From the archives: March 5, 1995 / Hiking America’s trail

A dozen writers and photographers from five eastern newspapers were on top of Springer Mountain, southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. They were poised to take the first step of a 2,158-mile adventure along one of the world’s premier hiking trails, a serpentine footpath tripping over the ridge tops of 14 states from Georgia, through Pennsylvania, to Maine.

It is a long way, this sylvan slipper. So long that for the next seven months, as they took turns hiking northeast, the trail disappeared into a long green tunnel, or over a rise, or around a lake, or down a switchback.

For a modern adventurer in America, hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail — what enthusiasts call a thru-hike — rates somewhere on the first hand when you tick off the best of America’s outdoor quests. The Appalachian Trail is a long, testing journey of discovery. The trail is important not so much for what you find there — because many have traveled that way before — but for what you bring to the search.

Benton MacKaye, a Connecticut Yankee and Harvard forestry school graduate, never even considered that people would thru-hike the trail when he wrote about it in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects in 1921. Instead, he envisioned the trail as the backbone of a recreational network providing a refuge from the pressures of modern society and an opportunity for rejuvenation.

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