Walsh hikes Appalachian Trail, from end to end

by Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Nov 06, 2019 - 02:38 PM

Photo: John Walsh of Gloucester is shown at the peak of Mount Katahdin in Maine after completing the Appalachian Trail in October.

John Walsh of Gloucester is shown at the peak of Mount Katahdin in Maine after completing the Appalachian Trail in October.

 Gloucester resident John Walsh began an epic journey this past spring, hiking the entire 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Walsh, 19, said the journey gave him more faith in his fellow man and gave him a deeper connection to the mountains and the forestlands.

One might think it would take months of planning to embark on an adventure such as this. However, Walsh said he decided April 1 of this year that he was going to hike the trail and began his actual hike less than nine days later.

An Eagle Scout, Walsh said he had some good preparation for surviving in the wilderness. Actually, he said he brought too many things with him to begin his journey and ended up having to leave some things along the way. 

It was during his time in the Scouts that he first found out about the trail. “I heard someone say that there was a trail that goes from Georgia to Maine,” he said. “I didn’t believe it—it blew my mind.”

His sophomore year of high school, Walsh’s dad took him to hike on a portion of the trail, which sparked his desire to explore it further.

When Walsh finished high school, he had planned on doing an internship with NASA, but that opportunity ultimately fell through. “I was sitting at home, depressed and I thought that was a pretty awful way to be,” he said. “I figured I had nothing really to lose at the time, and because of that, I just left.” His final decision was made over two days and a coin toss.

His dad took him to the starting point at Springer Mountain and was going to spend the first night with him. On the day they were to embark, it was pouring rain, with heavy thunder and sharp lightning all around.

Walsh had been attending some drum circles in Mathews and met a man who told him that there is something sacred about the mountains and that he should offer tobacco to the mountains and should make himself “present” to the mountains.

Walsh and his dad reached the parking lot for one of the entrances to the trail when he realized he had forgotten to get the tobacco. In the middle of nowhere, they had to backtrack quite a ways to find a store that sold it—all the while still experiencing a raging storm.

When they returned, Walsh said they walked to the top of Springer Mountain and were inside of a low cloud when he offered the tobacco to the mountain. “Forty-five seconds later, there were blue skies,” he said. “I stopped the storm.”

After his father left him to head home, Walsh said though he started out alone, there were many other hikers out on the trail—people of all ages—most of whom had never done anything like this either. “All of us were leaving together—it was kind of like the first night at summer camp,” he said. “Some of those people ended up being some of my closest friends.”

Walsh started out hiking about 10 miles per day … or 15 on what he considered a “good day.” After about 300 miles and close to three weeks in, he said he began developing his “trail legs.” This meant his body had become accustomed to that type of terrain and pace, and he was able to begin pushing out about 20 miles per day without much problem.

Walsh described the trail with many transitions. “Some parts of it, you’d literally be climbing boulders,” he said. “Other days would be like a walk in the park.” Though the trail was marked for those climbing north, he said he did get lost quite a few times.

He said his most memorable part of the trail was hiking Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire. Known as a favorite among many who hike the Appalachian Trail, with its exposed ridge and incredible views, Walsh said the day he hiked that mountain “changed his life.”

Looking back on his six-month journey, Walsh said, “I wish I could say it made me a better person … I do feel like it aged me.” He said some of the relationships he built with fellow hikers are some he will cherish forever. He later joked, “Actually, the most important thing that I learned in those six months is that he is not able to grow a beard.”

As for the future, Walsh said he doesn’t plan on going hiking for a while. “I had six months to find out what I wanted to do with my life and I didn’t,” he said, though he did have plenty of job offers along the way. He thinks his next big adventure will be to swim the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates the continents of Europe and Africa.