Scarfoot is a thru-hiker that does not provide his real name in his journal, but his real life before the trail was based in Boston, Massachusetts, where he worked at an investment firm. He decided to exchange his cubical for the canopy of the Appalachian Trail. This choice was not an impulsive decision, but rather one of advanced planning and preparation.
Scarfoot began by losing 50 pounds and addressing several other physical challenges. The Bostonian found himself with major allergies: tree, grass and weed pollen, mold, dust mites, dog and cat – pretty hard to avoid such things on the trail while occasionally staying in hostels/cheap hotels. He also discovered that he was allergic to bees and wasps. So Scarfoot found some allergy treatments – four shots at a time. Scarfoot also struggled with planter fasciitis causing severe heal pain and making hiking very difficult. He attempted to counter this challenge with custom orthotics and Strassburg socks (a sock designed to be worn at night that keeps the plantar fascia in a stretched position, helping to increase flexibility in the morning).
[Just a quick aside – according to the Mayo Clinic, plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain. It involves pain and inflammation of a thick band of tissue, called the plantar fascia, that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes. Plantar fasciitis commonly causes stabbing pain that usually occurs with your very first steps in the morning. Once your foot limbers up, the pain of plantar fasciitis normally decreases. It is particularly common in runners, people who are overweight, and those who wear shoes with inadequate support. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/plantar-fasciitis/basics/definition/con-20025664 ]
Scarfoot was also concerned about some emotional issues. He suffered from panic attacks and found that sleeping alone in the woods and major heights caused times of intense angst. This is quite a challenge for those considering a thru-hike of the AT. He purchased custom-fitted ear plugs for sleeping. In addition, Scarfoot is married to Ellie who expressed concern with his adventure. Although supportive of her husband, she worried for his safety. So, Scarfoot took a wilderness first-aid course and purchased SPOT, a Satellite GPS Messenger, used by many hikers to reach emergency responders, check-in with family or friends, share GPS coordinates and track the route of the adventure – all at the push of a button and at the cost of about $150.
Scarfoot researched trail gear for three years and was attracted to the ultralight approach to long- distance hiking. He organized and reorganized his summer pack until he reached a backpack weight of only 10 pounds (My pack weight varied but I think my lightest burden was 25 pounds).
Hikes of preparation were also part of Scarfoot’s three-year training program. Year one included a four-day hike in Massachusetts; year two embraced a ten-day hike from the Hudson River, New York to the Massachusetts Turnpike just above Upper Goose Pond (about 145 miles); and during year he three logged a 135-mile, 7-day hike through most of Vermont.
Scarfoot was ready. His last day at work April 6th and he was on the trail on April 10. He hiked the 8.8 mile approach trail from Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia on April 9th and began his actual AT miles from Springer Mountain on Sunday the 10th. All the training and preparation enable Scarfoot to make very good time hiking though the Appalachian Trail.
Then came this surprising post on Day 140 of his adventure, August 27th,
“Well this is it. No summit photo. No finish…. The trail becomes very technical with big boulders above tree line. Very dangerous and not what I signed up for. One more mile of very nasty trail remained then the ‘tablelands’. In the meantime it follows a ridge with shear drops behind and both sides in places. I could do it physically but would have hated every moment of it. I got what I wanted out of this. I was in it for the hike and that last 2.3 miles was mountain climbing to me not hiking. At the hostel met a woman who broke 4 ribs yesterday on Baxter. Seams I made the right choice at least for me.”
With 2.3 miles left to complete the journey, Scarfoot turns around. Over half way up Mount Katahdin, his hike was over. I continue to look for another post that shares a successful return and climb to the brown sign, but nothing appears.
I personally found the climb out of Palmerton, Pennsylvania a much more technical climb than Katahdin and yet Scarfoot journals (on June 6, 2016), “Rocks getting worse and lasting longer between breaks. Got stuck in the middle of a 40 person Korean hiking club on the rockiest toughest climb yet over the superfund site. Real rock scramble.”
I also wondered what his experience was over the Whites and into the first 100 miles of Maine. I wondered how he responded over Mount Washington, another nice climb on the trail. He simply mentions on August 3, “Was warm, sunny and practically no wind so fantastic weather.” Two days later (August 5), he climbs Mount Madison and descends into Pinkham Notch. His comments: Tough day for 13 miles. Two 2000 foot climbs plus the smaller ones. Very steep. The last down was incredible. Easily the hardest steepest down so far.
I also checked his journal on August 8th, the day he reached Mahoosuc Notch (one of the most difficult miles on the trail). He had completed the Notch and the major climb up Mahoosuc Arm by noon. The notch only took Scarfoot 1 hour and 45 minutes to navigate, compared to my 3 hours and 20 minutes. He noted, “The arm was very steep. Took 9 hours to do 12 miles today.”
I feel so badly for Scarfoot. He was so close and he conquered so much. He made the decision that he felt best and I admire him for his convictions. May he realize that he is indeed a thru-hiker. The sign is not the goal – the journey is the reward. He shared that he walked away from the trail with what he wanted – the true meaning of Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH).