Since the Appalachian Trail opened in 1937, only about 1,500 people have been able to complete the 2,000-mile trek from Georgia to Maine.
Of that number, only about 700 have completed the trek more than once. After four months and three weeks, Frenchville native Scott McKenzie can count himself as one of them.
After serving in the military, McKenzie began hiking as a way to combat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Hiking is the best therapy,” McKenzie said. “It’s my way to walk off the war and deal with my PTSD.“
He said had read numerous books on the Appalachian Trail, which had inspired him to take the walk himself.
McKenzie began his hike, which would take him through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine on March 10 and completed his journey by reaching Mount Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine, on Aug. 3.
McKenzie was able to finish his hike nearly a month faster than his first trek. He said he had to temporarily abandon his first attempt when he developed issues with his feet and stomach ulcers. He was able to recuperate and finished the final leg of his journey.
For his second attempt, McKenzie said he wanted to hike the entire trail straight through with no injuries.
He was mostly successful but took a bad fall while climbing Mount Moosilauke, one of the most dangerous parts of the trail. He said he had injured his elbow, but with the help of a “trail angel,” he was able to continue hiking.
“I had fallen and a spot on my elbow had swelled up almost the size of a baseball,” McKenzie said. “There was a trail angel set up in one of the parking lots and she was able to give me a bag of ice. It helped get the swelling down and I was able to keep going.”
McKenzie said “trail angels” are people, usually hikers or local residents, who leave things like food or water, or who offer other types of assistance to hikers.
He said the only other major mishap he had was when his hiking shoes “blew out” and he had to hike in his sandals until he was able to get another pair.
While hiking between 15-22 miles per day, McKenzie would occasionally take “0-days,” or days where he did not walk any further, to allow his body to heal. McKenzie said he had to take a few “0-days” simply due to bad weather.
“There was some really bad weather,” McKenzie said. “There were days where there was freezing rain or snow.
“There were days in the mountains where it was 15 degrees with a windchill of 0. It just seemed like the longest winter I can remember. I thought it would never end.”
McKenzie said he used many of the lessons from his first hike to better prepare for his second.
“The first time, I started out with about 46 pounds of gear. This time I had about 26.5 pounds. I carry the basic gear, clothes, about five days of food and water, a tent and basic stuff,” he said.
While there are shelters for hikers along the trail, McKenzie said it’s good to take a tent, because many of the shelters will become crowded and there may not always be room.
McKenzie said this time, he started hiking on the 8.8-mile “approach trail,” which is something he did not do for his first hike.
He said his favorite part of hiking is meeting new people.
“I met a bunch of great hikers and we hope to stay friends for years to come,” he said. One of the more memorable parts of his hike was encountering the “naked hikers.”
“For about 105 miles, the Appalachian Trail is shared with the Long Trail,” McKenzie said. “I didn’t know this at the time, but you’re allowed to hike the Long Trail naked. We ran into these two older guys hiking buck naked, except for their hiking shoes.
“One of them would put clothes on when we all were eating dinner at the picnic tables, but the other one didn’t. I really learned to be very careful washing my hands after that.
“You don’t think about it a lot, but when you go to stand up from siting at a picnic table, you put your hands on the bench to push yourself up. All I could think of is ‘how many naked people have sat on this bench that I just put my hands on.”
He said he only encountered the “naked hikers” one day. He said at that point, he was hiking about 22 miles per day and was getting more miles in than the “naked hikers.”
McKenzie said this hike was 2,190.9 miles, while his first hike was 2,189.2 miles. He said this increased distance is due to the trail having to be rerouted due to storm damage and other issues.
Having accomplished his goal of making the entire hike without injury, he has decided to focus on shorter hikes.
“My body is just breaking down,” McKenzie said. “There were sections when I was climbing the mountains where my knees were just full of stabbing pains the whole time. I plan on doing sections of the trail, but not for months and months at a time.”
McKenzie said he is getting ready to attempt the “100-Mile Challenge.” He said it’s held on one of the more remote areas of the Appalachian Trail where hikers must carry all their own supplies, first-aid gear and food without any assistance.
“I tried it in 2014 and I failed,” McKenzie said. “I’m ready to defeat this course.”
McKenzie said his advice for anyone thinking of hiking the trail is to be sure to save enough money and to use it wisely while on the trail.
“Don’t waste your money,” he said. “I saw a lot of young people going into the towns and wasting their money on alcohol. They’d have a few drinks, then they’d want to be friendly and buy a round for other people.
“Next thing they know, they’re out of money and they have to end their hike.” He also recommends that any hikers take the time to research the trail thoroughly as well as to research the types of gear they will need.
McKenzie said he considers himself very fortunate to have been able to hike the trail twice. He said of the 1,500 people who have hiked the trail from beginning to end since it opened in 1937, only about 700 have been able to hike the trail straight through more than once.
“I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to do this. I’m thankful for my sister who kept my dogs while I was gone. I’m thankful for my brother and his wife, who made sure my bills were paid while I was away.
“I’m thankful for my neighbors for taking care of the house while I was gone. Mostly I’m thankful to God for giving me the ability to do this and for keeping my body from breaking down so I could keep going.”