.

The best known writer to have walked significant swaths of the Appalachian Trail is Bill Bryson. In his book A Walk in the Woods, he describes a trail that cultivates an appreciation for the simple things (“low-level ecstasy,” he calls it). He describes how even a few days on the trail can make stepping through a doorway a disorienting experience and how it enables the taste of white bread to convey you “to the very brink of orgasm.” Some of his most insightful observations concern how one’s worldview shifts when you depend only on your legs for movement. He writes:

Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. A mile becomes a long way, two miles literally considerable, ten miles whopping, fifty miles at the very limits of conception. The world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and a small community of fellow hikers know. Planetary scale is your little secret.

Three to four million people visit the Appalachian Trail each year; only 500 to 600 hike the whole thing.  For more information about America’s greatest footpath, including a list of noteworthy thru-hikers (there are some tough 81-year-old men and 8-year-old girls out there), visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website. Also, for an account of one thru-hiker’s journey, check out Bryan Kent Gomes’ site; he includes some nice quotes at the head of each week’s entry.

Posted by | Comments (3)  | December 31, 2009
Category: Images from the road, Travel Writing


3 Responses to “Traveling the Appalachian Trail”

  1. Lindsey Says:

    The AT and especially the Blue Ridge mountains are a magical place!

  2. Robyn Says:

    I’m so glad you posted something about the AT – very dear to my heart. I thru-hiked in ’98 and fell in love with the trail, the culture and the east (I live in Boulder, CO). I’ve always wanted to hike it again.
    I really liked BKG’s blog and just spent some time reading some of this posts. So inspiring.
    Here’s a link to one of my posts about the AT as well…
    http://nomadneedles.wordpress.com/2008/10/11/the-appalachian-trail-part-1-of-3/

    Thanks again.

  3. » How travel can give weight to our words :: Vagablogging :: Rolf Potts Vagabonding Blog Says:

    […] For a post I did last year on this famous trail, click on Traveling the Appalachian Trail. […]