One of our lasts post, I mentioned that in a few weeks I would write a final blog regarding The Ravens Appalachian Trail (AT) thru-hike. A few weeks have long past and now it is months overdue. Nonetheless, better late than never. The synopsis is long, although just a few sentences would not be adequate. Having hiked all three main long trails of the United States, we defiantly have opinions regarding them. First off, comparing the trails against each other is not fair. Putting the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and Continental Divide Trail (CDT) against the AT, is like comparing tangerines to a slab of beef. Both are food, but that is where the similarities end. The Appalachian Trail is that different. The AT is one hell of a trail. It brought new meaning of what a tough trail is. Consistently we have heard that the AT is hard. OK, it is not going to be easy. The Ravens never back down from something that proves a little difficult. However, the word hard and difficult do not even begin to adequately describe the AT. More accurately, I would add the words grueling, exhausting, and maddening. My favorite AT statistic is that Mt. Everest has nearly 60,000’ of elevation change, while the AT has 515,000’. This is equal to consecutively climbing Mt. Everest eight and a half times. Nonetheless, there are two personalities of the AT.
The first character of the Appalachian Trail is that of a wise old soul who has much to offer anyone willing to take time to observe and listen. The deep woodland forests with thick moss growing over everything in its path, ferns and mushrooms popping up everywhere were magical and beautiful. I have never breathed richer oxygen than I have in those forests. Inner peace abounded our hearts, as we walked through the woods. Maine was our favorite state because of its lush woodlands and all the stunningly beautiful lakes we passed by. We began in early April, before spring arrived in Georgia. Being from the west coast of the United States, deciduous forests do not exist. Thus, our early days of the trail were pleasingly memorable as we walked amongst the massive forests of barren trees. It was a sea of brown sticks and various shades of brown and gray dead leaves on the ground as far as the eye could see. Yes, it was dreary looking, but at the same time, it was peaceful. The forest was still asleep from the long winter. As we headed north, the woods began to wake up. Dogwood trees were the first to bud with their white flowers and green leaves breaking up the drab brown background. Soon other trees began to bear green leaf buds too. Lots of unique wild flowers began blooming, most of which we had never seen before. Our favorites were the trilliums. Also the Rhododendrons bursting with flowers, creating pink tunnels to walk through, were glorious. Georgia holds a special place in our hearts. Other favorite locations along the Appalachian Trail include Max Patch, Tinkers Cliff, Greyson Highland, Shenandoah’s, Upper Goose Pond, historical sites, Mahoosuc Notch, Mt Washington, and Katadin. Off trail detours to Gettysburg, Washington DC. and New York City, were also treasured. The first magical sighting of fire flies was truly a thrill beyond words. The wild ponies, little orange salamanders, the orchestra of song birds that woke us in the mornings, wild blueberries, and of course all the friends we made along the way will never be forgotten. There is much to appreciate on the Appalachian Trail.
Yes the Appalachian Trail is peaceful and beautiful, however it’s alter ego is that of an old gnarly hag who revels with delight in the torture to all those that walk upon it. I swore I heard it’s vile, cackling laugh at me every time I had an accident. The mind cannot wander off and think about things, to do so, would bring bodily damage. There are too many rocks and tree roots on the trail to trip over. Relaxing our minds could not happen as it could on the PCT or CDT. Constant focus on the ground before my feet was required. Every foot placement had to be perfectly executed, otherwise I would be laying face down in the dirt. Let the mind wonder the slightest bit and there would be a sprain ankle or a bloody knee. Cursing at the trail was common for me. The daily strenuous ups and downs were brutal on the body. The more North we traveled, the more difficult it became. It no longer was hiking, but non technical rock climbing, all day long. The ups were grueling the downs were knee-destroyers.
The east coast weather is tough. Humidity, heat, snow and many days of rain await thru-hikers. Sixty-four wet, soggy days of hiking is what we encountered. Slippery rocks on steep descents was my greatest fear. Snow is much more preferred because the white flakes can easily be shaken off. All day rain simply soaks through everything. The shelters offer a reprieve from the inclement weather, but the night time “Snoresymphony” of other hikers makes sleep impossible. “Head bangers”, which are large low lying tree branches that stretch across the trail at eye level are numerous. Diligently, a hiker keeps their head down for safe foot placement meanwhile, at eye level are these limbs, waiting to knock you out. Hikers with wide brimmed hats that limit peripheral vision are especially prone to these attacks. Papa Raven was one of those. Hiking the CDT in 2017, we encountered a good bit of mud in areas of snow melt, however it does not come close to the quantity and quality of mud of the east coast. AT wins the mud award!
The greatest adversary of the trail was the tiniest of creatures….the tick. It is not so much the little tick we were afraid of, it was the even smaller Lyme bacteria from a tick bite that was so feared. Rattlesnake and copperhead sightings were common, especially in the Shenandoah’s. We never saw an older copper head, just the little babies. The most aggressive bears we have encountered were on the AT. We defended our camp one evening for many hours against a black bear. Our food was hung high in a tree and he was determined to get it. We threw rocks and yelled it and in return, it charged us. The bear won, however, it did not get our food, near midnight we packed up and moved on. Another bear encounter was way up in New Hampshire. We did not have any food, but a black bear smelled something. It put an eight inch diameter hole in our tent. We scared it away by throwing rocks and yelling at it. This is one of my clearest memories due to all the sensory sensations involved. I felt high on adrenaline and fear from the bear attack. I heard every sound outside the tent thinking the bear had returned. I felt the bear saliva as I mended the tent with dental floss in the dark by the light of a headlamp.
“The Green Tunnel” is the nickname of the Appalachian Trail because so much of it is covered in trees. I have never experienced boredom before while thru-hiking until the AT. After weeks and weeks and months of the same tree covered canopy, the monotony of the path gets to you. Oh, how I wanted to rip open the ceiling of trees above my head to see the light. As we walked along from time to time, a bald spot or rocky outcropping would be before us, and I would think how absolutely glorious it was! However, in no time, we went back in the trees.
Each long trail has their own difficult sections and character unique to themselves, which make hiking hard and often times downright miserable. The AT did a brilliant job of being ruthless to all those that walked its length. All the fanciest and lightest equipment will not get you to the end. It is only stubbornness, persistence, and determination. Our Katadin summit was an amazing day. Yes, it completed our dream of triple crowning, but that is not the full reason for our glory. The Appalachian Trail tried its hardest to beat us down into quitting, but we did not. We endured all the trail threw at us. The scrambling and climbing up and over rocks to the top of Mt. Katadin was a metaphor of the entire trail. There is no more perfect ending of the AT. To be honest, I did not love the Appalachian Trail like I did the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide. As I walked along the AT’s path, I yearned for the grand views, wide open county, gracious blue skies, and smooth trails of our previous hikes. Despite all that, thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail was an incredible experience, which makes it priceless. When things get chaotic and stressful here at home, which is all too often, I stop for a moment and imagine myself walking in one of those Appalachian woods. Remembering how taking a deep breath of the rich oxygen felt, a wave of calmness runs through me. I hope one day I can once again walk amongst those woods.