Posted October 17, 2017
“Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him.”
– Henry David Thoreau, “Walking,” 1851
In the wilds of Maine this time of year, you’re running out of time to climb Mount Katahdin and reach the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Winter is coming, and soon the weather will begin to close in on Baxter Peak, nearly a mile above sea level and the mountain’s tallest point – where the A.T. starts its 2,190-mile meander across 14 states, to its southern end in northern Georgia.
The Appalachian Trail is rustic, rugged and wild – maybe wilder than even a soul as solitary as Thoreau would fancy. One section of the trail just south of Mount Katahdin, called the Hundred-Mile Wilderness, might be the wildest of the wild for the challenges it presents even to experienced hikers. Since its birth in the 1920s, the A.T. has tested the mettle of tens of thousands of outdoorsmen and women of all abilities, including the uber-committed types who do the trail in its entirety – called thru-hiking. There are no electric lights on the trail, no vehicles, yet energy is with every hiker looking to get their wild out.
Think: shoes, tents, backpacks and outerwear for the trek from Maine to Georgia, or whereabouts in between. The popularity of traveling the A.T. from end-to-end has skyrocketed, with 6,342 hikers completing thru-hikes since 2010 – more than a third of the total hikers to date. To make it through difficult terrain and changing weather conditions requires preparation – to stay warm and as dry as possible with durable gear produced from natural gas and petroleum by-products.
On That Midnight Trail to Georgia
The first concern: your feet. The A.T. is no walk in the park. Rocky trails and steep grades require traction and comfort. A good pair of hiking boots to keep your footing is a necessity. Rubber provides a malleable, yet reliable, surface for maintaining balance on the way to the peak. Flexible but tough support is made possible by petrochemical feedstocks used to produce synthetic rubber.
At the peak, rehydrate. Maybe there’s a nearby water source, a creek trickling across the trail. Looks refreshing, but let’s run it through a water filtration device made of petroleum-based plastic to be sure it’s clean and safe.
How about first aid? The A.T. is full of hazards, potential nicks, cuts and blisters waiting to aggravate. Band-Aids and Neosporin are great products to pack for dressing cuts and preventing infection. Both use petroleum for increased reliability and durability. Band-Aid’s plastic strips shield wounds from the elements, while Neosporin, which uses petroleum jelly as a carrier agent to help spread the antibiotics, helps heal by fighting germs.
Hike, Eat, Sleep – Repeat
Reaching the campsite for the night, a sleeping bag awaits inside a portable tent. First, dinner – cooked on a portable backpacking stove like this one from REI that can run on white gas, kerosene or unleaded gasoline. Pump the fuel, put up the windscreen and light the fuel, heating up some beans and hot dogs. It passes for a delicacy on the trail.
With a full belly and the tent up, and sleeping bag invites. Many sleeping bags are made with nylon, a petroleum-based product first manufactured by DuPont in the 1930s. It’s lightweight and durable, which makes it well-suited for the trail.
Calling the trail and the wilderness home for the six months it takes to hike it end to end is quite a feat. If you’re 6 feet tall, that’s about 4.6 million steps. To finish, it takes a tough pair of feet, a lot of grit and an appreciation for the journey. And energy.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.