The Appalachian Trail @ 25 Years

We all look back.  I knew this day would come.  It’s been 25 years since I set out to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.  Since then – time has moved exponentially.   That makes me appreciate the A.T. even more.  There are few years in your life that affect you more than others – and 1994 was a pivotal year for me.  

(Winter pic of Chicago casa or street)

In the winter of 1994 I lived in Chicago.  I moved to Illinois from North Carolina and as a 20 something enjoyed the conveniences of this large city – walking to restaurants, bars, friends houses, and taking the short train rides to Cubs and Bears games – which you typically didn’t do in Charlotte, N.C. at the time.   

(Pic of Chicago Cubs game in ski coat)

Yet I missed the South.  I missed the beaches and the mountains.  I missed hiking the Appalachian Trail.  And I missed the Spring – especially in March and April.  So on a winter morning in February, I sat down to watch a 180 min VHS tape that Lynne Wheldon made on “How To Hike The A.T.”  It was a Christmas gift that I supplemented with Wingfoot’s “Thru-Hiker’s Planning Guide?” and I studied both intently. 

(Pic of VHS tape and guidebook – I might still have the video in my closet for a better pic.)

My roommate “The Ox” (link) entered the apartment on that fateful winter day and briefly watched some of the VHS tape with me.  Then … I made it official.   I told him that I was hiking the Appalachian Trail in April.  The Ox shook his head in disbelief – but he eventually became one of my biggest supporters.  He even helped me move …  

(Pic of move w/ Had) 

And planned a send off party with some mutual friends that lived in the area…

(Pic of party)

And yes, he even took pleasure in watching my head get shaved (which earned me another $50 for the trip). 

(Pic of me staring at a clump of hair in the barbershop)

On April 7, I officially left Chicago for South Carolina.  My parent’s lived in Hilton Head and had a place for me to leave my car for six months.  So I spent the next 24 hours with them, bought some last minute items, and loaded my backpack for the trip.  With water included, my pack weighed ~57 lbs.    

(Pic of my on blue carpet floor) 

Here’s a shot of me in front of their former house on the same Friday – 25 years later.  As fate would have it, I would also make the drive from Hilton Head to Atlanta on the same Saturday in 2019. 

(Pic of me April 2019)

But in 1994 my parents dropped me off on Saturday, April 9th at my sister’s house near Buckhead.  She and I then met up with some friends for a fun night in Atlanta – until 2am!  

(Pic of Eliz/me on balcony)

After sleeping in until 11am, my sister and a lifetime friend from Ohio “The Weasel” (link) drove me to Amicalola Falls State Park on April 10th for the official start of my journey.  

(Pic of Eliz and Ken and me at trailhead)

They snapped this photo of me outside of the visitor’s center that afternoon in 1994.  Ironically, I never saw this photo until 25 years later when I started looking through 35mm negatives from that weekend.  It was on the edge of the roll and never printed by the developer.  Seeing it for a first time was a gift that made this anniversary even better…  

(Pic of me at Amicalola plaque 1994)

Here’s a picture of me at the same spot (and on the same Sunday) 25 years later.

(Pic of me at Amicalola plaque 2019)

In 1994, a thunderstorm was brewing on the afternoon of April 10th.  So I headed for the nearby Max B. Epperson Shelter and met two other hikers that evening – The Red Rainman and Bull.  This turned out to be a Godsend.  We talked about the A.T. all night, and I spent the next two weeks hiking on and off with them.

(Pic of me, Red Rainman and Bull in front of shelter)

Here I am in front of the Max B. Epperson Shelter on this same Sunday in April 2019 – but this time with my kids.

(Pic of Max B. Epperson Shelter 2019, me standing in front or with kids – same spot)

The winter was unusually cool in the South in 1993-1994.  So Amicalola Falls was still barren as I set out on the Approach Trail the next morning.  

(Pic of Amicalola Falls 1994)

There was noticeably more vegetation in April 2019.  The state park has since installed a footbridge across the falls which now takes you to the top of the falls…

(Pic of Amicalola Falls 2019)

It took me two months to hike 451 miles along the Appalachian Trail to Damascus, Virginia.  On May 11, 1994, I arrived at the TN/VA border after hiking nearly 1/4 of the A.T. and only a few miles from town. 

(Photo of me ATTN562 which is at TN/VA state line and has Damascus on the sign.)  

I had been in town a few weeks earlier for Trail Days and camped on the the river with some fellow thru-hikers.  This was “Tent City” in 1994. 

(Pic ATVA 625 with mob of tents – mostly blue – 1994) 

Here is the same spot during Trail Days 2019.  “Tent City” was moved to the softball fields on the edge of town a number of years back to create a more family-friendly environment in town – a great idea.  

(Pic of me 2019 during day)

The Trail Days parade had a lot more locals participating back in 1994 – including local marching bands, beauty queens, military, and Shriners.

(Pic from 1994)

Today the parade mostly consists of hikers – many armed with water guys.  I’m guessing that is part of the reason the locals decided not to walk the parade route.  Here I am hiking with my Class of 1994 in the parade last year. 

(Pic w/ banner from 2019.  Debi has two photos with me in them behind the banner.  Use one of these two that are filed in her folder on my computer.)

There were two events in 2019 that seemed perfectly timed for my 25th anniversary.  The first was when I discovered a never printed photo of me at Amicalola State Park on a roll of 35mm film from 1994 – which I mentioned earlier (link to pic).  The second was when I found some photo albums which I thought were lost were actually in my possession the entire time.  I ransacked the house for 12 years looking for them, and here they were – 25 years later.  It seemed like a gift that was intentionally withheld and for reason.  

(Take a pic of the books) 

Finish this with Maine comparisons – many used in the movie, so should be easy to find and add here.

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