Friday, January 23, 2009

Hometown Paper Interview

The hometown paper decided to interview the hometown hiker:

Appalachian Trail Adventure: Local man thru-hikes ATBy Andy Scheidler
While attempting a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, Chuck Allen stopped at a small town in Pennsylvania. He met a Mennonite family that had two sons who had completed the trail. The family brought Allen and a few other hikers back to their dairy farm, fed them and allowed them to spend the night.
That type of hospitality and community support was easily Allen's favorite part of completing a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.
The relationships developed during the hike made for a great experience, as Allen met people from all walks of life. From high school students who graduated a semester early, to 70-year-olds, to hippies, to a guy who worked at the Pentagon, to Iraqi war veterans, Allen came to realize how similar everyone really is.
"I think it made me more laid-back, more tolerant," Allen said. "It's easier to kind of see, that same kind of community extends to this community. Everybody out there is pretty much the same. I think we kind of dwell on it more out on the trail because you're stripped of all this stuff, so you have a simplistic physical relationship. Whether it's using privies, using tents, or eating out of the pot, you don't have all the distractions, so you have more time to sit down and communicate with each other and talk about what's important."
A Franklin resident for 20 years, Allen set a goal to complete the entire length of the AT. He was 40 when he set the goal, and gave himself 10 years to get financially prepared for the adventure (i.e. paying off his house and getting his kids through college).
He also needed to take six months off from work at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva, where Allen works as a registered nurse.
Allen attended a Christmas party/social gathering for aspiring thru-hikers in December 2007.
Ronnie Haven hosts two such gatherings each year, one around Christmas and another larger gathering in April (this year's April Fool's Bash may be held in conjunction with the Town of Franklin at Town Square on April 4).
Allen didn't have a trail nickname. Some people name themselves, while others may get a nickname if something happens to them on the trail.
Since the gathering was held in Franklin, Haven suggested that Allen go by Hometown.
"Whenever you finish, you'll be our hometown hero," Haven said.
Allen liked the name and decided to use it.
"I was the only Hometown that I met out there," he said. "So that ended up pretty cool."
With his leave of absence granted from work and nickname established, Allen embarked on the journey. He began at Springer Mountain, Ga., on March 21, 2007.
Life on the trail
The AT runs from Georgia to Maine, crossing 14 states and totaling approximately 2,175 miles. Typically, it takes about six months to complete.
Allen set off with a goal of completing the hike in five months. He had section-hiked parts of the trail before, and figured he could cover an average of 15 miles per day.
He began the trail with a friend from Asheville, though the two didn't plan to stick together for long. He was technically hiking the trail by himself, but was rarely alone and almost always camped with other hikers.
He spent his evenings writing letters for his online journal, and reading paperbacks he picked up in shelters along the way. He read a lot of science fiction in the evenings before exhaustion set in.
Allen said he didn't miss watching television in the least. He didn't carry a cell phone, though a lot of other people did, and relied on pay phones to call home.
"I kinda wanted that experience," he said. "I was afraid if I was calling home at night, it would be too easy to get homesick. Or the first time something happened, you'd be like, 'I'm out of here.'"
Allen is married to Susan, who teaches English at Franklin High School. They have three daughters: Holly Parlier teaches fourth grade at Cartoogechaye Elementary, Becky works at Three Eagles and Sara Beth lives in Massachusetts.
"I really missed my family," Allen said. "It's a long time to be away from home."
Though he didn't bring a cell phone, Allen did carry an mp3 player with an FM radio, allowing him to listen to music and catch the occasional ball game.
He kept a paper journal each night about the day's adventure, and would mail them to his wife. Susan would then post them online, allowing Allen's family, friends and co-workers to track his progress.
"The best thing was them signing my guest book," Allen said, "because it was really encouraging. It was another thing that really motivated me and helped me finish the trail."
Another source of inspiration was local hero, Rufus Morgan.
Morgan helped establish, and ran, several churches in Western North Carolina. He started the Nantahala Hiking Club, and continued hiking into his 90s. For many years he maintained a 55-mile section of the AT, and earned the nicknames "One-Man Hiking Club" and "Moses of the Mountains."
"(Morgan) was a big inspiration for me," Allen said.
Allen's journey through the Great Smoky Mountains went great. He said the weather was beautiful, which is rare for the springtime.
The Virginia's offered some great views on the Shenandoah Mountain.
Everything was going smoothly until Allen reached the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. Though probably the most beautiful part of the trip, they were also very rocky and featured poor weather.
"I had rain all through New England, so that really made it hard," Allen said.
"About the last month, I was in rain every day. The hardest thing was to get up every morning and put wet clothes on, wet shoes, wet socks and go out there and hike 20 miles."
Allen stayed dry at night by putting on dry clothes that he kept in his backpack.
But a more serious problem struck with only about 60 miles left on the trail. While at camp and wearing his crocs, Allen slipped and stubbed his toe. It hurt, but he was OK until the next day. After hiking about five miles, he felt the toe snap.
Allen hiked 23 miles that day. He wrapped and taped the toe, but the pain was pretty severe. However, he had gone too far and wasn't about to let it stop him from finishing.
"I'd climb Katahdin on crutches if I had to," he said.
Allen hiked about the last 800 miles with a guy from Johnson City, Tenn., who was about the same age. He reached the finish with three other hikers who he had hiked with during periods of the journey, making it more special.
Allen reached Mount Katahdin on Aug. 13, meaning he finished the thru-hike about a week shy of five months.
It was a great experience for Allen, but he didn't know what to think when it was all over with.
"It was kind of a mixed feeling," he said. "It's a relief that it's over with. But at the same time, it seemed odd not to have to wake up the next day and have to hike."
His wife Susan has family in Maine, and she drove Allen back to Franklin.
Goal achieved
It took about three weeks for the pain to disappear from his knees and joints, as he could barely walk after periods of sitting. But he knew of 21-year-olds who experienced the same discomfort, so that made him feel better that age wasn't the main factor.
Allen lost 27 pounds during the hike, as he said it was almost impossible to eat enough food to counteract the loss of calories. His friend from Asheville, who completed the hike about a month later, dropped about 60 pounds from his 300-pound frame.
Approaches to hiking the AT vary, whether it's blue-blazers who take side trails, slack-packers who skip certain portions or purists who hike every section and see every white blaze.
Allen was a purist. But it really doesn't matter how you approach the trail, as a common AT saying is "hike your own hike."
"It was something that I always wanted to do," Allen said. "And I wanted to experience it on a thru-hike. I just kept that goal in mind and did it."