Backroads: Appalachian Trail Odyssey

Bob Geiger starting the AT at Springer Mountain. GA. Submitted photo.

He isn’t the youngest person on the trail, but at sixty years of age, Bob Geiger isn’t the oldest, either. Bob is just one of the thousands of hiking enthusiasts who begin walking the Appalachian Trail from late winter to early spring and, hopefully, will be one of the twenty percent of thru-hikers who will finish sometime later this summer.

My husband and I were introduced to Bob and his wife Lou Ann over a telephone call from my cousins in Alliance, Ohio. Their co-worker’s husband was hiking the AT and wondered if we would consider hosting him for a night to recoup from the rigors of the trail, since our cabin at Love is only about a mile away from Maupin Field Shelter at mile 843 on the trail. We connected and he said he was 100 miles south of us, hiking about 20 miles a day, due to reach us in five days.  

Sure enough, Bob came walking up our back field about 11:30 on a very chilly morning March 29 and we hailed him over to the cabin. Slight in stature and thin as a rail, Bob had spent the previous night at the Harper’s Creek Shelter and walked up the back face of Three Ridges Mountain before popping out on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which adjoins our property.  

Once inside, Bob couldn’t seem to get close enough to our woodstove and, after warming up and devouring a large dinner, he began to spin the tale of how he happened to be hiking the 2,189-mile footpath. Bob has been an avid hiker for many years, but he said about ten years ago he began entertaining the idea of walking the entire trail. The idea persisted and became serious during the last five years and soon he was planning for the arduous journey. 2021 was his time.

The Appalachian Trail was originally thought up by a Massachusetts forester by the name of Benton MacKaye who envisioned a long-distance hiking trail and proposed its creation in 1921. The construction of the footpath, which stretches 2,189 miles through 14 states, was completed in 1937, although it wasn’t until 1948 that Earl Shaffer, a World War II vet, walked the entire length. Until that time, people just hiked the trail in sections.  

This year, about 4,000 thru-hikers will start out but of that number, nearly three-quarters drop out somewhere along the way. Most people don’t really know what they are getting into, and fatigue, illness or injury causes them to quit. In earlier years, pack weight was a problem. In 1981 we hosted another AT hiker carrying 60 pounds of equipment. Bob carries around 27 pounds in a soft pack with lighter weight clothing, shoes, tent, sleeping bag and food.  

Bob leaving Love the morning of March 30. Submitted photo.

Contrary to popular belief, age is not a requirement. Consider Emma Gatewood, a mother of 11 children with 23 grandchildren, who at 67 years of age thru-hiked the entire trail in 1955. Since then, hikers as old as 81 and as young as 5, as well as several blind hikers and an above-the-knee amputee have made the long journey. The southern terminus of the AT begins at Springer Mountain, Georgia (3,780 feet) and ends at the northern terminus, Mount Katahdin, Maine (5,267 feet), and it takes the average thru-hiker between five and six months to complete. Bob began his walk from Springer Mountain February 1 and hopes to reach Mount Katahdin sometime mid-July.

Asked what the best part of the trip was thus far, Bob said it was the people he’s met both on the trail and in the towns he’s visited. “Everyone is so kind and helpful,” he said. Each hiker retains their anonymity by not revealing their given name but a “trail name” they go by. Bob’s trail name is “Not So Much.” He said those choosing to hike the AT do so on a level playing field. “I’ve met nuclear physicists as well as people fresh from prison and a few girls on the trail.” 

I asked if beautiful scenery was a factor and had to laugh when Bob told us the only scenery he looked at while walking was his feet.  “You have to be constantly looking down, watching your footing.  But I try to make camp each night with a good view, if it’s not snowing or foggy. On those nights I just want to eat, climb into my tent and sleep.”

And the worst part? Bob said he was not prepared emotionally and mentally for how much he missed his family. His wife, Lou Ann, plays a vital part in her husband’s safety and well-being by extensive planning to let him know good jumping off places, upcoming shelters, and obstacles along the way.  She met Bob in Davenport Gap, Tennessee earlier in the hike and their whole family met again in Waynesboro over the Easter weekend. Bob created a special memory for his young granddaughters by carrying out two baskets laden with treats when they met him on trail. Previously they had asked him to be on the lookout for the Easter Bunny and with Lou Ann’s careful planning, the baskets were delivered to Bob before the grandchildren arrived.

The night before he left, Bob ate a huge supper, smiling at one point and saying, “This beats the heck out of sitting on a log and eating a granola bar!” After a hot bath and a restful night’s sleep, we bid “Not So Much” Bob goodbye the next morning, taking a final photograph of him standing under the Love Gap sign on the Blue Ridge Parkway and wishing him Godspeed.

The Appalachian Trail Odyssey will continue in the August Gazette, after Bob finishes his journey.  


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