Georgia to Maine, one day at a time
Published: Saturday, March 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 28, 2003 at 11:01 p.m.
From Georgia to Maine it's 2,168 miles - the total length of the Appalachian Trail. From March to August it's five months, 17 days - the time it should take to hike the entire trail.
Robert Service once wrote, "And the wild is calling, calling . . . let us go."
I hear this call, and so I must go. I must chase down my dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Today, the adventure, 17 years in the making, begins.
As a 6-year-old in the summer of 1986, I hiked a section of the trail with my grandfather. I remember looking back at the trail as it continued down the mountain, and I knew I wanted to hike this trail.
Since then, I have talked about doing this trek but never had the time or the ability.
Now I have both.
As I wait to hear if I have been accepted to graduate school at the University of Florida, I have this small window of opportunity, from March to August, to do what I have always wanted.
Before being weighted down with responsibilities, before a job, before my money is tied up in bills, before I have a family, a wife and children, I have to do this.
Why wait a lifetime to see a dream come true?
In doing this hike, I have set a series of goals for myself - completing the trail being the biggest. In years to come, I want to look back and say, "I did that."
I want to return to the spot where my love for the outdoors first started. I hope to write a series of articles along the trail telling of the beauty and wild experience of the wilderness I travel through.
I want to breathe in the sweet mountain air and climb the peaks of the Appalachians. I want to feel the sun on my face, a pack on my back and nothing but the trail in front of me and a friend at my side.
Tom Copeland, 22, is that friend.
"Frank, if you're hiking the Appalachian Trail, then I am coming, too," Tom said. "I want a break from 18 years of school, and I want to get away from everything and enjoy the woods."
Tom, a fellow Eagle Scout, says one of his life goals is to hike the trail.
"When I was 17 years old, I made a list of 100 things to accomplish before I get old, and the Appalachian Trail is on that list," Tom says. "I didn't want to be some 50-year-old man who hadn't lived his life."
Tom's passion for outdoor adventure began when he was 6 years old. While fishing on the banks of a Missouri pond with his grandparents, Tom says he enjoyed being outside so much that he knew he needed to always be in the outdoors.
A St. Louis native, Tom has hiked the Rocky Mountains, Washington, Oregon and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico. He worked as a kayaking and fishing guide in the Florida Keys and has led winter trips in Canada.
For the last three summers, Tom worked as a wilderness canoe guide in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, where he and I met.
How does one get ready for five months worth of hiking?
For me, it meant running three to five miles a day, walking up and down Ben Hill Griffin Stadium about three times a week and taking practice hikes for three months. I hiked in Paynes Prairie and took a weekend trip to the Smoky Mountains.
Every mile has been mapped. Every ounce counted. Every day measured. Campsites selected. Food resupply or food drop decided. Daily minimum calories counted. Equipment checked and upgraded.
Realistically, no guarantee is placed on finishing the trail. Five months is a long time and 2,168 miles is a long way to hike.
All I can do is take it one day at a time and see where I am in August.
Trails gone by
For the next five months, I will live out of one bag. Loading my backpack with camping gear, memories return of adventures with the Boy Scouts in the wilds of North America from summers past.
Dusting off broken-in boots, the smell of old leather reminds me of backpacking along the Chilkoot Trail, in Alaska, during the Klondike Gold Rush Centennial, in the summer of 1998 before I entered college.
The Everglades, waist deep in water with a 10-foot alligator submerged two yards in front of me.
Canoeing alongside bottle-nose dolphins in Florida's 100-mile Wilderness Waterway.
Replacement for a tattered backpack faded from the New Mexico summer sun above the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Blanketing swarms of mosquitoes in the swamps of Florida. All that can be heard is an insistent high-pitch buzz.
Waist deep in thick mud, legs covered in leeches, a canoe on my shoulders, backpack on my back, portaging between lakes in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota.
Getting thrown from my raft during whitewater rafting on the Pigeon River.
Sunset on the Grand Canyon.
A 152-mile canoe race - 39 hours, 42 minutes.
Looking at a full pack, I can only imagine what waits on this adventure. I'm off to hike the Appalachian Trail - one step at a time, one day at a time.
I will do this from Georgia to Maine.
Frank Clouser graduated in December from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in public relations and plans to return to Gainesville for grad school. In the weeks to come, The Sun will run intermittent reports from Clouser as he traverses this legendary footpath that ends on Mount Katahdin in Maine.
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