Couple reach mountain top in Maine after hiking 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail
All the way to the top
Sunday, October 14, 2007
By Doug Oster, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Katy and Mark Frey pose for a portrait at Mark's parent's house in Clinton, Butler County.
When Mark and Katy Frey stood triumphant on the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine a few weeks ago, they had accomplished something only 68 others have done this year -- hiked the entire 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.
Upon reaching the summit Sept. 9, the couple took a photo to commemorate the accomplishment, but Ms. Frey said she didn't feel the exhilaration she expected at finishing the six-month trip.
"I was so eager, I thought, to get home," she said, "but when I got to the top of the mountain, I felt really sad. All I thought about for six months was just walking. It was really weird not to be able to do that anymore."
Her husband's feelings also were conflicted.
"It's weird. You've got this single-minded goal for so long, you learn to live this other way. And then you get there. I don't know where to go," said Mr. Frey, 27.
It was when they started down the mountain that they were struck by a sense of jubilation at their accomplishment. They turned to each other and said, "We did it!"
They now could officially be called "AT thru-hikers" or "2,000-milers." They continued down the trail, smiling and announcing their feat to those they met.
"I think we made it a point to tell everyone we walked here from Georgia," Ms. Frey, 28, said with a laugh.
The couple, who live in Clinton, Butler County, began their journey March 3, but the planning and research went on for a year before that. They had sat down together to make a list of things they wanted to do before they die. The list included skydiving, learning to ride a motorcycle and hiking the Appalachian Trail. They both chose the hike as the dream they wanted to pursue.
"For some reason, it seemed like the most doable," Mr. Frey said.
The couple grew up in Hampton but were living and working in Phoenix at the time.
"We were thinking of settling down and buying a house," Ms. Frey said. "We just got it in our heads that we wanted to do one big adventure before we did that."
So they took the money they had saved for a down payment on a house, sold most of their belongings and headed for Springer Mountain in Georgia.
Last year, 1,150 people attempted to hike the entire trail heading north. Of those, 334 finished.
Mr. Frey found motivation to take on the task through his co-workers.
"I worked in an office job with a lot of people who had all these dreams," he said. "It was always like, 'As soon as I pay off this loan or as soon as I can be sure this and this are lined up, then maybe I'll think about it.' You just got to lay it on the line at some point and take risks."
The hike in Georgia began with a nine-mile trek to the top of Springer Mountain, carrying packs weighing 32 to 42 pounds filled with four days of food and other supplies.
"When I got to the top of the mountain, I was like, 'Am I going to make it any further?' " Ms. Frey recalled. Although they had exercised and trained for the journey, traversing the rough terrain and carrying heavy packs took its toll during the first days of the hike.
"It's like when you lift weights and you get that last rep and it just doesn't move any more," Mr. Frey said. "You feel like that by two to three hours in the day. I thought for sure we would never make it."
But with each day, they got a little stronger and they developed a hiking rhythm. Some days it meant blazing a trail for 10 hours through eight inches of virgin snow. Other days offered heat and humidity and often storms, which Ms. Frey liked the least.
"I really hated being outdoors during thunderstorms," she said. "Lightening is coming down all around you and there's hail and you're soaked. I thought this isn't really worth it. But the skies clear."
When thoughts of leaving the trail crept up, they remembered everything they had done to get there -- quitting their jobs, moving across the country, selling most of their belongings and telling everyone they knew they were going to hike the entire trail.
"Pride and shame were the big motivators," Ms. Frey said with a laugh.
During the six months, the couple had 35 days when they didn't walk. Sometimes they went into towns along the way to get supplies, clean up and maybe even sleep in a bed.
"There's a whole new definition of getting clean when you haven't had a shower for four or five days and you've been exercising the whole time," Ms. Frey said.
Her husband added, "You shower twice, once to get the caked-on dirt off and then you use soap and go back and actually clean up."
The best part about returning temporarily to civilization was the food, they said. But after an hour or two in a town, they longed to be back on the trail. Surprisingly, a soft bed wasn't that much of an attraction, they said.
"Actually, you get to prefer the outside sleeping," Mr. Frey said. "It's cooler and quiet."
Both said they were profoundly affected by their time together on the trail.
Mr. Frey said he developed "kind of a new outlook on things, no reason to rush. Everybody is fast, fast, fast and super-connected all the time. Sometimes not having that is much nicer. You learn to appreciate the simple things a lot more," he said.
"There are so many benefits in getting a grip on your life," his wife said. "Getting out of a stressful life, getting into nature is something that I think a lot more people should do."
They hope to hike again soon.
"Follow your dreams," Ms. Frey advised. "I feel like I can do anything now."