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Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Portraits

These men and women were photographed as they thru-hiked the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail, from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin, Maine. They each walked more than 2,000 miles—enduring the Smokies, the Shenandoahs, and the White Mountains—to get

Photo by Chris Bennett

Graham "Don Quixote" Brandwood, 62, of Lancaster, England

Best Memory of My Hike: The kindness of strangers–trail angels and trail magic. The feeling of being part of something really special, being one of an elite "band of brothers" (and sisters). The whole Trail Community. The whole experience of hiking the trail has remained with me and has had a profound bearing on my current life.

Best day on the Trail: Day 159–Saturday 26th August 2006. I was in the 100-Mile Wilderness, and although not a planned destination, I had been obsessing about White House Landing and their famous 1 lb. burger for a while. In the end, I decided to go for it, even though it was some 23 miles away and I was aware that the boat crossings to the landing ended around dusk and if you wanted to order the burger you had to be there by 4pm. I cruised along from East Branch Lean-To and reached the landing at 2:50 p.m., having covered the miles in under 9 hours (including short breaks), which for me was pretty awesome hiking. I was euphoric, had the bunkhouse to myself, and the burger didn’t disappoint.

Hardest Day on the Trail: Day 140 – Monday 7th August 2006. In the White Mountains, I had spent the previous night at the Lake of the Clouds Hut, doing work for stay. Not a great experience and hadn’t slept well on the dining room table. Poor food and company (a bunch of boorish south-bounders). I set off on a cold, foggy morning, so got no views at the summit of Mt. Washington. It did clear later, though, and it was warm and sunny for the rest of the day. However, I just found the day really hard work, particularly the drop down to Madison Springs Hut and then up Mt. Madison. Originally I had been hoping to get to Pinkham Notch (or beyond) but decide to call it quits at Osgood Tentsite. Overall I did 10 miles in 8 hours, 50 minutes, with the last 3 miles taking the best part of 3 hours. Sometimes you just have to listen to your body!

Another tough one: Day 75 – Saturday 3rd June 2006.  A hike from Quarry Gap Shelter to Pine Grove Furnace State Park, in Pennsylvania. I had been running a temperature for some days, with a total loss of appetite. I was feverish and so was taking Paracetamol to try to keep the temperature down. I knew something was seriously wrong and so my thoughts were all gloom and doom and thinking that I would have to give up and not finish. I was seriously worried! In the end I made reasonable progress to the state park, but couldn’t eat the ice cream (half-gallon challenge) which I had been so looking forward to. I struggled on to Boiling Springs and saw a doctor there; Dr. Brad Wood. He carried out various tests and took blood samples and this was the start of a three-week period where I ended up staying with him and his wife (the kindness of strangers again), whilst they tried to find out what was wrong. I even spent time in the Hershey Medical Center. Finally the tests showed positive for two of the rarer tick diseases – Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis. Both potentially fatal!! Once I had the correct medication I was able to set off again and gradually got trail fit and adjusted my mindset into positive thoughts around finishing again.

Best Advice or Tip: Hike your own Trail. Relatively early on, when I was still learning the ropes, I was in and around a group of younger, fitter hikers. Although hiking solo during the day I thought it would be good to aim for the same shelters/campsites that they were doing. I ended up doing three consecutive +20-mile days, reaching the shelters much later than the others and feeling extremely tired as a result. I wasn’t trail fit enough for this and it was pretty stupid. After reflection and realisation kicked in, I listened to my body and went at my own pace and to my own plan.

Best pieces of gear: My Trangia stove– a bit heavy but I liked the two pans and the kettle. Maybe very English to get the kettle on as soon as I stopped. A wooden stick – I snapped one of my hiking poles so for a long time and a few hundred miles I used a wooden stick/pole. I was quite sad when I found a pair of old trekking poles in a hiking box at The Barn in Gorham and left my stick behind.

Base Pack weight: Fully laden at the start it weighed 56 lbs. Later I maybe got it down to 50 lbs., so base weight at the start was probably around 48-50 lbs.

Favorite Trail Food: Everything and anything I could get my hands on!! Always stared with porridge, lots of pasta, noodles, tuna and sausage for dinner. Sticky sugary cakes – Little Debbies.

Go to the next hiker.

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