What compels a man to bicycle four times across the United States and then hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail — all 2,190 miles of it? Maybe it’s like asking someone why he climbed that mountain? The usual answer, “because it’s there.”
Well, during my first interview with Garry Lawyer of West Laurens, I asked that very same question, but his answer was entirely different.
“I wanted to do it since I was 16. It was a personal challenge. I’ve hiked and camped my entire life,” Lawyer said.
Garry did it the year he retired from the railroad. He was 60 years old.
The Appalachian Trail starts for most hikers on Springer Mountain in Georgia and ends on Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Through-hikers, those who hike the trail continuously, usually take five to seven months to complete the hike. Garry did it in four months and five days or 18 weeks and three days. Whichever way you count it, he beat the average. It’s interesting to note that last year, Karel Sabbe, a 28-year-old Belgian trail runner completed the “hike” in 41 days, 7 hours and 39 minutes.
I’m not going to cover this story in just one week in this newspaper. There’s so much to tell, so I figured I’d cover it about once a month until he crossed the finish line. People who do one state or section at a time are called “section hikers,” so I’ll be a section writer. Garry was a “flip flopper.” He did the opposite of most hikers, going from north to south — Maine to Georgia.
Most hikers limit what they carry. After all, we know that weight matters. The primary food that most participants carry is ramen noodles. Are you kidding me? It’s no wonder that only one out of four hikers who start the trail ever finish. Garry carried freeze dried food during the trip and ate meals in most every town or village he passed. Most hikers on the trail try to carry an average of 20 to 25 pounds. Garry’s pack weighed in at 65 pounds. I might add, that when I hiked the 125 mile Northville-Placid Trail as a section hiker, I carried a steak for my first night out. Neither Garry nor I resorted to eating ramen noodles. You don’t have to rough it when you hike. Even when carrying all that food, Garry started the hike at 203 pounds and finished slightly lighter, a whopping 165 pounds. How much would he have weighed if he ate those noodle things?
I asked him, “what was the biggest challenge you faced during the hike?”
“I missed my wife. She met me for our seventh anniversary, and I saw her again ten weeks later,” Lawyer said.
Deb drove Garry to Maine, where his first challenge should have been the famous, or maybe it’s the infamous, 100 mile wilderness. When she stepped out of the car to help him unload his gear and see him off, she gave him a quick kiss, jumped back in the car and drove off. If she didn’t, Deb might have been carried into the woods by the hordes of mosquitoes, never to be seen again. Garry’s best friend was a spray can of Deet. After all, it was July 7, 2019.
Those who hike the Appalachian Trail have often wondered why the toughest part of the hike is the last section. You have to do the Presidential Range in New Hampshire. The trail doesn’t take the easiest route up the mountains. It goes straight up and straight down with rocky, treeless, bouldered peaks on top.
I’ve tried to get you acquainted with the trail, but there are many miles and many adventures to follow. Maybe when we’re done, some of you might decide to give it a try. Good luck and “may God bless your soul!”
No, I’m kidding. It can’t be that bad, can it? More than 20,000 people have completed the hike since the trail was established in 1936. But that means more than 60,000 didn’t make it! Which one will you be?