View Full Version : Feature on WI thru-hiker: "10 hrs/day"

11-11-2004, 15:29
Decent article from a Wisconsin local paper..

An Appleton man's curiosity lands him on the Appalachian Trail, hiking 10 hours a day for six months

By Heather LaRoi
November 9, 2004
The Post-Crescent (javascript:NewWindow( 'FIISrcDetails','?from=article&ids=pcwi');void(0);)

Hiking the nearly 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail left Dennis Abraham a changed man. Literally.
Those who know the Appleton man might have to do a double take these days to make sure it's him when they see him.

For one thing, there's considerably less of Abraham to see.

"By the time we reached 100-Mile Wilderness in Maine, I had lost more than 50 pounds," Abraham said. "At that point I was pretty fit."

Walking eight to 10 hours a day will do that.

It's estimated that 2,500 people each year attempt to backpack the full Appalachian Trail -- or "the A.T.," as it's commonly known -- the trail that runs through 14 states along the Appalachian mountain chain from Springer Mountain in northern Georgia to Mount Katahdin in north central Maine.

The journey began for Abraham and his hiking partner on March 14. The very first day's hike, an 8 1/2-mile trek to Springer Mountain, almost did him in.

"The approach trail is pretty hard and we had pretty heavy packs at that point," Abraham said. "My pack weighed in at 50 pounds and I was carrying another 50 pounds (of body weight) then and not being in super shape ... that last mile was very tough for me. Here, this was my first day, and I thought, 'I'm just not going to be able to do this.'

"Then it rained that night. But we got up in the morning, packed up, set out and it got better from there on."

Abraham had dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail for about five years, ever since he and his wife, Nola, had traveled in the area.

"As we drove along the freeways, I knew the Appalachian Trail was out there somewhere," he said. "I'd be looking out at the mountains from the freeway, wondering what that would be like, what would it look like from up top looking down.

"It kind of fascinated me. I just kept thinking about it, wondering how I would match up, if I could actually handle that much hiking."

Abraham had done his share of hiking in the past, trodding the trails at Isle Royale, the Porcupine Mountains, Pictured Rocks National Seashore and out West.

"But nothing that would go from one end of the country to the other and take months," he said, with a laugh. "I thought maybe before I get too much older I should try something like this."

Abraham, now 58, had retired two years ago after 29 years teaching at Madison Middle School in Appleton. It was on a men's retreat in Illinois that he ran into another fellow who shared his idea of Appalachian adventure so, with his wife's blessing, the great quest took life.

It was both different and more than he had imagined.

"The problem with reading about it and thinking about it, it's so abstract," he said. "The daily challenge of hiking for 10 hours a day, I never realized how hard that would be. You have to constantly and at all times watch the trail, watch every step. Especially up north when we got into some of the more difficult trails, in the White Mountains and Green Mountains, the attention you have to give to your feet and walking, you always have your head down looking for everything on the trail. It takes so much energy and concentration. You're so relieved when you can sit down and rest and take your mind off from it for a few minutes and look up."

It was not only just one foot after another, of course.

"When you're out there and you get any distance from the main roads, it's totally quiet," Abraham said. "All you hear is the brooks and the birds and the wind and it's so wonderful to be completely away from the noise.

"And as you're focusing downward and you're looking at your feet, your mind does have a chance to drift all over, thinking about friends, things in your past. There is a lot of time when you're pretty much by yourself, even if you're hiking with a partner. You're basically alone for hours. You do have a lot of time to think and come up with ideas, what you'd like to write in your journal at night, remember something you saw during the day."

Within the larger adventure, there were also many mini-adventures. Like seeing his first rattlesnake. Or traversing Mahoosuc Notch in Maine, reputed to be the hardest mile on the trail.

"It was solid boulders, big as a house," Abraham said. "There's not a trail in a sense; you just have to go through it, in many cases doing technical climbing or crawling through openings. It took us 2 1/2 hours to do a mile."

As might be expected in such a long trek, there were also a few anxious moments along the way, times when the line between challenging and treacherous seemed to blur or even disappear.

Abraham recalled one day in particular in New Hampshire's White Mountains when heavy rains turned their descending trails into virtual waterfalls and Cascade Brook into a raging, uncrossable torrent. With few real choices open, the group of six hikers decided to bushwhack their way several miles downstream to where the river crossed a highway.

With darkness approaching and rain continuing, things got pretty tense, Abraham said.

"There were lots of small trees so people would lose sight of each other and started getting scared," he said. "The banks of the river were so muddy that people were going in mud up to their knees and people were falling. Things were just out of hand; people were getting panicky. And you're wondering, if someone gets hurt, what do we do?

"There was a lot of fear in people's eyes. That was probably the worst day that we had. It's the kind of thing that you don't read about. It's a situation where you have to hope that everybody keeps their heads and stays together and it works out."

In this case, fortunately, it did.

Most concerns that dogged the hikers were considerably less dramatic.

Ironically, as Abraham got closer and closer to the journey's finish, his anxiety rose. "What if some little thing happens," he said. "It'd be so easy to get hurt and not be able to go on."

Hikers also worried about news of the encroaching hurricane storms. "We kept thinking, if that weather does come, they'll shut the trail down," Abraham said.

In the end, though, the day finally came on Sept. 28 -- more than six months after he had started -- when Abraham came to the end of the trail, reaching the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine.

"We'd been seeing Katahdin for probably 70 miles. It's the only major mountain standing up there. The drama building up to the day you start on that ascent was unbelievable," he said.

"There was a real feeling of triumph (getting there), but when you're coming down you're thinking, 'It's over, it's over.' It was like I couldn't believe that I'd been hiking for over six months. We stopped about mid-point on the way down and had lunch and I kept thinking, 'I can't believe we're here and on our way down.' It seemed surreal to me and I couldn't get over it for days."

Abraham has been back in Appleton for a while now and said it has been a pretty easy transition from life on the trail.

"It's been just such a pleasure to sleep in my own bed again and not have to think about where I was going to set my tent up and how I was going to cook my food and if I was going to be wet," he admitted, with a chuckle.

Still, the glow from his journey hasn't waned.

"I did it as a challenge and an adventure," he said. "My fitness, that is one of the things that I've really benefited from, losing the weight and being in really good shape and having a lot more energy. I was really struggling with that before.

"But for me, it was all part of the adventure. I think it fit me pretty well."

He hasn't been on any major hikes since his return, but he confessed that it's crossed his mind to wonder about what it might be like to do the Pacific Coast Trail. Or maybe the John Muir Trail ...

After all, these boots were made for walking.

The Solemates
11-11-2004, 19:28
10 hrs a day for 180 days is only a 1.2 mph pace. not to be judgemental, but this is a bit slow. i believe the author exaggerated a bit.

11-11-2004, 21:16
10 hrs a day for 180 days is only a 1.2 mph pace. not to be judgemental, but this is a bit slow. i believe the author exaggerated a bit.

Are you assuming no zero days???

11-11-2004, 21:34
10 hours per day for 150 days is only 1.47mph. That gives him 30 zero days.

Cuppa Joe
11-12-2004, 15:53
I hiked many a day with "Badger", whom this article is about. First met him outside of Hot Springs and last I saw him was at the 501 Shelter where I had to get off. He did not hike 10 hours a day every day. There were many days where he/I would get to the shelter by 2 PM.

Hw was a strong hiker and moved steadily and fairly quickly.

Literary license being used here by the author of the article.

11-12-2004, 17:07
10 hrs a day for 180 days is only a 1.2 mph pace. not to be judgemental, but this is a bit slow. i believe the author exaggerated a bit.

He may have started hiking early in the morning, and finished hiking for the day 10 hours later, but I'd guess that it was not 10 hours of straight hiking. Probably lots of break time in between.

The Solemates
11-12-2004, 20:13
i was saying 1.2 mph as an average for the entire through hike, counting zero days and minutes/hrs resting during each day. even with this, still slow.

11-12-2004, 20:57
I wouldn't get too hung up on what his average speed was. I'm impressed that he made it all the way!