Hike Times 12
On April 15 of 2005 the Kiwanis Club speaker was Warren
Doyle, professor at Lees-McCrae College. His claim to fame is having done what the
above title says – hike from Springer Mountain,
Georgia, to Mount
Katahdin, Maine, and hundreds
of other mountains in between, about 2,167 miles each trip – a dozen times. Which is more than anyone else in history.
I was later disappointed to learn that his presentation is
misleading. He does not hike the trail
in the normal way that we assume. Nor
does he admit that in his show. He does
not start at one end and hike to the other, non-stop, carrying everything in a
pack on his back, with a half-dozen food and fuel caches along the route. So what does he do? He has a support crew in a van that follows
along nearby highways to bring him food and supplies every couple days, carry
him to restaurants and hotels and generally make life easier.
But still, he does carry a self-sufficient set of gear
some of the time, and he stays on the trail for 2 – 3 days at a time. He walks every mile of the trail at nearly
super-human speed. He one time held the
record (since broken) of hiking the entire trail in 66 days. This period yields an
astonishing...punishing...Herculean…rate of 32 miles per day, every day, for
over 2 months. All while crossing dozens
(hundreds?) of mountains and ridges over 5,000 feet altitude, and a few over
6,000 feet. Much of it in rough, rocky,
muddy, slippery conditions.
So, clearly, he has long distance backpacking down to an
art and a science. A listener can learn
some things from him. For example, his pack
weight is about 20 pounds, which is half the normal weight. How does he do it? With mental rigor as much as physical. Many things that even experienced campers
think are necessary, he skips. No sturdy
leather boots – just cheap tennis shoes that he wears out and replaces. No tent – just a plastic sheet. No canteen, water filter or purification
tablets – just drinking from known and published springs spaced frequently
along the route. No stove, cook kit,
utensils or condiments – just non-cook food, like crackers, beef jerky and
peanut butter. No change of clothes –
just carry what he is wearing [remember the frequent hotels and showers]. No toiletries – just go naturally in the
woods and swish his mouth with water.
He takes pride in how little his sport costs. He once covered an entire trip in $5 worth
of shoes: three pair of $1 discount sneakers and one tube of $2 rubber glue.
He takes his cues from four sources. (1) Nature: do deer carry a canteen? (2) Skepticism: just because the National Park
Service posted a sign that this spring water should be boiled does not mean that
he has to do so. (3) Experience: he
actually remembers from prior trips where the springs are located and can
adjust how much water he needs to drink until the next one. (4) Himself: if he wants to eat Little Debbie
snack cakes every day, then he can.
For me, listening to him was not so much a revelation, since
I already knew most of the things he said.
It was more a feeling of finding a kindred spirit. It was a validation of many things which I
have been doing for years that my friends ridicule. You don’t use toothpaste…or toilet paper…or
stove…or sunscreen? What are you, a
After his speech, we talked, and I was able to tell him a
trick he had not thought of: to shave a few more ounces from my pack, I leave
my tent poles at home and use a special hiking staff that I invented, which splits
into two poles with adjustment holes and cords, and tie my tarp to them.