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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)

Despite the mandatory preparation trips, it's not clear that this group is even going to make it to North Carolina, much less Maine. Take Hazel: Tall and blonde and pretty, but a good bit overweight, she seems hopelessly out of shape.

But after four days and 51 miles, many of them in pouring rain, it becomes clear that her soft exterior masks an inner toughness. At 49, she's a former competitive jet-ski racer who once rafted the Grand Canyon with a broken ankle wrapped in duct tape. But then she got divorced four years ago, and she's been in a rut ever since. She became less active, gained weight, and lost her zest for life. "I used to run marathons and stay in shape," she says wistfully. "This is kind of like an extreme makeover for me. I even took a 'before' picture." She credits Doyle's preparation regime for getting her here at all. "You really learn to strip it all down," she says. "Not only your pack, but your mind."

Doyle's hiking philosophy is unique, to say the least. Lesson one: It's better to "hike smart" than to hike fast. As summarized in his AT "book"--which consists of a single online page--hiking smart boils down to common sense merged with an aggressive thriftiness: The less gear you carry, the lighter your pack will be, thus making your hike easier and reducing your chance of a trip-ending injury. Comfort is unnecessary: You can do without extra underwear, hot meals, a tent. Doyle himself is content to sleep in a rolled-up poncho, even in driving rain. He hikes in Walmart sneakers, and uses an old ski pole that he bought for $1 at a yard sale. He disdains water treatment or filtering of any kind, drinking directly from springs, streams, and puddles--and even brags about getting giardia. ("It helps with my constipation.")

He regards my CamelBak bladder and water-filter system with special scorn. "Your pack weight will be directly proportional to the sum of your fears," he likes to say. The most important element, though, is attitude: "Expect the worst. If after one week on the trail you can say that it is easier than you expected, then you will probably finish your journey."




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Reader Rating: -

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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