Businessman’s Appalachian Trail hike recalled

Published 6:00 am Thursday, November 5, 2009

How do you travel 2,178 miles between Georgia and Maine? ForDavid Mars, it was one emotional step at a time.

The Jackson entrepreneur on Wednesday shared the highlights, aswell as some lows, of his thru-hike along the Appalachian Trailearlier this year. The 59-year-old started the journey on March 23in Springer Mountain, Ga. and encountered freezing rain on thethird day after about 22 miles, or 1 percent of the trip.

“It was obvious it was going to be harder than how it looked ona computer screen or in a book,” Mars said.

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During the months-long hike, Mars said he saw areas in themountains that rivaled the opening scene of “The Sound of Music,”battled poison ivy and mosquitoes in places, enjoyed thehospitality of strangers through “trail magic,” and got guidance onhow to make the journey from fellow hikers along the trail.

However, Mars recalled the advise of one hiker that “you have tohike your own trail,” meaning it is up to the individual hiker todetermine how he wants to make the journey. He said that is alesson for life as well.

“You’ve got to figure it out for yourself,” Mars said.

After about a month, Mars said he got depressed and left thetrail for what he planned to be a short break. After two weeks, herealized he was looking for an excuse to not continue, but heovercame those feelings and resumed the journey.

In that regard, Mars is in select company. Mars said about 2,000a people a year start out with the plans to hike the trail, butonly about 350 actually complete the trip.

In June, Mars said he got poison ivy and it served as anadversary as he went through Virginia. He said Pennsylvaniaincluded some of the rockiest terrain he traveled, as well astroublesome mosquitoes.

“I didn’t think anything could be worse than the poison ivy, butthe mosquitoes were,” Mars said.

Mars relayed several instances of “trail magic,” where residentsalong the trail would put out food or meet hikers at variouscrossroads to help and encourage them along the way. He mentionedthat one town’s mayor had a tradition of welcoming hikers to spendthe night at his home as a tribute to his late wife.

Mars estimated about half of the nights on the trail were spentin shelters, three-sided open structures capable of accommodatingup about 12 hikers, and half were spent in his tent. About once aweek, he said, he’d get a hotel room to spend the night, refreshand restock food.

Mars said he learned quickly to travel light, even going so faras to cut out the labels of his clothes in an effort to shedweight. He said his backpack averaged around 30 pounds.

“After the first couple of weeks, you learn if it’s notessential, you don’t carry it,” Mars said.

Mars completed the journey September 10 at Mount Katahdin,Maine. In all, Mars said he was on the trail 170 days.

Mars said he tried to go 100 miles a week, with one day off. Heestimated he averaged about 20 miles a day, with his longestsingle-day distance being 28 miles.

“It was a very memorable summer,” Mars said.