Each year, approximately 2,000 hikers attempt to “thru-hike” the Appalachian Trail, a 2,189-mile footpath that spans 14 states from Georgia to Maine. Most hikers begin their journeys in early spring, heading north from Springer Mountain in Georgia (northbounders); a few begin at Mount Katahdin in Maine and head south (southbounders).
Only one in four people who attempt the journey end up thru-hiking the entire A.T. Those who do describe it as an epic endeavor sourced in virtues such as determination and commitment.
The desire to spend four to six months hiking over 2,000 miles may perplex you, or it may inspire you. If you are curious about the day-to-day experiences of thru-hiking the A.T., Georgia writer and thru-hiker Richard Judy recently published a lively novel, “Thru: An Appalachian Trail Love Story,” which captures what life is really like along the trail.
Although numerous nonfiction books have been written about the Appalachian Trail, “Thru” is one of few fictional accounts. Journals and letters narrate the characters’ day-to-day experiences and encounters, bringing the Appalachian Trail to life for the reader.
Judy thru-hiked the A.T. in 1973, when only a relative handful of other hikers were attempting the challenge. Later in life, he section-hiked the entire trail over a 15-year period. He also hiked portions of the A.T. with his son and daughter, who are both thru-hikers.
“One reason I wrote the book was to give people who may never hike the A.T. but who wonder what it’s like the opportunity to understand what it is like,” Judy said. “I wanted to give the flavor of community on the trail and the love affair of a thru-hike.”
Judy’s book clearly portrays the sweat, pain, blisters, rain-soaked days, cold nights and mosquito bites hikers endure along the trail. However, the story also highlights the transcendent joy found along the way, brought on by scenic vistas, peaceful solitude and trail camaraderie.
“Hiking the A.T. is a manic-depressive episode because you are so elated at times, and yet other days you wonder if the rain will ever stop or if you will ever get to the top of the climb-you’re just all over the map,” he said. “Weather can really wear you down, but you have to remember that all the good stuff eventually comes to an end, and so does all the bad stuff. You begin to become accustomed to it.”
“Thru” is also a study in A.T. culture. For instance, each character is referenced by his or her “trail name” (such as “Captain Stupid,” “Ultragrunge,” “Bone Festival,” “Sky Writer” and “Momma Llama”), which is a self-determined name or title given by others to set a person apart.
Judy (trail name “Peregrine”) said trail names are part of the culture on the trail and that these names linger long after the thru-hike ends.
“The beauty of a trail name is that after you leave the trail and come back again, you become that trail name persona again,” he said.
“Thru” also highlights the critical role that trail towns play and the inspiring “trail magic” provided by kind strangers (known as “trail angels”) who offer treats and assistance along the trail.
Reading “Thru” may be as close to hiking the A.T. as many of us will come, but the story opens a window into this life-changing experience. Readers can’t help but ask themselves, “Could I thru-hike the A.T.?”
“If you like the idea of an epic commitment in your life-a big goal in which the process of attaining the goal is more important than ultimately realizing the goal-then the A.T. is a great thing to do,” Judy said. “It is a big commitment, but if that is what you are geared toward and you pull it off, it is one of the most amazing experiences a human can have.”
All proceeds from the sale of “Thru: An Appalachian Trail Love Story” will support the Appalachian Trail Museum at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Gardners, Pennsylvania. The book is available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the Appalachian Trail Museum.
Jenni Frankenberg Veal enjoys writing about family travel adventures in the southeastern United States, as well as the people and places that make this region unique. Visit her blog at www.YourOutdoorFamily.com.