Just passing through
Nine hikers, 18 feet, four paws and one goal: To hike the entire Appalachian Trail (See and hear them, in the summer of 2001)
Take a hike ... and if you have a lot of time, consider the Appalachian Trail. It was built in the 1920s during the regional-planning movement. The idea was conceived by Benton MacKaye, a federal employee and trained forester and planner, as an escape from the tensions of industrialization. The trail's route follows the eastern ridge of the Appalachian Mountains through 14 states, eight national forests and two national parks for 2,160 miles from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Mount Katahdin, Maine.
Since the late 1960s, those who choose to hike the entire path in one fell swoop have been called thru-hikers. These individuals usually follow trail tradition by starting the trail at either end and carrying a backpack filled with everything needed, or preparing supplies ahead of time and arranging to have them mailed or bought to destinations along the way.
The first person to complete the trail as a thru-hiker was a Pennsylvanian named Earl V. Shaffer, who did it in 1948, again in 1965, and a third time in 1998 - at the age of 79.
Where the Appalachian Trail intersects Virginia 311 above the Catawba Valley, there is a parking lot where day hikers park to hike. Many choose to go to the top of McAfee Knob. Many thru-hikers have a meal at The Homeplace restaurant, pick up packages at the Catawba post office, or grab a snack at the Catawba Valley General Store.
A few yards back along the AT from the lot, I met thru-hikers on their way to McAfee Knob. I stopped them for a picture and a quick interview, curious to know who they were . At this point they'd completed only one-third of the trail and still had a long way to go. Of those with the great intention of attempting the entire trail, only 10 percent accomplish it. Approximately 2,500 people per year claim they've hiked the whole trail either as thru-hikers or as section hikers.