Our Summer Vacation – Day 13 continued
On our drive from Valdosta, Ga to Amicalola Falls State Park, my wife and I passed through Cordele, Ga. Inside the Amicalola Falls State Park Visitor’s Center is a display honoring a man from Cordele, Gene Espy.
In 1951, at age 24, Mr. Espey became the second man to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. The display contains the equipment he carried, much of it military surplus.
Here is a list of the items he took. None were high tech or ultralight or carbon fiber.
In 2008, Gene Espy published an autobiography titled The Trail of My Life: The Gene Espy Story. Earlier this year I purchased a copy of that book on-line. When I opened it to begin reading, I was surprised to find Mr. Espy’s autograph and the inscription “Best Wishes and Good Hiking to Eric”. It was dated Sept. 10, 2009.
I also have the book written by the very first A.T. thru-hiker Earl V. Shaffer. Mr. Shaffer completed his hike in 1948 after serving in the South Pacific during WW II. His best friend had lost his life during fighting on Iwo Jima and Earl Shaffer’s goal was to “walk the Army out of my system”. His book is titled Walking With Spring – The story that inspired thousands of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers.
In 1955, Emma Gatewood, aka “Grandma Gatewood”, became the first female to thru-hike the A.T. She was 67, wore Converse All-Star tennis shoes and carried a shower curtain for shelter. Prior to her hike she told her family she was “going for a walk”. Grandma Gatewood ended up hiking the A.T. multiple times and also hiked the Oregon Trail. She once said “I get faster as I get older.”
Speaking of fast, on August 28, 2018, Karel Sabbe (age 28) set a new speed record for hiking the A.T. Mr. Sabbe, a dentist from Ghent, Belgium, completed his hike in 41 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes. That’s an average of over 52 miles a day. The previous record was 45 days, 12 hours, 15 minutes, set by Joe McConaughy in 2017. The average successful thru-hiker takes about 5 months to hike the 2191 miles thru 14 states from Springer Mountain, Ga. to Mt. Katahdin, Maine.
You can find the link to his story here:
When Earl Shaffer, the very first thru-hiker, started his hike in 1948, he encountered a family having a picnic in the Georgia countryside. Seeing Mr. Shaffer carrying his backpack, the husband asked “Howdy, where you headin’?”
“To Maine” replied Earl Shaffer, eliciting shock from the couple and their small son.
Finally the wife spoke up.
“Y’all mean to say you are walkin’ all the way to Maine, over the mountains, all by yourself, and carryin’ that thing?”
“Yes Ma’am” replied Earl.
The woman shook her head, chuckled, and said “I’m glad I got sense, Mister. I’m glad I got sense.”
Since Earl Shaffer’s hike in 1948, over 15,000 hikers have successfully thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.
Earl started his book with a verse he wrote
There’s a lone footpath along the crest of the Appalachian Chain, On the cloud-high hills so richly blest with sun and wind and rain.
Today’s hikers typically inspire themselves with a shorter, less romantic verse”
No rain, no pain, no Maine.
Unable to resist at least a short hike before leaving, my wife dropped me off at the top of beautiful Amicalola Falls. As she drove back around to the bottom, I hiked a mile thru woods, over rocks, and along ridges back to the Visitor’s Center.
Then it was west, winding through the hills & hollers of north Georgia, to I-75.
One more night on the road and we were home.
We had learned a lot, made some great memories, and lost a friend during our journey.
After 8 different beds on a 14 night road trip, it was good to get back home.