Mark from Detroit is a big guy. As a more skilled and poetic writer might put it, "Mark was ruggedly handsome with a smile that could calm an angry bear and the strength to leap tall mountains in a single bound."
Mark romped toward the hostel at Mountain Crossings on Georgia's Blood Mountain about 7 PM on Sunday evening, May 4, 2014, as I was trolling for stories about thru-hikers.
The Fourth was with us both.
Yes, northbounders are still hitting the Trail. As of May 5, 2014, 1314 thru-hiker wannabees registered at Amicalola Falls State Park, near Springer Mountain.
I have not and never will thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. It's hard enough for me to lug a camera case, laptop computer, trail guides, binoculars, notepads, business cards and Trail Magic spare-change when I travel for stories in my car or on Grasshopper, the humble ninja.
That's why I was stunned when Mark from Detroit -- whose Trail Name, imho, should be "Ironman" -- came bounding down Blood Mountain with the largest backpack I have ever seen. With absolutely zero intention of sounding snarky or superior, I said something like, "Egad, man! Are you insane? That pack must weigh 60 pounds!"
Mark calmly said he had lighten his formerly 64-pound pack all the way down to 42 pounds.
While standing in his full pack, Mark enthralled us with the story of ascending the 604 stairs in Amicalola Falls State Park on the Approach Trail to the AT (aka "the stairs of death").
Mark hit the trail on Tuesday, April 29th, using a backpack from a friend who wore it in the Vietnam war. Using the aluminum-braced pack proved that Mark was a loyal friend. That choice also proved he was spectacularly unlike most potential thru-hikers who obsess over individual grams of added weight when arduously selecting their gear.
As Mark climbed the wooden staircase alongside 729-foot-tall Amicalola Falls -- the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast -- he resisted the increasing urge to throw all his gear into the water and give up.
In frustration, desperation and exhaustion, he made his way to our friends at Len Foote Hike Inn, where he was treated with cool lemonade, cold water and wise advice. At that point, Mark's pack weighed 64 pounds. Ironman carried it up the stairs of death. As far as I am concerned, we should just give him 2,000 Miler recognition right now.
(Lighten up. I'm only kidding.)
I didn't have the nerve to ask what was jettisoned from Mark's pack -- he was still standing, smiling, under its load as we spoke. My guess is the "we can lighten any load" crew at Mountain Crossings could trim another 20 pounds. Then, Mark could sell his relics on e-Bay, buy enough light gear for him to carry in one hand and have money left over.
Mark/Ironman is going to make it to Katahdin. His gargantuan knife -- that would make Rambo and Crocodile Dundee weep with jealousy -- will probably make it too.
I admire Mark. He's old school; less concerned, it seems, with how to score pot or pink blaze the Trail than simply being out for the excellent adventure of a lifetime on the Appalachian Trail.
If I were 42-years younger or 62-pounds lighter, I'd want go with him. Should your paths cross on the Trail, greet him for me and all of us who are rooting him on.
When Mark from Detroit summits Katahdin, I hope someone will send us a video of him singing that great Motown hit, Ain't No Mountain High Enough.
Tags: Appalachian Trail, Hiking, Hiking Gear, Camping Gear, News, and Robert Sutherland Travel Writer
Mark of the Potter in Clarkesville, GA, is an old mill converted into a working pottery; don't leave without feeding the trout.
The Appalachian Trail is 2,185.3 miles long. Those who hike it all are "thru-hikers." Could these Thru-Hikers' Tales for 2014 inspire you to hit the Trail?
Published Jun 20, 2013.
Thousands of hikers are attempting a thru-hike of the AT. Only 25% will make it to Mt. Katahdin, but they'll all have great Appalachian Trail Hiker Stories.