Appalachian Trail Museum

RTK Updates His Journal


Returning to Katahdin (RTK), Bruce Matson, a lawyer from Virginia is hiking a strong NOBO (northbound) hike on the Appalachian Trail. Starting on February 24th, RTK reached the halfway point on May 29.  RTK updates his online journal once per week (usually on Thursdays) and communicates a week in arrears. He just posted on June 7th for the week (8days) of May 24 – 31. During those eight days, he hiked just over 99 miles, averaging 12.4 miles per day. However, in those eight days, he took two zero-days and one shay (short-day) of 3.6. On the other days on the trail, he logged 19.6, 18.1, 18.8, 22.8. and 16.2 miles, so you can see that he is trekking at a very high rate of mileage per day.

Let me share a little bit of his adventure during his last eight days of May. On May 24 he woke up at Bears Den Hostel with about 3 miles left of the roller coaster to traverse (the roller coaster is 13.5 miles of tightly packed ups and downs just prior to the Virginia/West Virginia border). After the coaster “ride,” he had a relatively easy hike to the Blackburn AT Center for lunch. Before arriving in Harpers Ferry West Virginia (home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy – ATC) RTK conquered the challenging rock scramble up and over Buzzard Rocks. It was 7:30 pm when he walked across the Shenandoah River Bridge with a muddy and raging river welcoming him to Harpers Ferry.

Harpers Ferry Shenandoah River

May 25 was a zero-day (a day when no miles are hiked and the hiker resupplies and rests) in West Virginia as RTK got his picture taken at the ATC and visited a local outfitter.

RTK left Harpers Ferry on May 26 loaded down with four days of food and two liters of water. Crossing the Byron Memorial Footbridge, he entered into the state of Maryland. He enjoyed a 3- mile, flat path along the C&O Canal towpath, then climbed to the views atop Weverton Cliffs, looking back on the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. He arrived at Dahlgren Campground about 4 pm. He hiked a tenth of a mile away from camp to a four-star restaurant, Old South Mountain Inn, for dinner.

May 27 was a Sunday and the AT was filled with Memorial Day weekend hikers, section hikers, Boy Scouts, Ridge Runners, and volunteer trail maintenance workers. RTK began his day with a quick visit to the original Washington Monument which lies right along the trail in Maryland.  He also experienced some thoughtful trail blessings including three ladies from Annapolis, who fed him lunch at Black Rock Cliffs with enough left-overs to provide a delicious dinner at his destination shelter for the evening.

AT Museum. Pine Grove Furnace State Park. PA

RTK longest mileage day (22.8 miles) was May 28. His morning began with an adrenalin producing event – a bear encounter. “While taking down my tent around 6:30 I looked up to see a 400 pound bear lumbering over to me.  It was 20 yards away so I yelled “hey there!”  The bear looked up, saw me and turned around.” After his heart rate returned to normal, RTK experienced a misty, drizzly day along the path and was content to camp at Rocky Mountain Shelters. However, two hiking buddies talked him into extending his trek 3.5 miles and a hitchhike into Fayetteville, PA to enjoy a meal at Timbers and a stay at Trail of Hope Hostel. The Timbers was closed for the holiday weekend, but the hostel was nice.

May 29th brought RTK to the linear halfway point on the trail. He was disappointed that there was no signage on the trail but he did spot two snakes during his 16.2-mile hike (one garter and one black snake). He was very impressed with the beautiful shelters in Pennsylvania so far, including his lodging that night – Toms Run Shelter.

RTK’s hike on May 30th was short (only 3.6 miles) but his day was filled with good times. He passed the (old) “halfway” sign (a large sign with flags) just after the Toms Run Shelter. He arrived at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, home of the half-gallon challenge, at 9:30 in the morning. He waited at the PGF General Store for several of his hiking friends to arrive and then enjoyed a leisurely and successful eating-challenge of a half-gallon of ice cream (Neapolitan was his flavor of choice). He visited the AT Museum located across the street from the general store before catching a ride to Boiling Springs and Allenberry Resort. Once settled, he made an important call home. He placed a “Happy Anniversary” call to his bride, Cheryl, of 37 years. Congratulations both of you for a great example of relational commitment!

May 31st was spent as a zero-day in Boiling Springs as RTK planned his next month on the trail. Boiling Springs is such a peaceful trail town with good food and a lovely public spot around a well-kept pond/park. I hope the next eight days are just as productive and enjoyable for RTK along the trail.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Appalachian Trail Museum, Class of 2018, Half Gallon Challenge, Harpers Ferry, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Roller Coaster, RTK, Thru-Hike, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Earl Shaffer – The Crazy One

HikeItForward-Final-MediumEarl ShaefferEarl V. Shaffer was born on November 8, 1918 in rural Pennsylvania. Shortly after World War II at the age of 29, Earl would establish himself as a vital and important part of the history of the Appalachian Trail. In 1948 he became the “father of the thru-hiker” by completing the first documented thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in one continuous journey. He even gave himself a trail name, The Crazy One, beginning a naming tradition that dominates the AT to this day.

Earl’s high school graduation greeted him with the realities of the Depression. He, like so many, could not find a steady job, so he tried to find work on nearby farms and temporary carpentry jobs. Earl joined the Army in early 1941 and served with the Army Signal Corps in the South Pacific. In 1947, he was back home in Pennsylvania but greatly saddened by the death of a close childhood friend, Walter Winemiller, who gave his life for his country in the invasion of Iwo Jima.  He and Walter had talked before the war about hiking the trail someday. The South Pacific and the loss of his friend left Earl feeling directionless after the war. The thru-hike was to be therapeutic. Earl shared said he wanted to ”walk the Army out of my system.”

Earl Shaffer.olderEarl Shaffer, who became the first person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 1948, hiked the trail again in 1965 at age 46, becoming the first person to hike the AT in both directions. The first hike was south to north (Georgia to Maine) and then in 1965 his adventure traveled north to south (Maine to Georgia). Finally in 1998, at the age of 79, he made his third and final thru-hike. This time he hiked northbound as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of his first victorious trek.

Earl Shaffer was a bachelor and lived most of his life in a log cabin on a farm just five miles from the trail in Idaville, Pa. He lived a simple life surrounded by his cats and goats.  He did not have electricity in his home until 2000 and never had running water or a refrigerator. Earl died at the age of 83 of liver cancer on May 5, 2002 while living with his brother John in Lebanon, PA.

Earl Shaffer was one of six individuals inducted as an inaugural member of the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame in 2011. The induction banquet was held in Boiling Springs, PA (a beautiful trail town) and the Hall of Fame is located at the geographical mid-point of the trail in the AT Museum at Pine Grove Furnace, PA. Earl’s niece, Nancy Shaffer Nofziger, accepted the award on behalf of her uncle.

The original copy of Earl’s journal has been given to the Smithsonian Institute and can be seen online at The original journal has been transcribed and can be enjoyed at this same website. Earl wrote a book about his initial thru-hike published by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in 1982 under the title, Walking With Spring. He later developed and published his notes from his last hike in 1998 called The Appalachian Trail: Calling Me Back To The Hills. Earl was also a poet and songwriter. He played the guitar and loved to sing his folk songs.

Related articles:

Photo: First Hike –

Photo: Last Hike –

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Appalachian Trail Museum, Backpack, Georgia, Maine, Pennsylvania, Thru-Hike, Trail, Uncategorized | Tags: | 4 Comments

Maine Pt 2 – The Kennebec River

HikeItForward-Final-MediumThe 281 miles in Maine can be roughly divided into three segments. We quickly looked at the first section – 109 miles of rugged trail featuring the boulder jungle gym called Mahoosuc Notch.

The central section of 58 miles, between Bigelow Preserve and Monson, Maine, is less strenuous than the first and is spotted with ponds, streams, and swampy areas. One of the most distinguishing features of this section is the crossing of the widest, unbridged river along the Appalachian Trail, the Kennebec River. The Kennebec is approximately 70 yards wide with a swift, powerful current. As a result of releases of water from hydro-facilities upstream, the depth and current of the river change quickly and unpredictably. The Maine Appalachian Trail Club has arranged with local outfitters to provide a scheduled ferry service across the Kennebec at no cost to hikers (although tips are encouraged). This free canoe ride is the A.T.’s official route – there is even a white blaze painted in the bottom of the canoe.

Canoe White BlazeThere are many other streams and rivers that must be forded and these crossings are one of the most dangerous challenges hikers confront. River crossings can be deceptively hazardous. Even a very shallow, swiftly flowing body of water can pack enough force to knock a hiker off his/her feet. The use of extreme caution and lots of common sense must prevail.

I’ve discovered some very practical advice in crossing unbridged rivers and streams. One source is George G. Spearing’s thoughts in an online article found at George suggests the following when attempting to cross a stream alone:

  1. If possible, view the river from above to identify the shallowest point and smoothest area of river bed.
  2. Avoid submerged snags, boulders etc. Do not attempt a crossing if large pieces of debris (logs, branches, etc.) are being carried downstream.
  3. Keep your boots on. Wet boots are preferable to damaged ankles or feet.
  4. Do not cross wearing long pants… pants will increase resistance to the current.
  5. Release the waist belt and the sternum strap on your pack before crossing – this way you will be able to free yourself quickly if you lose your footing or find yourself in a position where your pack is snagged and holding you down.
  6. It’s also good to remember that your pack has a certain amount of buoyancy and can serve as a flotation device if necessary.
  7. Generally, the safest area to cross will be a straight section between bends in a river. If you imagine the river in the shape of the letter ‘S’ then the safest area to cross will be the middle of the ‘S’ between the bends. That way, if you should lose your footing, hopefully the current will carry you into the bank on one of the bends.
  8. Use a strong pole or stick about five or six feet in length as support, placing it on your upstream side so that the current forces it into the bottom. Always keep two points of contact on the river bed at all times and cross diagonally downstream, resisting the current much like you would a strong wind.
  9. Take shuffling footsteps, feeling for the bottom.
  10. Try not to look down at the flowing water as this may upset your equilibrium, look ahead for the best possible route.

Canoe Photo:

Categories: Appalachian Trail Museum, Hiking, Kennebec River, Maine, Thru-Hike, Trail, White Blaze | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Picture Lady

HikeItForward-Final-MediumThere are some wonderful people associated with the Appalachian Trail. Every thru-hiker has experienced trail magic from trail angels in a vast array of circumstances. It might be the Cookie Lady of Massachusetts or the cans of cold pop anonymously left in the mountain stream, or some kind folks along the way that provide a ride into a town or back out to the trailhead. Most of these people are not paid in any way by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy but rather reach out to the hiking community because they love the idea of the wilderness and the adventure to be found on the trail.

jean-cashinBut there was an employee of the ATC that left her mark on the lives of many, if not most, thru-hikers for almost 25 years. Her name was Jean Cashin. She began her career with the ATC Headquarters in 1972 and she relocated to Harpers Ferry, WV.  Jean held the title of Information Specialist and helped develop, shape, and personalize the services provided by headquarters to the hikers of the A.T. She earned a well-deserved Trail-wide reputation as the universal Trail Mom. She served as a welcoming committee to the traditional half-way point at Harpers Ferry and strove to befriend a generation of hikers. Among her many contributions and one that thrives today is the tradition of taking a Polaroid (now digital) photo of each A.T. thru-hiker who passed through Harpers Ferry.

Jean retired from the ATC in 1996 and moved to Waynesboro, PA and the Blue Rock Farm. She was 83 when she passed away on August 18, 2013.  Jean was born in Allentown, PA, graduated from Allentown High School in 1948 and attended East Stroudsburg University (about an hour’s drive northeast of Allentown) majoring in physical education. Jean was a founding member of the Appalachian Trail Long Distance Hikers Association and was honored in 2012 by the Appalachian Trail Museum for her lifetime of service to the Appalachian Trail.

I obviously will not meet Jean but I will remember her when I get my picture taken in front of the ATC Headquarters in the grand state of West Virginia (Go Mountaineers!).



Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Museum, Harpers Ferry, Hiking, Jean Cashin, Thru-Hike, Trail, Trail Magic, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

The A.T. Hall of Fame

HikeItForward-Final-MediumThe Appalachian Trail Museum opened in 2011 and is located in Pennsylvania’s Pine Grove Furnace State Park, very close to the half way point on the A. T. The museum incorporated a Hall of Fame in order to celebrate the personal historicity of this long trail. As my way of supporting and promoting the museum as well as satisfying my thirst for interesting facts about this incredible adventure called thru-hiking, I would like to highlight the individuals inducted into the Hall of Fame. This blog will highlight the chartered class (2011) of six individuals. For more information and details about the museum check out:

Benton MacKaye – Without Benton MacKaye, there would have been no trail. He first proposed the idea of an Appalachian Trail in his 1921 article, “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning.” MacKaye was responsible for calling together the first Appalachian Trail “Conference” (now Conservancy – ATC) in 1925. The ATC appointed MacKaye as its first “field organizer.” MacKaye had the vision for constructing a continuous trail over the Appalachian Mountains.

Arthur Perkins – As the ATC’s second chairman (serving from 1927 to 1930), Arthur Perkins took up the challenge to make MacKaye’s dream a reality. Arthur was a Yale graduate and a retired lawyer and judge who hailed from Hartford Connecticut. After MacKaye’s initial inspiration in the early 1920s, work on the A.T. had largely stalled. Without Perkins’ persistence, the A.T. might never have been built.

Myron Avery — In 1931 Myron Avery was elected as the third chairman of the ATC, a position he held for over 20 years. Avery was a “Type A” personality who seized control of the Appalachian Trail and diligently drove the idea to completion. If MacKaye envisioned the trail and Perkins promoted it, Avery built it. He unified many trail clubs in several states into a cohesive group. He was the first person to walk the entire trail, carefully pushing his ever-present measuring wheel in front of him. Avery came up with the blaze system (ultimately the white blaze), and the concept of detailed maps and guidebooks. Avery wanted the trail to be accessible to the average joe – to be what he called a “people’s trail.”

Earl Shaffer — While MacKaye birthed the concept of the Trail, Perkins kept the dream alive,   and Myron Avery built the Trail, it was Earl Shaffer, in 1948, who pioneered the concept of thru-hiking. His crazy idea of thru-hiking all 2,000 miles in the wilderness by foot was unheard of at the time. His initial adventure did much to popularize the A.T. and to change how we think of the trail today. Thousands of thru-hikers have retraced Earl’s footsteps over the years. I hope to be one of them.

Gene Espy — In 1951, Gene became the second person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (three years after Earl). He began his hike on May 31, 1951 at Mount Oglethorpe, GA and completed it on September 30, 1951 on Mount Katahdin, ME. His recent book (2008), “The Trail of My Life — The Gene Espy Story” has inspired many to follow in his footsteps. Gene is a Georgia Tech graduate who had a successful career as a U.S. Air Force aerospace engineer.

Ed Garvey – Ed Garvey wrote a book in 1971 about his 1970 thru-hike called “Appalachian Hiker.” He was 55 years old and completed his thru-hike in 187 days. The popularity of his book did a great deal to raise the awareness of thru-hiking. In the book, Ed carefully explained his preparations for the journey and passed on helpful tips and practical insights to future thru-hikers. In 1990, he hiked the entire trail again at age 75.

Six well deserved honorees.

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Museum, Georgia, Hiking, Maine, Pennsylvania, Thru-Hike, Trail, White Blaze | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pennsylvania Part 3 – The A.T. Museum

HikeItForward-Final-MediumPennsylvania holds the Half Way Point of the Appalachian Trail (mile 1,093) The mile maker is aptly located in the midst of forest trail and not in the middle of a trail town or even at the shelter. It is about 4 miles north of The Birch Run Shelter and 1.1 miles south of Toms Run Shelter.

Mid-pointThere is an Appalachian Trail Museum. It is located about two miles north of the half-way point in Pine Grove Furnace State Park, PA. Being halfway between Maine and Georgia, the Museum is appropriately housed in a building that is itself a historical artifact, a structure built more than two hundred years ago as a grist mill. It stands across the road from the Pine Grove General Store, the location of the famed “ice cream challenge

Hikers are welcome to bring food and eat outside the museum while they relax from the rigors of the trail. Inside there are artifacts of pioneer hikers, thru-hiker photos from the last 30 years, and signs from Springer to Katahdin. Open on weekends in the spring and fall and daily from noon to 4:00 PM Memorial Day to Labor Day (

Museum 1Current exhibits include a trail shelter that was built by hiker legend Earl Shaffer. The shelter was replaced on the trail with a more modern one and the original was painstakingly disassembled and then reassembled in the new Museum. In addition, there are artifacts that belonged to other hiking pioneers such as Grandma Gatewood, the first woman to thru-hike the trail (;  Gene Espy, recognized as the second person to thru-hike the AT in 1951 (;  and Ed Garvey, who made his first thru-hike in 1971 published a book about his adventure, Appalachian Hiker, which did a great deal in raising awareness of backpacking and long trail hiking ( In the museum computers display the more than 12,000 photos that have been taken of thru-hikers as they reached Harpers Ferry on their journeys either north or south. There is also a children’s discovery area and hiker welcoming areas.

Photo of half-way sign found at

Appalachian Trail Museum ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland found at

Categories: Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Museum, Backpack, Georgia, Maine, Pennsylvania, Thru-Hike, Trail | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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