By Paul Denoncourt
On April 25, 2022 I began the first half of my Appalachian Trail trek in Harpers Ferry, WV. I’ve now hiked 53 consecutive days through Maryland and Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Western Massachusetts and am now outside Rutland, VT- a total of 673 miles averaging about 12.5 miles per day. Yes, it has been difficult; I am nursing my tenth blister, have been wet from rain for two days straight twice, and been hypothermic once. I’ve met many incredibly nice hikers, some of whom have quit the trail already. I am also amazed at the many non-hikers who have generously helped me and other hikers along the way. We call them “trail angles”. These include drivers who have picked me up as I hitchhiked into or out of town; in fact, I have yet not to be picked up, and twice people have stopped to offer me rides when my thumb had not yet been extended. The other day a kind lady paid for my coffee and donut at a breakfast place because I had my thru-hiker tag on my pack. I’ve been given free fruit at a fruit stand. One man set up a portable kitchen at a trail crossing and fed every hiker who came by all day. My faith in humanity has been boosted by this experience.
Every hiker, as an acknowledgment that the trail requires you to forgo your normal life and ego while changing you for the better, gives up his/her name and takes on a trail name. My trail name is Paladin, from the old TV show Have Gun Will Travel. The hero of that show roamed the wild frontier doing good works for people. I try to do the same in this Appalachian wilderness. I pick up trash every day. I have rescued and returned a lost water filter and trekking poles. I gave away a pair of my socks to another hiker who didn’t think to bring an extra pair for himself. I loaned my sleeping bag liner to a hiker whose sleep system was not enough for the frosty nights we had early on. I have been the recipient of good deeds as well. My cold weather coat fell from my pack and was returned to me by a stranger, and when I became hypothermic a hiker stopped to get me dried off, into warmer clothes and then used his stove to make me a piping hot cup of coffee from his own supply. Another reason I chose That name is that the last two lines of the theme song seemed applicable:
Paladin, Paladin, where do you roam?
Paladin Paladin, far far from home!
On 5/16, I saw my first Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) I’ve seen several Rat Snakes (Pantherophis alleghaniensis): long black nonvenomous snakes whose defense mechanisms include shaking its tail in the leaves to imitate the sound of a rattlesnake. They also climb trees! After a rain we see many bright orange efts of the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridendes) on the trail.
Despite the cold, the blisters, and the aches and pains, I am enjoying the experience. It is difficult but exciting. I still plan to go all the way!