A local man, Scott McKenzie of Frenchville, has set out to top the peaks and wander the valleys of the vast American wilderness on the Appalachian Trail. The trail is one of the longest continuously marked footpaths in the world.
McKenzie’s thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail was instigated by Bill Bryson, the author of the book, “A Walk in the Woods.” In his 1998 book, Bryson shares his curiosity and desire to try to hike the Appalachian Trail in its entirety.
Before beginning the roughly 2,180-mile journey that passes through 14 states and has only been completed by about one in four thru-hikers, McKenzie trained by walking up the steepest hills he could find. He also researched the newest backpacking gear.
On March 3, McKenzie set out on his own Appalachian Trail 2,000-miler with his goal to finish sometime in July. Like most thru-hikers, he set out in the springtime in Georgia to journey north toward Mount Katahdin in Maine.
While most thru-hikers take an average of six months to complete the Appalachian Trail, McKenzie’s goal is to finish in less than four-and-a-half months.
At the time of the interview for this story, McKenzie’s journey was taking him through his fourth state and the almost 200 miles of central and southwest Virginia.
“Virginia is the easiest so far,” said McKenzie. “Georgia was the toughest state. They said that 75 percent of all thru-hikers quit before reaching the Georgia/North Carolina line. After hiking those mountains, I understand why.”
On his journey, McKenzie carries a hammock for times of rest. He also stays in shelters located along the Appalachian Trail. McKenzie carries two pounds of food for each day until he next plans to re-supply and filters all of his drinking water.
McKenzie hikes up to 20 miles daily. On a “typical day,” he wakes up at 6 a.m. for breakfast; gets back on the trail by 7:30 a.m.; and continues until he tires out. McKenzie finishes his days off with dinner and goes to sleep by 9 p.m.
For McKenzie, Virginia has been the most scenic state along the Appalachian Trail. He enjoyed rock climbing at the Dragon’s Tooth and snapped more pictures of McAfee Knob than he had of his entire Appalachian Trail thru-hike up until that point.
Along his journey, McKenzie has become acquainted with fellow thru-hikers and knows most only by their “trail names.” Among those was his Appalachian Trail partner, Franziska, who is from Germany. McKenzie and Franziska originally planned to finish their thru-hikes together.
On Facebook over the weekend, McKenzie posted that both he and Franziska would continue to journey toward Mount Katahdin in Maine. However, they would have to part ways for the remaining 1,300 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
McKenzie said his trail partner has experienced pain and decided to bike the rest of her journey. “She will do about 50 miles a day and get to Maine in early to mid-June. We will continue on future hikes together, but none of this duration,” he said.
“[I] will miss her immensely, as we’ve been hiking together for two months … We just need prayers for our journey and for her safety,” he added. Despite losing his trail partner, McKenzie remains motivated to complete his Appalachian Trail thru-hike.
“My motivation is to complete this and prove to myself I can still do something extremely difficult,” he said.
In 1936, Appalachian Trail Conservancy Chair Myron Avery became the first “2,000-miler,” which he accomplished primarily in the process of flagging and measuring the original Appalachian Trail.
In 1948, Earl V. Shaffer became the first to report a thru-hike, walking the entire trail from Georgia to Maine. In 1965, he hiked again and this time from Maine to Georgia. On his third thru-hike, 50 years after his first, he became the oldest thru-hiker at age 79, a distinction he held until 2004.
In the 2000’s, 5,912 hikers completed 2,000-milers; in the 2010’s, 4,019 hikers completed the trail. In 2008, the ATC recorded the 10,000th thru-hike completion; since the 1930’s, 15,524 hikers have reported completing the entire Appalachian Trail.