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2,193 Miles: Fleming resident tackles Appalachian Trail

Hike that started in Feb. 2020 ends last month

After 71-year-old Fleming resident David Eichhorn read a book about the Appalachian Trail, he decided he wanted to try hiking the 2,193-mile trail.

His journey started Feb. 29, 2020, and finally finished last month.

“It wasn’t a technical thru-hike, which has to be done within a 12-month period,” he said Wednesday. “At least I did it before the next 20th of February.”

Eichhorn, a Vietnam veteran of the U.S. Army and national commander of the Americal Division Veterans Association, wanted to make the trek as part of therapy. He said he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 1992.

“I did it to honor seven guys I served with that didn’t come back,” he said. “I had a lot of time to talk to them and walk and think. It was a spiritual walk for me.”

About the trail

Trip Trivia notes the Appalachian Trail stretches across 14 eastern states from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Mount Katahdin, Maine. It’s the longest hiking-only trail in the world and ranges in elevation from 6,625 feet to 124 feet above sea level.

“The total climbing for the trail is an estimated 515,000 feet, equivalent to climbing Mount Everest 17 times,” Trip Trivia notes.

Taking the journey

Eichhorn said he took the trip with no smartphone or GPS app to help him navigate the trail, which could start in Maine and work south to Georgia, or the more popular hike from Georgia to Maine.

He said along with spending 179 days hiking the trail, he also spent 10 “zero” days, where he would rest and re-supply before tackling the trail again. He said he averaged 12.25 miles per day, with 21 being the most miles he hiked in a day.

Along the way, he would meet “trail angels” who helped hikers by offering food, water or transportation to shelter.

Eichhorn said he may not take on the entire 2,193 miles again, but he would tackle parts of the trail again “if I got a good weather report.”

He said the adventure was “way more than I thought it would be.”

“The scenery was nice, but it was the people who made it,” he said.

The longest part of his trek lasted nine weeks, but he walked 179 days. He said had it not been for hostels and hotels closing along the trail for the pandemic, he probably could have done a thru-hike.

Challenges

Eichhorn said before he started the hike, he wasn’t completely aware of the terrain he would be traversing.

“I’m surprised it was that rough,” he said. “I can see where they have fatalities.”

He said he knew it would be difficult, but didn’t realize “there would be that much rock scramble.”

“It was not a comfortable hike,” he said, noting he was still able to find peace out in the woods. “”I’m surprised I was able to complete it.”

The adventure had to be broken into parts as he had other obligations to fulfill throughout the year. He had to take a break in Hot Springs, N.C. When he went back to Hot Springs, he was able to get to Rockfish Gap, Virginia, the southern entrance to the Shenandoah National Park, he said.

On March 22, he picked back up at Rockfish Gap and finished at Fort Montgomery, N.Y., near the Hudson River. He had to go home for personal business, but he wanted to finish the trail.

He said he was on pace to finish when he got to the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine.

“They were rough,” he said.

At the end of June, he again had to go home due to commitments, but went back to finish the hike in September.

“The first five days were horrible … 30 to 40 degrees and rain every day,” Eichhorn said.

After being off the trail for three months, he didn’t have his “trail legs,” he said. He also traversed a difficult patch of trail while crossing Pleasant Pond stream in Maine, where the water was high.

“I got knocked down and washed downstream a little bit,” he said.

The end of the northbound journey is Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine.

“I’ve never been so glad to get off a damn mountain in my life,” he said with a laugh. He said he was going to try a different trail, but was told it was nothing but rockslides.

When asked if he would have still made the journey if he had known of the rocky terrain, he paused.

“I had trepidation about going, but thought I’d just hike some of it, you know. I knew it wasn’t going to be a comfortable hike. I didn’t have any unrealistic … I didn’t realize it would be as tough as it was. If I’d have known how tough, I probably wouldn’t have.”

He said it was a beautiful journey, but said during the hike, he got knocked down when he ran into a tree and “fell at least 50 times.”

He said he went through Mahoosuc Notch in Maine alone, but saw people again when he got to shelter.

“I saw people every day. The least was two, but some days I’d see hundreds,” he said.

Eichhorn said the Mahoosuc Notch was one of the worst parts of the journey.

“Of course it was raining the day I went through the Mahoosuc Notch. I knew I fell 10 or 15 times that day. Rocks are wet and shoes are wet,” he said. “I think if I knew how dangerous it was, I probably wouldn’t have taken the trail.”

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.

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