I am still waiting for an update from Two Peas, Dulcigal and Fat Hen/Rooster Talon: the AT thru-hikers that I am following this year. I decided to explore some of the other online journals. There are still several hikers that are scheduled to hit the trail later this month, but there are 174 active journals on trailjournals.com.
As I have reviewed the journals (yes, I got carried away and checked them all), 44 of those thru-hikers have dropped off the trail. That is approximately 25% of those who began the trail and who are keeping a journal through this particular website. This is just a fraction of the total hikers on the AT, but it is an interesting cross-section of the hiking community. Those 44 hikers averaged 23 days on the trail and completed an average of 114.8 miles.
Among the 44, the shortest distance traveled on the AT was 0.2 miles by Just Plain Sandi. She began her adventure at the 8.8 mile approach trail in Amicalola Falls, Georgia. The first day she hiked 1.1 miles to the AT Shelter. Day two was a trek of 3.7 miles to Frosty Mountain. The third day of the adventure involved 2.5 miles to Black Gap Shelter where she took a zero day on day four. Day five concluded with 1.7 miles and the summit of Springer Mountain. The night was spent at Springer Mounter Shelter (0.2 miles on the AT itself). Just Plain Sandi fell off a ladder in the shelter and injured both wrists, an elbow and her shoulder. This difficult beginning and her desire to be home with an aging father caused Just Plain Sandi to walk off the trail and head for home.
The shortest hike in number of days belongs to Woofie and Wooly Booly whose trek ended after the first day. The couple had walked 8.4 miles when Woofie (Gwen Minturn) twisted her knee ending their 2016 hiking journey. The day after the injury they write “Woofie’s knee and ankle had swollen and become more painful. With both injuries being on the left side, she was almost totally immobilized, making simply getting out of the tent extremely difficult. We knew that our hike was over, and that we had to get off the trail and get medical attention.” Five days later their final post included the following: “Although none of the hardware in her knee implant was damaged in her fall, she did suffer a hairline fracture of the patella (knee cap). She’ll have to keep the leg brace on for another 4-6 weeks.”
The longest distance traveled by a hiker, so far, that has decided to leave the trail was 590.6 miles, involving 59 days. Aleve (Carl Graves), a retired air traffic controller and a runner of marathons and some ultra-marathons, started on February 17 and hiked until April 9. He took some time off trail, resting for 11 days and then returned, hopping back on the trail at Harpers Ferry, WV. His second hike lasted six days and then Aleve’s knee communicated that it was not going to carry him any further. Eighteen miles into Pennsylvania, Aleve journals, “My knees really hate rocky trails. I fell today while hiking through a bouldering section between Rocky Mountain Shelters and US 30, the type of fall where your foot is lodged between two rocks while your body continues to pivot. Torqued the bad knee.” Injury claims another journey. Of the 44 hikers that have chosen to end their dream of a thru-hike, 19 hikers point to a physical injury that ended their attempt. Sixteen individuals explain their decision to walk off the trail as a logical/emotional conclusion or an inability to cope with the weather and demands of the trail. One hiker points to a major family health concern that took him off the trail. And eight journals just abruptly ended without explanation. With no updates for over a month, I have concluded that the hiker is no longer on the trail. This might be incorrect and they may be out there piling up the miles, and just tired of posting to the journal. I hope this is the case, but I seriously doubt it.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail is not an easy journey. It is filled with potential dangers that can physically end the adventure with one misstep. It is filled with harsh weather that can test the resolve of a bull moose. It comes complete with the stress of booking long miles into the hiker log, with the emotional pull to travel back home to comfort and friends, and with the nagging question echoing daily in the mind of some walkers, “Why am I doing this? Is this what I want to do for five solid months?”
A thru-hike is not for everyone. However, I have rarely found a hiker that has not been greatly impacted by their adventure. Whether it is 0.2 miles of 590 miles, whether it lasts one day or two months, the hiker is changed by the experience. Just about every hiker that has to walk off the trail feels like a failure. Of course, they are not. They have entered the world of the Appalachian Trail, breathed the forest air, drank from mountain streams, felt the fatigue of walking all day long, tasted the food of the trail, and lived to tell about it. The only failures are those that dream about the trail but never encounter it. Those that plan but never execute. Those with a list that stays in the bucket. My cheers go out to all those who have strapped on the backpack, followed the white blazes, and sought out an adventure.