[at-l] Sherman & Older hike 1973

RockDancer rockdancer97 at comcast.net
Thu Apr 22 07:58:36 CDT 2010

Sherman & Older live in Hancock, NH, a nice re-visit article posted at http://www.wirenh.com/Outside/Outside_-_general/Five_million_steps_201004214061.html

Arthur Gaudet (RockDancer)
Rockdancer97 at comcast.net
"The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon."

Five million Steps
Written by Matt Kanner   
Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Nearly four decades after hiking the Appalachian Trail, N.H. authors Steve Sherman and Julia Older reflect on their 2,000-mile odyssey.

When was the last time you went three full days without encountering another human being? For most Americans, the answer is probably never. For Steve Sherman and Julia Older, it was 1973, during their five-month hike of the Appalachian Trail.

Hikers on the trail today are less likely to experience such absolute solitude. The advent of cell phones, GPS devices, e-trail news warnings, featherweight equipment and advanced camping gear has spurred more outdoors adventurers to strap on their boots and hit the trail. From the time it was completed in 1936 to the time Sherman and Older traveled it, only 181 people had hiked the Appalachian Trail’s full length. Today, between 400 and 600 men and women accomplish that feat every year.

Make no mistake—traversing the entire 2,000-plus mile trail is still a remarkable achievement.

But it was even more daunting when Sherman and Older embarked on their epic journey 37 years ago. In fact, Older was only the 19th woman to complete the end-to-end hike. Starting at Springer Mountain in northern Georgia on April 11 and ending at Mount Katahdin in northern Maine on Sept. 7, the couple absorbed all the breathtaking peaks and backbreaking valleys of a pristine wilderness trek. The experience continues to have a profound impact on their daily lives.

“We live pretty simply, and I think it is because of our experience,” Older said. “All we needed was our tent, a dry place to put it and the outdoors.”

Now residents of Hancock, N.H., Sherman and Older wrote about their 5 million-step hike in “Appalachian Odyssey,” originally published in 1977. A third edition of the book came out last year, garnering an honorable mention in the category of Outdoor Classic from the 2009 National Outdoor Book Awards—an award that had been bestowed on such treasured works as Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” and a reprint of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.”

The latest edition of “Appalachian Odyssey,” available at www.AppledoreBooks.com, includes a new preface, appendices and cover illustration, along with some updated information. It still also has the original preface and foreward by radical environmentalist Edward Abbey, author of “The Monkey Wrench Gang” and “Desert Solitaire.”

The Appalachian Trail passes through a total of 14 states, including more than 150 miles in New Hampshire. Sherman and Older, then in their early 30s, had known each other for about a year when they embarked on the trail together.

“Why were we hiking the Appalachian Trail?” they wrote in the book’s original preface. “Because we wanted to touch the land directly, to reconfirm our trust in the slow but unconquerable ascendancy of nature over man, to test, to accomplish, to learn.”

They quickly discovered they had made some miscalculations while preparing for the trip. Aiming to keep their packs as light as possible, they had opted for ultra-light sleeping bags—a decision they regretted when the evening temperatures in Georgia dropped to 18 degrees.

“Shivering for three nights in the lightweight sleeping bags, it was like sleeping in a piece of tinfoil,” Older said with a laugh.

During the subsequent months in the woods, the pair became well acquainted with the merciless forces of nature. Whether squirming through frigid nights in the tent or sweating through scalding 95-degree days on the trail, they were vulnerable to the Earth’s unalterable supremacy over its human inhabitants

“We need nature, basically, and nature doesn’t really need us,” Sherman said.

One of the ever-present challenges of life in the wilds of Appalachia was water—whether too much or too little. At times, excess water was the enemy, as daylong rainstorms soaked their clothes and flooded the trail, creating dangerous rapids. At other times, the problem was scarcity of potable water for cooking, drinking and cleaning.

“In New Jersey, there was a head on the water like beer. It was very foamy,” Older said.
Nevertheless, armed with chlorine tablets to purify the water, Sherman and Older managed to avoid getting sick. And, despite numerous stretches of sheer misery, they were rewarded with daily moments of bliss. The couple cherished their frequent wildlife encounters with birds, deer, small mammals and even snakes.

“Both of us remember a fox turning around that was quite far up the trail and looking at us while we looked at him for the longest time, just transfixed by each other,” Older recalled.

Sherman said the couple’s prolonged time in the woods sharpened their senses and attuned them to the faintest sounds, sights and smells. Those skills proved valuable, helping them detect the gurgle of a creek a quarter-mile distant.

“We learned to use our senses in a different way,” Sherman said. “Often, we would hear water before we saw it.”

New Hampshire’s portion of the Appalachian Trail exemplifies both its natural beauty and its natural hazards. The Granite State’s White Mountains are divided by Franconia Notch, with the Franconia Mountains to the south and the Presidential Range to the north. The pinnacle is Mount Washington, which, at 6,288 feet, is the highest point in New Hampshire and highest peak on the Appalachian Trail north of Tennessee.

Signs in the Presidential Range warn that the area is home to “the worst weather in America.” Wind speeds atop Mount Washington can exceed 200 miles per hour. Plus, Sherman noted, the trail in New Hampshire features extreme elevation changes, from a mere 400 feet above sea level to more than 6,000 feet at the mountain crests. And yet, the Presidentials attract thousands of day hikers who crowd trails and shelters.

Still, Sherman and Older harbor fond memories of hiking through New Hampshire with the company of friendly juncos, stunning views of Tuckerman Ravine, and a patch of lucky four-leaf clovers. They even fondly recall a visit from a particularly feisty raccoon who investigated their packs as they camped on Mount Moosilauke. 

In the years since their 1973 marathon, Sherman and Older have occasionally revisited sections of the trail in New Hampshire and have found that it hasn’t changed much. The Appalachian Trail, overall, has undergone a number of alterations, some positive and some negative. The official length of the trail when Sherman and Older hiked it was 2,119 miles. It now measures 2,174 miles. Some segments that previously ran along roads and highways have been diverted through the woods, which is welcome news to Sherman and Older. A northward expansion into Canada along the International Appalachian Trail could eventually add another 600 miles.

On the other hand, the sharp increase in people using the trail has resulted in more noise and pollution in some places. Older said many overnight campers now treat the trail more as a partying ground than a wilderness retreat. 

Today, about 2,000 people per year attempt to become “through-hikers” (a.k.a. “end-to-enders” or “2,000-milers”) on the Appalachian Trail. But only about one in five actually make it the full distance. Despite major advancements in digital communication technology and hiking equipment, the most crucial trail preparations are still made in the hiker’s head, Sherman said.

“In the end, one of the most important pieces of equipment is having the psychic stamina,” he said. “You just have to have that meddle, the grit to get up and face your goal each day, which is to move ahead.”

Since 1936, around 10,000 total through-hikers have successfully traversed the entire Appalachian Trail. According to Sherman, close to 4 million people per year set foot on the trail, even if it’s just for a day hike. Sherman credits the Appalachian Mountain Club with keeping most of the trail wild and pristine.  

“The trail itself is really a wonderful resource for this country,” he said. “We ought to be grateful that it is a national scenic trail.”

Sherman and Older have authored three Appalachian Mountain Club guides, as well as a book about New Hampshire’s most popular mountain, “Grand Monadnock.” Sherman also writes for newspapers and magazines and is working on his latest novel, while Older is at work on her third novel set on the Isles of Shoals.

They’re both still avid hikers, too, which is part of the reason they’ve made New Hampshire their permanent home.

“Everybody can walk out their door in New Hampshire and find a walk to take and be right on the Appalachian Trail,” Older said.

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