An Appalachian Trail pioneer: first Hongkonger to hike the full length

The moment Tony Or Hang-tat stepped outside his tent, he absolutely understood why hikers hang food and rubbish in bags on high tree branches before retiring for the night. The big black bear looking his way must have weighed 300 pounds.

This was in Pennsylvania, 13 weeks into an adventure of a lifetime: hiking the whole of the Appalachian Trail that stretches 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine with just a backpack, a tent and a smile. It was not the first bear he had seen, nor would it be the last. But it was the closest encounter.

“I was really lucky that I didn’t decide to cook breakfast 10 minutes earlier, because almost certainly the bear would have come to get my food – and get me,” Or says. “You can’t lock the smell in, so you put the food in a bag and hang it in a tree. So if the bear is going to get your food, he’s going to climb the tree and not enter your tent.”

In the autumn of 2016, Or, then 31, was considering a new direction in life, having worked for a Hong Kong bookstore for almost a decade. He decided to take a week-long hike in the US before finding a new job.

“My friend mentioned the Appalachian Trail and I researched it a little bit, and I started thinking it’s a really cool thing to ‘thru-hike.’”

A little more than a year later, in mid-September this year he became the first Hongkonger to complete the entire trail.

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