Hiking Trails

At the reunion, the local trio reflect on an epic hike on the Appalachian Trail

November 5—PETERBOROUGH — Three guys — Popeye, Papa Bear and Dreamer — walk into a bar.

This is not the start of a joke, but rather a kind of reunion. The trio – Mark Paquin and Michael Lebo from Stoddard and Larry Chambers from Antrim – recently met at Post & Beam Brewing in Peterborough to share their experiences hiking the Appalachian Trail earlier this year. These nicknames are their “trail names,” nicknames hikers traditionally take along the roughly 2,190-mile route from Georgia to Maine.

Although the men all live within 15 miles of each other, they had never met before embarking on the roughly six-month trek through 14 states.

“He has to come by my house every day,” Paquin, 60, said of Lebo, who like him lives near Highland Lake in Stoddard. “And I’m like, ‘You’re kidding me.’

“And I met him on the trail, where was that?” Paquin asked Chambers.

“I mean Virginia,” replied the 64-year-old Antrim resident, although he said it was “kind of the default answer” since the Commonwealth has almost 532 miles on the track, more than any other state.

“That’s what I mean too,” agreed Paquin.

Paquin did not meet Lebo on the track, but instead learned via a Stoddard Facebook group that they were each tackling it. Their meeting at Post & Beam was the first time the three had met.

Although the men didn’t know each other before their adventure, that didn’t stop them from slipping into easy conversation, swapping stories like old friends over drinks in Peterborough.

For example, they all endured the same snowstorm in mid-March, even though they were in different parts of the South when it hit. Lebo, 44, was in Dalton, Georgia on the Pinhoti Trail, which begins in Alabama and added a total of 420 miles to his hike.

“I woke up my backpack was completely frozen,” he said, describing how the storm brought winds over 40 mph. “It took me a long time to open my bag. The next day I drove about 23 miles into town because everything was frozen.”

Chambers, who had been to Blood Mountain in Georgia, called the spring flurry a “New England-style” blizzard, while Paquin in Gooch Gap, Georgia considered hiking overnight just to stay warm , before finally finding a fairly flat old access road. to set up camp.

And just as they have their own stories from the trail – from the weather, to the challenging terrain, to the encounters with wildlife and the colorful characters they encountered along the way – each also took a unique path to their decision to try it.

Paquin was living in Florida in 2018 when a friend asked him if he wanted to take a backpacking trip through the Hundred-Mile Wilderness, the final stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, ending at Mount Katahdin in the Baxter State Park.

“At the time, he told me it was the most difficult section of the Appalachian Trail,” said Paquin. “So I said, ‘If that’s the hardest part, I can do the rest. …I’ve been talking about it for years. My wife ended up saying, “Go hiking, go.” “

Lebo also received encouragement from his wife, who told him to go after talking about the Appalachian Trail for two years.

“My first backpacking trip was in 2020,” he said. “I did the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway, and I fell in love with it. And after I finished that, I made this bucket list, and a lot of it was on the AT.”

For Chambers, 2022 was his second hike attempt. It started at Springer Mountain in Georgia, the southern terminus of the trail, on March 8, 2020, when COVID-19 “was on the horizon, but it wasn’t here yet.”

“…But by the time I got to Franklin, North Carolina, it was really everywhere, and a lot of people were running off the trail,” he said. “And the track also changed. It wasn’t the AT experience of a very social place and meeting people and hanging out with people.”

The social aspect of hiking through the Appalachian Trail is a crucial part of the effort. The recent local meeting is good proof of this, but scientific research also confirms it.

In a 2009 article in the Journal of Unconventional Parks, Tourism & Recreation Research, a trio of researchers from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo examined the benefits of hike on the Appalachian Trail.

“Interactions were strongly linked to camaraderie, and camaraderie was linked to enjoyment and enjoyment of life. In general, the data indicates that people go through AT to have fun and enjoy life and to develop warm relationships with others,” Dominion and Cal Poly professor Eddie Hill and Barbara Freidt of Old Marni Goldenberg wrote in the article, based on interviews with 50 members of the Norfolk-based Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club.

In an interview Thursday, Goldenberg, an avid hiker and backpacker herself, said the communal nature of these activities is central to the experience.

“People talk about who they meet and what they get out of the experience; it’s all important,” she said. “It can be life changing.”

This is especially true for hikers, said Jordan Bowman, director of communications for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a West Virginia-based nonprofit that works with local, state and federal partners to protect and maintain the trail. .

“Especially with hikers, there’s really this sense of community, that you’re with these people day in and day out and getting closer to that goal,” he said in an interview Thursday.

This camaraderie goes beyond the more than 3,000 people who attempt the hike each year, including a phenomenon known as “trail magic.”

“Over time, it’s become this core part of the trail experience,” Bowman said. “Trail magic, really, we define it as a spontaneous act of generosity on the trail…And it can be anything from giving them a Snickers bar, like, ‘Hey good job, here’s a little something for you spend that next hill,” driving people around town and taking a well-deserved shower.”

Each of the local hikers also had their own magical stories on the trails, like when Chambers and his then-hiking buddies arrived in Damascus, Virginia the same weekend the city held a marathon, filling all the hostels and hotel rooms available. .

“We went to the post office. Coming out of the post office, a resident, this lady, said, ‘Welcome to Damascus. Where are you going to sleep tonight?’ Chambers said. “I said, ‘Well, it’s all booked. We’re going to go out of town and camp. And she said, ‘No, you’re not.’ You can camp in my garden.” She hosted us in her garden, cooked us dinner.”

The trail magic also stayed with the guys in the Monadnock area.

“I want to do some track magic next year,” Paquin said. (New Hampshire has nearly 161 miles of the Appalachian Trail, mostly through the White Mountains.)

“Absolutely, yeah,” Chambers replied. “Pretty amazing. We all have, I’m sure, tons and tons of stories you remember and some you forget.”

Jack Rooney can be reached at 352-1234, ext. 1404, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RooneyReports.