AT 2017: Training Hike, North Old Mac to South Old Mac Loop

But I guess I'll get there, though I wouldn't say for sure

Icicles in Frozen Head State Park

As soon as I felt up to it after my hernia repair surgery, I tried to steadily increase my activity. In the first few days, I walked in my neighborhood. The mileage started low, about 1.75 miles, but gradually increased to 2.5 miles, 5 miles, and then 8.3 miles.

I felt ready today to finally go back to my old training site, Frozen Head State Park. I wanted to do some real hiking so I could get a better assessment of how I'm doing.

DateSunday, March 12, 2017
WeatherMostly cloudy, with temperatures in the low 40s
Trail ConditionsMostly dry
Today's Miles7.3

My doctor told me I should not lift more than 10 pounds., so I carried a day pack containing only a rain jacket and rain pants, a down jacket, snacks, and water.

The route I chose wasn't too strenuous. I elected to go up North Old Mac Trail, which included a steady ascent of nearly 1,700 feet in 3.6 miles.

A map of the North Old Mac to South Old Mac loop

Along with a short section of the Lookout Tower Trail, the North Old Mac and South Old Mac trails combine to make a nice loop around Old Mac Mountain.

Climbing North Old Mac Trail

As hikes go, there isn't a lot to say about this one. I hiked up the mountain. I hiked down.

That may make the hike sound like it was boring, and truthfully, that might have been the case. It was more or less the same as all of the many other times I've hiked this route.

But that is the point. This hike was further proof for me that my recovery is moving along well. I'm moving closer to a training phase where I left off before my hernia-repair surgery. I'm not just in a recovery phase.

That doesn’t mean I’ve recovered. It would be foolish of me to think that. I'm still following my doctor's advice and will take care to not overdo my training.

I'm also not fooling myself into thinking my thru-hike attempt is a slam dunk. There's no certainty I can finish on Mt. Katahdin.

To be honest, the opposite is more likely to be true. The odds appear to be stacked against me. A quick look at statistics from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) bears out that view.

There were 3,377 hikers who left Springer Mountain last year to hike north. Nearly all of them intended to finish in Maine. A year later, only 620 hikers reported they completed their hike.

Late in the last decade, the percentage of successfully completed thru-hikes had risen to 30 percent. Since then, though, the percentage has dropped to around 25 percent.

The trail hasn't gotten more difficult in that time. Indeed, you could argue it’s now easier. Backpacking equipment has become lighter, the number of trail-related services has increased, and cellphone reception has improved. But if it's now easier to complete a thru-hike, why don’t the statistics show that?

Maybe the reason completions have dropped is because the number of ill-prepared hikers who attempt a thru-hike has increased. I'm unsure if that's true and there's no way to measure a statistic for that.

Still, the numbers make clear it's a formidable challenge for anyone to hike all 2,190 miles in one year. I doubt anyone needs to see the numbers to understand that.

On a statistical basis then, I have a one-in-four chance of succeeding in my attempt to walk from Georgia to Maine.

Or do I?

I recently watched a YouTube video by a woman named Dirty Bunny who was attempting to thru-hike the AT. She told about the owner of a hostel who discussed some of those same statistics I just mentioned.

Dirty Bunny shared one more statistic which momentarily shocked me. She said the hostel owner told her the most successful group of hikers are those over the age of 60. In fact, he claimed older hikers have a success rate of 90 percent.

I haven't been able to verify that number. Even if we reject it as a made-up number, we can see how the success rate for thru-hikers over 60 could be higher than the overall average.

Older hikers are less likely to attempt a thru-hike without considering the challenges and understanding the risks. Most likely, a desire to thru-hike has been burning inside them for years but they had to make sure their job, family, finances, and health were taken care of first.

Dirty Bunny said about the same thing. Older hikers have dealt with life for a longer time. That makes them better equipped to handle the mental grind that comes from hiking for days in rain, snow, heat, and cold, and going without the normal comforts of home for an extended time.

In other words, I think being 61 years old improves my chance of success.

There is one more reason, a much more significant reason, I must add as an explanation for why I have a better chance of success. I have a partner who is committed just as strongly as I am to completing my thru-hike goal.

Kim and Gravity

Kim has been my friend, ally, coach, and advocate for nearly 38 years of marriage. And she is especially so now.

I can't be certain an injury won't cause me to fail to finish. I can't prevent that or some other external reason from forcing me to quit. It could happen, and perhaps it is likely to happen.

But I know I have every reason I need to succeed.

I sit before my only candle
Like a pilgrim sits beside the way
Now this journey appears before my candle
As a song that's growing fainter
The harder I play
That I fear before I end I'll fade away
But I guess I'll get there
Though I wouldn't say for sure


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.