Hiking the Appalachian Trail through hail and high water

Five miles into his 2,200-mile hike, Tom Abel was welcomed to the Appalachian Trail by pelting quarter-inch pellets of hail. The 15-minute storm of stinging ice missiles would not be all that Mother Nature had in store for the 68-year old during his six-month journey from the summit of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine, to the summit of Springer Mountain in Georgia. As he quickly discovered, hiking through hail, high water, heat waves, and snow would all be required to reach his long-held goal of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail.

Thousands of hikers endeavor to complete the demanding expedition each year. Only one in four succeeds. As it happens, Abel completed the thru-hike on his first attempt. Having thought about hiking the entire trail since his post Air Force college days, the retired geologist’s opportunity finally came, a few years after retirement.

On May 31, Abel and his wife, Becky, flew to Maine. The next day, Abel began the hike that would take him almost six months to complete. Although Abel admits that his best training actually happened on the trail, where he spent entire days after days hiking, he had devoted the months prior to his venture by preparing his body for the anticipated terrain.

“I went to the gym three days a week and used the stair climber and treadmill at maximum incline. I also went to Carter Road Park once or twice per week and hiked the trails with my loaded backpack. In May of last year, my eldest daughter and I hiked into the Grand Canyon from the rim to the Colorado River, where we camped one night, then hiked out the next day. Also last year, I hiked up Mount Katahdin, Hump Mountain in Tennessee and North Carolina, Springer Mountain via the Amicalola Falls State Park approach trail, Clingman’s Dome in the Smoky Mountains National Park, and Pico El Yunque in Puerto Rico,” Abel said.

His disciplined training was wise considering his intended completion of 10 miles per day, atop varied terrain, through diverse weather conditions, and while carrying a 25 to 30-pound backpack.

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