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Backpacker Magazine – September 2011

Madman Walking?

Warren Doyle has hiked the Appalachian Trail 16 times, and he has a no-fee plan guaranteed to help others complete the 2,180-mile trek. The hardest part? Hiking with Warren Doyle.

by: Bill Gifford

Warren Doyle has logged more than 30,000 miles on the AT. (Julia Vandenoever)
Warren Doyle has logged more than 30,000 miles on the AT. (Julia Vandenoever)
Big days, small packs. (Julia Vandenover)
Big days, small packs. (Julia Vandenover)
Dave. (Julia Vandenover)
Dave. (Julia Vandenover)
Convenient (not scenic) campsites. (Julia Vandenover)
Convenient (not scenic) campsites. (Julia Vandenover)
Van-supported camping. (Julia Vandenover)
Van-supported camping. (Julia Vandenover)
A circle ceremony on Mt. Cube. (Julia Vandenover)
A circle ceremony on Mt. Cube. (Julia Vandenover)
Duane's boots. (Julia Vandenover)
Duane's boots. (Julia Vandenover)
Doyle's water-treatment system. (Julia Vandenover)
Doyle's water-treatment system. (Julia Vandenover)

They were walking into a hurricane, and they knew it.

But as anyone who has ever been involved in a doomed love affair can attest, there's a difference between what you know in your mind and what you feel in your heart. What you know you should do, and what you actually do. And on that late-summer evening in northern Maine, what they felt was warm and dry. But even though the sky was clear and the air perfectly still, the forecast was unambiguous: Hurricane Earl was churning up the Atlantic Coast, pushing masses of tropical moisture ahead of it, like snow before a snowplow. The weather report called for apocalyptic rains, beginning at midnight.

This information they chose to ignore. At sunset, they stuffed their packs and laced up their boots. All around in the campground, families gathered around charcoal fires, parents sipping beers while kids played beanbag horseshoes in the dirt. Like campers all over the country, they were settling in for the long Labor Day weekend, relaxing in the fresh air. The 12 hikers were not here to relax. They were here to finish the Appalachian Trail. The journey had been long, beginning at Springer Mountain in Georgia four months earlier. They'd hiked more than 2,160 miles. It had been a painful journey at times; exhaustion had etched itself on every face. Now they had 15 miles to go, and one more mountain to climb: 5,267-foot Katahdin.

At dusk, they drifted to the bank of Abol Stream, where a break in the trees allowed a view of the hulking, flat-topped outline of Katahdin, rising almost a vertical mile from the northern woods. They wanted to stand on its summit so badly that nothing--not even a Category 4 hurricane--could dissuade them from pushing on. And why should it? They'd loyally followed the plan laid out by their leader, Warren Doyle, for every step of the AT, and he had delivered them as promised at the foot of Katahdin on September 3, the precise day specified in his mile-by-mile itinerary.

Beside the stream, the group gathered in a circle and joined hands. One at a time, each member of the group spoke simple words of thanks. They sang a song, then hugged each other, then returned to camp to prepare. At 10 p.m., they shouldered packs, flicked on headlamps, and trooped out of the campground to a chorus of barking dogs. The trail crossed a narrow bridge before entering the woods. They hiked in a line, boots crunching the dry leaves. Two hours later, they stopped in a clearing. "Hey," someone said hopefully, "I can see stars!" A few minutes later, the first raindrops began to fall.




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READERS COMMENTS

ATHikerGal
Apr 18, 2012

My only life's regret is that I did not through hike the AT. Now, at 70+, I am highly unlikely to do it but dream that just maybe, I could make it with Doyle's slackpacking and browbeating.

John
Mar 26, 2012

Giardia is something with which you will only brazenly flirt once. Years of drinking from the Smokies, decades and boom. It is chronic and debilitating.

Gary
Oct 06, 2011

Giardia ?

You absolutely Do Not want to contract it ! Had it 35 yrs. ago, before it was "popular", i.e. not easily diagnosed. Want to loose weight & energy fast ? At 170 Lb. & 6'3", lost 30+ Lbs. in less than two weeks. {Took that long to "know", only a "stool culture" would det. if actually Giardia} The attitude of the person in "Madman Walking" towards Giardia is quite foolhardy given own experience with G. and that of others personally know, who've had it, including a young couple with 3 small children. Entire family went thru Giardia treatment.

Kevin
Oct 06, 2011

Nice article.

I through hiked the PCT when I was 18 (I'm now 55) and have done all of the Virginia part of the AT, but there is not enough free time in my schedule to do the whole AT. It'd be nice if I could afford the time to do it.

John Lackner
Sep 30, 2011

I enjoyed reading this article about Warren doyle and the Appalachian Trail. Maybe he can come out here to the west coast and do something similar on the Pacific Crest Trail.

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