WATERTOWN — Andy Judd of Watertown recently returned from a five-and-a-half month hike on the Appalachian Trail. Mr. Judd spent 171 days on the trail, hiking 14 states and more than 2,192 miles.
When Mr. Judd was younger, he had a childhood friend named Rory. They grew up hiking and camping together and were eventually roommates. Mr. Judd’s parents owned a summer camp when he was younger, and he made many camping connections through that.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail was an adventure that Mr. Judd and Rory wanted to do together. Unfortunately, Rory passed away before they could hike the trail.
A year after his friend’s passing, Mr. Judd was hiking in Estes Park in Colorado and decided that the only things stopping him from hiking the trail were his job and his house.
At 47 years old, he decided to quit his job as an electrician, cash in his 401K and sell his house. Six months later, he flew to Georgia to start hiking the trail on April Fools Day, April 1.
“Only a fool would start this thing so I figured this was my day of the year,” he said.
Amicalola Falls in Georgia is on the approach trail to Springer Mountain, which is the official start of the Appalachian Trail. Amicalola Falls is about eight and a half miles from Springer Mountain.
Hikers must climb approximately 625 steps to get to the top of the falls, which is a reason that some people pass Amicalola Falls and go directly to Springer Mountain to begin the trail.
When Mr. Judd finished the steps, he completed five more miles.
After Springer Mountain, a 29.9-mile wilderness trail leads to Neels Gap, where hikers find a restaurant, cabins and Mountain Crossings, an outfitter that offers a “pack shakedown,” where staff members go through everything in a pack to evaluate what might be unnecessary.
“In hindsight, I should have gone there first because the first four days were brutal,” said Mr. Judd.
Twenty-five percent of hikers quit at Neels Gap, he said.
Throughout the trip, he took about 25 days off. During that time, he went to a college reunion with his roommates in Pennsylvania, a wedding in Connecticut and a wedding in Boston. When he hiked through states where he had lived in the past, he stopped to visit with people he knew.
He added that he left the trail every seven days or so and go to a hostel to do laundry, resupply and take a hot shower.
“You certainly have a new threshold for cleanliness,” he said.
Mr. Judd explained that when he started, he did not have a plan. Many people will dehydrate food or have shipments sent to them.
When he first began, he overpacked. Eventually, he got rid of 15 pounds of unnecessary clothes, a crank radio and extra charger blocks.
He brought six pairs of shoes with him but as the trail went on, he had some shipped to him based on the manufacturer he liked best.
“They say ounces turns to pounds and pounds turn to pain,” he said. “It was a huge learning curve.”
“The trail is 20 percent physical, 80 percent mental,” said Mr. Judd. The biggest challenge is being able to adapt to the weather and terrain, which causes many people to give up. Although they plan ahead with food and support systems, the weather and camping aspects are difficult to handle.
He explained that sometimes there were seven days of rain and cold nights of 28 degrees.
People may begin the trail strong but lose steam over time. Mr. Judd completed about an average of 18 miles per day and the longest he hiked in a single day was 32 miles.
An interesting concept that he addressed was a “tramily,” a trail family which is a group of people who travel together. Mr. Judd explained that “tramilies” can range from four to 16 people. Sometimes it was a challenge to interact with them because when they were at campsites, they would take over the entire area and other hikers would have to move to the next site.
Mr. Judd said that he had to resupply every four days while conserving space to control how much weight he carried.
An important part of the hike is factoring a base weight, which is the backpack and sleeping system.
When Mr. Judd reached the Connecticut part of the trail in early August, his brother, girlfriend and two friends came to join him and hiked nearly four miles. He was greatly surprised that they came to support him.
An important device he learned on the trail was slack packing, which is a way to create a much lighter backpack. It requires a hiker carry only water and food for the day. Another part of slack packing is having someone pick you up at a certain location and eventually return you to the original location so you don’t miss any miles. According to Mr. Judd, cutting your pack weight makes a difference.
“You get to see all four seasons,” said Mr. Judd. He remembers waking up in snow during his time in the Smoky Mountains. He was there for the last snowfall of the season.
“You realize how diverse this country is,” he said, adding that during the trail, he spent most of his time in Virginia. It is the longest state that hikers stay in.
Mr. Judd said, “They call it the Virginia Blues because you’re there for 26 to 28 days.”
The terrain is diverse and most of this part of the trail is covered by trees.
The Appalachian Trail can be completed in several ways. Hikers can travel northbound, southbound or choose to loop back around once they reach the halfway point at Harpers Ferry in West Virginia.
Mr. Judd recalled some of his favorite memories from the trip.
“I really liked Maine the most,” he said. The sunrises, pristine lakes and moose really stood out for him.
He explained that not every town is exciting but certain towns stand out. When he was in Gatlinburg, Tenn., he got to take a picture in the real General Lee car from the TV show, Dukes of Hazzard.
“The people I’ve met truly outweigh the scenery,” he added.
When he first started, he met a man from Texas named David Kellerman, whose trail name was Kilroy.
Mr. Kellerman raised more than $60,000 for the Bowlers to Veterans Link, a large motivator for him because his funds were raised per mile.
Mr. Judd and Mr. Kellerman hiked 650 miles together before separating. He met him at the end and they finished the last 400 miles together.
“I couldn’t of done this without the people I met on the trail,” he said.
Mr. Judd took more than 30,000 photos during his trip. When he was a mile from the end of the trail, which is the summit of Mount Katahdin in northern Maine, he dropped and smashed his phone between the rocks.
Luckily, he spent time spelunking as a kid and he was able to retrieve his phone with all of his photos.
“When I summited it was a 75-degree day, it was clear as a bell,” he said.
He said that the hardest part of hiking the trail is being cold and wet.
He recalled a time in Georgia when there was three inches of hail in an hour. He was hiking with Mr. Kellerman and a family offered them shelter under a tarp.
“The people who you think are going to make it are not necessarily the people that do,” he said.
He remembers a 79-year-old woman that was outpacing her 12 grandchildren on the trail.
Mr. Judd explained that all ages and races complete the Appalachian trail. At one point, he met two separate families who were from Taiwan. These two families never met, even after staying at the same hostel.
Social media has made some positive and negative impacts on the trail.
A positive impact is applications that have been created, like Guthook AT Guide. This app shows each section of the trail and places to stay or things to do in that area. It allows users to leave reviews on businesses or landmarks and it helps hikers plan ahead.
Social media allows people to stay connected with hikers on the trail. Mr. Judd remembers that if he went four days without posting, people would reach out to make sure he was still progressing.
His girlfriend, Anne Herlihy, posted something on an Appalachian Trail page on Facebook at some point and more than 1,700 people posted congratulations when he finished the hike.
Another positive of social media is the immediacy of news. Unfortunately, while Mr. Judd was hiking the trail, an Army veteran was murdered while hiking, stalked and killed by a man from Massachusetts.
This took place 40 miles away from Mr. Judd, which is about a two day hike. According to Mr. Judd, this scared people off the trail but this was helpful because it made him aware and kept him safe.
A negative impact of social media is that it takes the remoteness out of the trail.
Mr. Judd explained that it is important to have a contingency fund. He said that an average budget for this trip is a base amount of $5,000, which is about a $1,000 a month.
During his time on the trail, Mr. Judd developed a trail name: Snowman. He acquired the name for a couple of reasons.
The first one is because he was snowmobiling two weeks before he started the trip on the backside of Mount Katahdin, Maine and got stuck 25 miles in the middle of nowhere and had to enlist a friend to tow him out.
“My favorite movie growing up was ‘Smokey and the Bandit,’” he said.
Mr. Judd would post on social media, “I’m Snowman and I’m still northbound and down,” similar to the song “East Bound and Down” from the movie.
Mr. Judd spoke about his diet while on the trail and how it could be unbalanced and unhealthy.
On average he burned about 5,000 calories a day and consumed around 2,000 calories.
Over the past five and a half months, he lost close to 26 pounds.
“An average person can eat two pounds of food per day,” he said.
Some of the things Mr. Judd ate included tuna, tortilla wraps, peanut butter, jelly and instant mashed potatoes.
If he wanted to load up on carbohydrates, he would eat a ramen bomb, which was a ramen cup with instant mashed potatoes.
Mr. Judd explained that he ate many power bars as snacks because they were the best option.
A common misconception is that beef jerky is a good snack but it actually adds to dehydration. Fruits and nuts do not travel well either.
Mr. Judd explained that while hiking the trail, it is difficult to maintain a balanced diet because of the remoteness. Due to the ruggedness of the trail, a lot of food gets wasted.
Some hikers plan ahead and have meals shipped to them.
He mentioned that people that have dietary restrictions may have a harder time because that diet cannot always be maintained.
Another issue that can often be overlooked is dehydration. During his time on the trail, he used a water purifier called Sawyer Squeeze.
Although Mr. Judd did not get seriously hurt during his time on the trail, he has always had a bad left ankle and he caught his foot on dozens of widow makers, or fallen tree limbs, during his trip.
Mr. Judd recalls that the most grueling part of the trail was the White Mountains in New Hampshire.
“He would have loved this trip,” said Mr. Judd, referring to his best friend, Rory. When they were younger, they loved to hike and camp together.