Jim Rowland has hiked many of the walking trails around the world. He came to talk about his Appalachian adventures on Oct. 28 at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center. His visit was sponsored by LL Bean of the Promenade shops in Center Valley.
He said when you try to talk to other people about the emotional aspects of thru hiking they cannot understand. It is only other hikers who can understand.
Rowland started on Mount Katahdin, Maine, which means starting later because of the weather. Beginning at Spring Mountain, Ga., is much more common. South of Pennsylvania the trail opens up and is easier. North of and through Pennsylvania it is rocky.
Pennsylvania has small rocks pointing out of the ground to catch a hiker unaware. Consequently when going south it seems so much easier for the Sobos (southbound) hiker as they get south of the state. The Nobos (northbound) hikers have had it easy and are shocked at how difficult it becomes.
Because of the type of rocks Pennsylvania has a reputation as the place "where boots go to die."
Pennsylvania is the second longest stretch in one state at 229 miles, with Virginia the longest stretch. The climbs are into and out of gaps in the ridge, with no major mountain climbs. The nature center is 34 miles from Delaware Water Gap by way of the trail.
Palmerton's hostel for hikers is known as the Palmerton Jail because hikers go to the police station and are let into the overnight quarters. If they go out they have to stand in front of the borough building and wave down a police car to get back in. It is known as a good trail town.
The Presbyterian Church in Delaware Water Gap also has a hostel. Port Clinton is known for having the best hamburgers on the trail.
New Caledonia State Park, Pa., is the halfway point for thru hikers. There is a challenge there to see if a hiker can eat a half gallon of ice cream.
In Hamburg he met a family: mother, father and kids, who were thru hiking.
In Maryland there is a monument to war correspondents and at Antietam there is an original Washington's monument.
"If it weren't for the people this trail would be torture," said Rowland.
There is a monument to Audie Murphy who died in a plane crash. He was the most decorated soldier from World War II.
Rowland's trail name is Mechanical Man. Each thru hiker gets a nickname by which he is known on the trail. It is part of the trail culture.
It took him five months 11 days to complete the trek.
For section hikers who do a section of the trail each year till they have covered the full distance it is more difficult physically because of the need to get in shape each year. But it is mentally easier. The mental aspect is why so many people do not finish the trail.
In 2007 there were 1,392 through hikers and only 352 completed the trail traveling north. Beginning in the north and going south there were 217 hikers and 42 finished.
For the northbound, festivals are scheduled and hikers are invited. More trail magic (food or other helpful items) is put out.
Much of it is through woodland - a green tunnel in which people just follow the little white blaze. There is also a blaze at each end of the trail.
A 68-year-old man regularly drives out and looks for hikers bringing them trail magic and refusing pay. He is known as one of the trail angels.
In New York there is more trail magic as someone keeps a filled cooler on the side of the trail.
Rowland said he was kicked in the back by a horse, and then found the same horse had kicked others.
He was hiking while sick for several days and finally went to a hospital where he found he had pneumonia.
With experience on many other trails, he knows what he is talking about when he says the Appalachian Guide Books are some of the best.
"On the trail everyone is equal. Age makes no difference. Having time is a prerequisite," said Rowland.
On Nov. 19 he reached Springer Mountain and started yelling and whooping.