A photogenic bear. Weather that ranged from four feet of snow to 100 degrees in the shade. Mice nibbling on his hair.
These are just a few of the things which Burlington resident Aaron Agnew experienced on his six-month, 2,178-mile hike on the historic Appalachian Trail.
Completed in 1937, the Appalachian Trail is the longest marked footpath in the United States, It begins at Springer Mountain, Ga., and concludes at the rugged Katahdin Mountain in Maine. It touches 14 states, crosses eight national forests, and is known as one of the nation’s most difficult hiking trails.
Aaron Agnew, who says he got the idea to hike the length of the trail from a friend, started the trek on a frigid day in March and just came off Katahdin on Sept. 25.
Although he apparently inherited the desire to hike from his grandmother, the late Doris Agnew, whose name is now memorialized on one of the walking trails around the Trout Pond, Aaron says he had only been taking short two- to threeday trips until his friend, Abe Herbaugh of Augusta, started talking about the Appalachian Trail.
“I didn’t want him to have all the fun,” Aaron jokes.
The three of them Aaron, his brother Andy, and Abe planned the trip for about a year, putting much effort into discovering how they could pack the lightest possible and yet carry all the items they would need for long days of walking, eating and camping along the wilderness trail.
Some of it took quite a bit of ingenuity.
“My stove is made out of a Pepsi can; it doesn’t weigh much. And instead of a tent, I carried a tarp,” he said. He used the same pot for cooking and making coff ee, necessitating the practice of cooking and eating first, then following up with his beverage.
Agnew also took only the clothes on his back, “except I did carry some extra socks.” Over the duration of the trip, he wore out three pairs of shoes.
As for food, noodles, peanut butter, bread, and oats were the staples he carried. He did, however, eat “as many berries and I could find, and things like ramps and mushrooms,” which he found along the way.
The weather almost always presented a challenge for the young hiker.
“One night, it snowed probably three inches,” he recalls. “And in the Smokey Mountains, where the sun didn’t hit, we were probably walking on about four feet of snow.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the temperature was “a daily average of at least 95” in some parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, necessitating carrying extra water.
“In those mountains, there’s no water,” he explains. “I’d go days and I’d be lucky if I found a puddle this big,” he said, forming about a five-inch circumference circle with his hands.
“We had to carry about six or eight extra pounds of water.”
One of the things that Aaron remembers most about the trip is the kindness and generosity of the people who live close to the trail.
“Some of the locals would actually drop off gallon jugs of water for us,” he said, “There are actually people who come in every year to bring food for the hikers. They leave whole coolers of sodas and things.” In other locations, residents would open up their homes for the hikers to stay overnight, or off er them homecooked meals.
Although the three men started out together, Andy had to drop out at Irwin, Tenn., after hurting his foot. When Aaron had to make a stop elsewhere to get some equipment replaced, Abe got ahead of him for awhile.
The three were reunited, closer to the end of the trail, however, and were able to finish together. No matter whether he was with company or on his own, however, Aaron says those whom he met both on and off the trail were quite friendly and interesting to talk to.
One time, however, some tourists seemed a bit too interested in him.
“I was in Shenandoah National Park, and I had sat down to eat lunch,” he recalls. “These people stopped and started taking pictures of me.”
Aaron said he didn’t mind, until they just kept snapping and snapping away with their cameras and he started to get a little irritated.
And then it occurred to him they weren’t taking pictures of him.
“I looked over, and there was a bear not 12 feet away from me,” he says, laughing.
Aaron says he yelled at the bruin a few times and the animal finally wandered off .
The other memorable encounter he had with wildlife occurred in one of the wooden shelters which are provided for hikers along the trail.
“The first time I stayed in one, I woke up with a mouse on my hair,” he said. “I didn’t really use the shelters any more after that, unless it was raining. I’d rather sleep on the ground.”
Despite the frequently difficult trip, Aaron says he was determined to finish what he started in March.
“I had thoughts of wishing I was elsewhere, sure. But I never let myself wish that I would quit. When I would get tired, I’d just think of the hamburger I’d get in a few days, when I stopped in a town.
“That kept me going.”
Would he do it all over again?
Not the Appalachian Trail. But his answer is not for the reason you’d think.
“I’ve already done it,” he said. “But I’d do another trail of the same length.” And would he do anything any diff erently on that new trail?
“I would carry even less weight.”
Information from: Mineral