Hiking the Appalachian Trail - Part 1
The Appalachian Trail (AT) has the distinction of being the longest hiking-only footpath in the entire world. At 2,200 miles, the AT runs from Mt. Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, for 2,200 miles through fourteen states. When you meet Harrison Flodin, you see he’s a big guy. Anyone who has walked over 2,000 miles in a five-and-a-half-month journey needs to have a certain amount of strength, stamina, and will power. He has a rugged look with a full, bushy brown beard and deep brown eyes. It’s been written that brown-eyed people are “independent, confident, and determined.” Whether true or not, he has made this solo trek in a way that defines those words.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, like many of us here in Windham, count this as home. Harrison’s dad started his love of backpacking and hiking when he was just six years old. Dad, Don, took him backpacking on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, which was a childhood experience he still remembers. More importantly, when Harrison was about eight or nine years old, something happened that would change his life. He tells me of the experience.
“One of the days when we were backpacking, I was a young kid, and we were near a portion of the AT. Some guy came by; he looked like a thru-hiker. He was skinny, long beard, small pack, and moving along. My dad asked him if he was thru-hiking, and he said yes. My dad explained to me that he had walked here from Georgia. It was a scary thought, but it was also a very cool thing. I thought I want to do that someday.”
Harrison started his journey on June 19, the day before his 23rd birthday, and ended on December 10 on a trip he calls a Flip Flop. To know the AT is to understand the terminology. A NOBO is a northbound hiker that starts in Georgia, usually at Springer Mountain though Amicalola Falls is suggested to avoid the crush of hikers. March is the general starting time for thru-hikers. SOBOs begin at the hardest part of the trail in Maine. These folks don’t have the luxury of getting their legs strong enough to handle the grind of constant up and down, over and under boulders. Section-hikers pick specific sections of the trail and hike a few days or weeks at a time, knowing they can’t get away for months. YO-YOs are those particular individuals who hike the entire distance of the trail, and once they reach the end, turn around and hike back to their starting point. Harrison started in Connecticut, hiked to Maine, and got a ride back to the Connecticut starting point and went south from there.
“I did what is called a flip flop, but I consider myself a SOBO hiker. For convenience and logistics, it was easier to start in Connecticut and end at Katahdin in Maine. I had started so late that I wouldn’t have been able to complete the distance from Georgia. Not enough time. Some people begin in February in Georgia, and I didn’t start until June. That northbound section took from June to the end of August. After I finished that, I took a couple of days off to put in my college application, then went back to where I started in Connecticut and went SOBO from there.”
Getting that part of the trail out of the way, made sense, especially with the way the weather changes in New England. In researching the AT, I read that both Mt. Katahdin in Maine and the White Mountains in New Hampshire reflected the hardest part of hiking the AT. The official AT website says, “New Hampshire features more miles above tree line than all other states. The mountains are very steep here, and you need to be in seriously good shape with strong knees before tackling them.”
I asked Harrison about that. “Maine and New Hampshire sections were the hardest part of the trail. The first section of Maine was physically the toughest part. It’s a lot of up and down. You’re not just walking on a footpath. You’re climbing over boulders, and you’re slipping on tree roots; the weather is severe.”
“I was considered a solo traveler. It’s hard to find someone you want to spend six months hiking with. You meet someone and walk for a couple of days, maybe a week, and you get to a town, and you need to resupply, but they don’t. You may run into them again. I still stay in touch with some of the hikers that I met along the way.”
Hikers on the AT have trail names. Afternoon Delight was Harrison’s trail name. Harrison met a fellow solo thru-hiker, Mousetrap, on the first leg of his journey.
“There’s one guy I’ll be lifelong friends with. His name is Mousetrap. He and I met in Franconia Notch in New Hampshire. Later on, when I was hiking SOBO, we met up again. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, and drove out to Gatlinburg while I was in the Smoky Mountains and took me to his house. I got to take a couple of days off in the winter, sleep in a bed, and get some hot food. I was just texting with him a couple of days ago.”
“A cool experience, though it was stupid, was when I was doing Mt. Washington with Mousetrap. We were hanging out at the top of Mt Washington drinking coffee, and there’s the observatory up there. We’re right at the top. We’re hanging out, and we decided to keep hiking. It’s quite a way to the next area to camp where there’s water. The weather looked perfect. We both decided let’s do a night hike under the stars on the Presidential Range. Me being from New Hampshire, I should have known way better. We started hiking, and the sun starts going down, and the clouds roll in. It was cool for about an hour. We were hiking through these purply-orange clouds as the sun was going down. Then it completely socked in. I would walk 100 feet up with my headlamp on, turn around, and Mousetrap would walk to me. We sort of had to leapfrog, and it took it way too long. Something that should have been 4-5 hours was 7-8 hours. Looking back, it was a cool experience.”
A name like Afternoon Delight conjures up a couple of ideas, mostly the 1976 song by the Starland Vocal Band. But he tells me the real story.
“It wasn’t the song. When I did my first hike, the month-long one, I hurt my knee and was taking an afternoon cocktail of Advil and whiskey. Someone asked if that was an “afternoon delight cocktail?” That’s just how it happened. Mousetrap’s name came because he used to carry around mousetraps, and he would put them in the shelters where hikers stop and eat. The shelters attract a lot of mice from the hiker’s leftover food. He carried mousetraps so they wouldn’t chew up his pack.”
Another hiker he met along the way was Milk Carton. She was a girl on the trail who carried an emergency beacon, the Spot GPS tracking device.
“It will send a text or email that says, ‘I’m okay,’ or ‘Meet me here,’ ‘I need help, not an emergency,’ or the real emergency, ‘SOS.’ ”
Milk Carton started her SOBO thru-hike at Mt Katahdin, Maine, and was in the 100-mile-wilderness stretch, which is “the section of the Appalachian Trail running between Abol Bridge just south of Baxter State Park and Monson in the state of Maine. It is generally considered the wildest section of the Appalachian Trail, and one of the most challenging to navigate and traverse.” The Maine Appalachian Trail Club has a sign warning hikers that reads, “Caution. It is 100 miles south to the nearest town at Monson. There are no places to obtain supplies or help until Monson. Do not attempt this section unless you have a minimum of 10 days of supplies and are fully equipped. This is the longest wilderness section of the entire AT, and its difficulty should not be underestimated. Good hiking! MATC.” Milk Carton didn’t realize her GPS had malfunctioned. When her dad hadn’t got the okay message, he reported her situation to the Maine authorities. They started a full-fledged search party. She was okay but earned the trail name Milk Carton remembering pictures of lost kids on milk containers.
NEXT: Trail Angels on the Appalachian Trails