Danish Rasmus, a hiker I met during the latter stages of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2012, writes this guest blog about why it took him 2.1/2 years to complete his thru-hike.
On top of Springer Mountain, Georgia at the start of the hike
It’s a sad fact that every year, many thru-hikers are injured on long distance routes, some even die. None more so than on the Appalachian Trail. The AT is renowned for some very rough sections, notably Pennsylvania with its rocky surfaces and Maine, where rock shares the trail with tree roots, creating a slippery trail ridden with obstacles.
During my 2012 thru-hike I was lucky enough not to get injured. Hiking the AT I often fell into a walking trance, despite the uneven surface you just become mesmerized, quickly scanning the ground ahead you making decisions every second regarding foot placement. In mind stride, before you have even finalized where your next step will land, it’s a case of constantly sizing up the surface immediately in front of you for one foot, then quickly the gaze diverts to the other foot and the possible options for landing. It’s take a while to get used to the trail, many start carefully and slowly but once we sussed it out, we all became a little blasé about speed, throwing caution to the wind and merely blazing along with full confidence. Familiarity, however, does breed contempt and mistakes are made, sometimes ending a hike. It only takes one mistake.
Nearing the end of my thru-hike I met a guy called Danish briefly during the last few days. He had actually started his hike in 2011 but didn’t finish it until 2013. Here’s why:
In 2009 I was watching TV and came across a German documentary on the Appalachian Trail (AT). I could see the incredible landscape, but way more important I listened to the people they were talking to – and that made me think. They showed a bunch of young people that said they were out there to see what they wanted to do with their lives. That’s when I realized I wanted do that too. At the time I was living with my girlfriend and was about to finish university. Everything seemed all planned out like it is supposed to; girlfriend, apartment, job, wedding, kids, house, retirement. But watching those people out on the Trail made me realize; there might be something more!
So, sure enough, with the New Year 2011 I planned to hike the southern half of the AT on a 90 day visa. Taking only three months away worked out better with my university obligations and less time away from my girlfriend. On April 14 2011, I started heading north from Springer Mountain, Georgia. The first weeks on the Trail were incredibly tough physically (13 blisters) as well as mentally (missing home and friends). But after about 250 miles on the AT, somewhere between the Smokey’s and Hot Springs I realized; Wait a minute! This is not a task, not an obligation, I am not a German student hiking a long section of the Appalachian Trail – I am a thru-hiker!
Realizing and understanding this simple fact was a huge step, I suddenly became aware that I could convert myself into everything I wanted to – I could do whatever I wanted. From that moment on I had a blast hiking the AT and nothing, neither blisters, rain, steep climbs or hot weather could stop me.
By reaching the half-way point (and eating the traditional half gallon of ice cream to celebrate) the time on my visa was up. I was sad to leave but also glad to see my friends and family again. When I left the Trail in Duncannon, PA, I promised myself I would come back and finish what I had started.
Going home felt so weird though, I came back into a world I didn’t know anymore, to a life I didn’t live anymore and to a girl I didn’t love anymore (we split up the day I got home). After acclimatising again, I spent the next months on finishing my postgraduate program and my graduation was on May 3, 2012. Writing the master thesis was a lot of work and sometimes when I got impatient and didn’t want to deal with the whole topic anymore, I leaned back and thought about the Trail. I figured I’m only doing this to be able to continue my hike, to continue to live the life I love. After my graduation I got ready to leave, I sold a bunch of stuff and made sure this time there was nothing holding me back; no girlfriend, no contracts, no apartment, no university!
On June 8, 2012 I started back on the Trail and was finally able to continue my walk, my quest up north. The experience was as incredible as on my previous trip. I met the same kind of people and hiked in a nature that was even more breathtaking. I realised it is the people you meet, either fellow hikers or locals, who help you out and give you Trail Magic, that make this Trail unique in the world. I also noticed that the AT makes you appreciate the little things like motel rooms, a shower, flush toilets, free potable water or a cold beer (although I think I always appreciated those!)
The first view of Mt Katahdin
From June until August 2012 I hiked from Pennsylvania up to Maine. I was excited and sad at the same moment that I entered the final 100-mile wilderness stretch. Excited because I was about to finish the journey of a lifetime and climb the mountain I had longed to see for so many months, and sad because I didn’t know what it would be like not to have this simple goal – ‘Katahdin’ on my mind and leave the trail for good.
But fate had something different in mind.
Three days into the 100-mile wilderness, with 4 days to my goal, my companions and I climbed White Cap Mtn. Finally I got to see the final, lonely mountain in the distance. Katahdin was so close! But coming down White Cap, having 70 miles left, I didn’t pay sufficient attention. My foot got caught on some roots. I stumbled, fell, sat on my right leg and felt it snap. It hurt like hell and although I was hoping for a rolled ankle only, I knew it was something more severe.
My friends elevated the leg and tried to cool the ankle, but after no improvement after 30 minutes they decided to drag me down to the nearest dirt road. There we flagged down a logging truck, I got a ride to a real road and from there I hitched directly into the Millinocket Regional Hospital. After a few X-Rays it was clear; my right leg was broken just above the ankle. Fortunately the bones were still in place so I didn’t need any surgery. But when the doctor told me that my hike was over for that season, I had to cry and couldn’t believe I was so close, but not done! I called Jamie from the Hostel in Millinocket to stay there for a few days and make up my mind what to do.
In the evening I called a friend that I had met on the AT in 2011 and told him what had happened. He was able to cheer me up by telling me to look at it a different way: Katahdin would still be there in a few years, having to deal with a broken leg in a foreign country is a by far the bigger adventure. This thought lightened my mood, although I still had to cry when I woke up on August 27 lying in the hostel, when I was meant to summit Katahdin with all my friends. Unable to finish my hike in that season and unwilling to go home, I continued traveling. It was strange; being used to walk everywhere, now I needed help carrying something upstairs. But first on crutches with a big walking boot, then normally, I visited friends all over the US and then went to Mexico where I just discovered hitch-hiking on sailboats.
Happy Trails – Danish
Danish went onto summit Mount Katahdin, and finish his hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2013, some 2.1/2 years after he set out. You can read his blog here (In German so you will need Google translator or similar).
Danish finally reaching his goal on top of Mt Katahdin