Baltimore Jack Tarlin Hits the End of His Trail

Baltimore Jack Tarlin ~~ Photo by Robert Sutherland

Baltimore Jack Tarlin ~~ Photo by Robert Sutherland

Baltimore Jack Tarlin -- the man, the Appalachian Trail legend -- reached the end of his trail on May 4, 2016.

He was the King of Hiker Trash. On the single occasion that our paths crossed at Laughing Heart Hostel in Hot Springs, NC, he appeared to me to be a worthy ambassador for life on the Trail.

He thru-hiked the AT nine times, after failing in his initial attempt.

As with most legends, I have no idea where Baltimore Jack was born or when. Friends say Jack loved The New York Times, bourbon, hiking, and helping hikers. He was kind to me and wisely humble.

One trustworthy source says Baltimore Jack passed away at Angel Medical Center at 6 AM, May 4, 2016, in the Appalachian Trail Town of Franklin, North Carolina. Fitting.

The best way to learn more is by listening to two episodes of The Pox and Puss Podcast featuring The Legend ... in his own words.

Then miss him or mourn him, along with the entire subculture that is the Appalachian Trail.

Episode #16, Part 1 - Baltimore Jack Consumes An Entire Chicken

Jack sits down to speak with us in the historic Mountain Crossings outfitter at Neels Gap along the Appalachian Trail. Jack tells us about his life on the Trail since his first attempt at a Thru-Hike in 1995...and his 9 completed thru-hikes since then.


Tags: Attractions, Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Community, News, Robert Sutherland Travel Writer, Hikers, appalachian trail hikers, and baltimore jack tarlin appalachian trail

About the Author Robert Sutherland:
Robert Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life. Robert has two adult daughters and six grandchildren.
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Comments
scottalias on May 5, 2016
I'll never forget the first time I came down Blood Mountain on my wrecked knees. I sat down across the street from Neel Gap for nearly an hour before I mustered up the strength to cross the road. Jack found me some knee braces, which didn't help much but the kindness was greatly appreciated. We talked about Springsteen and why The River wasn't my favorite album, but I never asked why it meant so much to him. I always liked seeing Jack. A sweet guy, a real hiker.
Andrew Long on May 6, 2016
I met Balt Jack in 98 when we both were thru-hiking. Didn't hang with him long as our paces wernt synched. Think I told him I liked him cause 'Jack' is my Dad's name. Little did I know the significance of that statement then. Hope I gave him comfort in some way. Sharon GM's assessment seems spot-on. He kept his distance from me despite me trying to be friendly - knew he was in emotional pain, even then. Hope He's in arms of Jesus now and expecting he is. Peace and love to all. Sincerely, Monkhead
Sharon G Miller on May 5, 2016
Adam Tarlin was from Brookline, Massachusetts. He was a person whose actual existence seems to be forgotten, somehow willfully overshadowed by a mythologized legend. I guess it's easier to see him as some kind of folk hero, because it enabled people to ignore the fact that Adam was in incredible pain and was far too lonely than anyone should ever be. Adam's parents passed away when he was young, so his father never got to take Adam on his promised Appalachian Trail hike upon high school graduation. Adam attended Hampshire College, where he was a brilliant student of American history. He was a good and kind fellow, but, sadly, he was even drinking too much then. (I have known him for about 40 years; we met in college.) After fathering a daughter, whose existence he was so proud of, he took off and decided to do the hike that his father had promised to do with him before he died. Adam had nowhere to go, so he stayed on the Appalachian Trail. He relied on all of you on the trail to feed him and ply him with alcohol. It was there that his illness, his loneliness, his alcoholism, could be ignored, and he instead found some acknowledgement in the new person of "Baltimore Jack", taken from Bruce Sprinsteen's song because, as in the song, he left his young daughter and never went back. In 2010, Adam's knees were hurting him so much he could barely walk, but he had nowhere to go, as usual, so he set out back on the AT. I tried to get him enrolled in the Medicaid program so he could get treatment for alcoholism and for his knees, but the New Hampshire Medicaid program (where he was at that moment) would not do outreach to homeless people, even though they have a special homelessness section of their program. To those of you who "knew" Adam, I implore you to please think about the people you meet, whether hiking, or wherever you might meet someone, and think about why they might be there. Please don't mythologize the lifestyle of someone who is lost and in pain. Please don't glorify a homeless vagrant who has nowhere to go. Please let someone you know who has an alcohol or drug addiction know that you acknowledge their problem and their pain. Let them know that you are there to help them if they are willing to seek help. Help them get therapy, detox, rehab, find an AA meeting, whatever they are willing to do. Don't ply them with alcohol for the purpose of YOUR having a good time with them when they are totally lost to the world. I knew Adam when he was a young man, at the top of his game. Brilliant, kind, insightful, but in great, great pain. I knew Adam again as an older man, a shadow of the man he was 40 years ago, because he was ill, and it had affected the core of his being - his heart, his body, his brain, his soul. If you see anyone on the AT who does not have a home, who is wandering, maybe you can start a project on the AT to help these folks get medical care, help, and shelter. Be a friend to them. The kind of friend that Adam always needed and wished for.
wyclif on May 5, 2016
I seem to recall that JT was not exactly homeless, though he was a vagabond. He had a legitimate address in Hanover, NH.
Sharon G Miller on May 5, 2016
Hi Wyclif, Actually, Adam was homeless. He had an acquaintance in Hanover, NH, who was building a cabin on his property and allowed Adam to stay in it for a few winters while it was being built. This meant that Adam spent a few winters in a cabin that had no roof - so it snowed in on his bed. It had no running water, and the only heat was from a wood stove that you obviously had to sit very close to if you wanted any benefit from that stove, since there was no roof and no protection from the elements. After a few years, when the cabin was finished, he couldn't stay there in the winters any more. He had been doing odd jobs for the guy who owned the property in exchange for being allowed to stay in this half-built mess of a place, but once it was finished, the odd jobs weren't good enough for Adam to be able to continue to stay there. The guy allowed Adam to continue to send mail there, in any case. I guess you never visited Adam in Hanover, so you wouldn't have known his situation. He liked to meet people in the library or at a restaurant there, so they wouldn't see his "living situation". Adam did have a strong sense of pride and clearly didn't show some of his deepest vulnerabilities to most people.
Deborah SG on May 8, 2016
I like to think of him as living in Hanover, because it is so close to the AT :)

To me, a success is someone doing what they love. He loved hiking and helping. He truly loved his daughter.

"I've been wandering
Early, late
From New York City to the Golden Gate
And I don't know when
I'll ever stop my wandering"
-- Traditional
David Vincelette on May 16, 2016
Your ignorance is staggering. You have a big mouth and few facts right.
Bronxirish on May 5, 2016
I didn't know him personally, but have lost too many family and friends to alcohol and other demons. People with every bit as much potential as Adam; many well before their time. The fear of getting this worst of news about someone else close to me follows me through life.

We can offer friendship, advice, a healthy example, and time away from those
who support their addictions. We can even lead them to those who make a life of trying to help. Everybody lives life on their own terms, and all we could have done may not have been enough.

I have often found suburban, middle class working life hard, and envied the Baltimore
Jacks of the trail and the world at large. I haven't thought much about the Adam behind the charming vagabond, and what happens when the body and mind can no longer live the myth. Thank you, Sharon, for talking about that side.

I wish you peace.
Sharon G Miller on May 5, 2016
Thank you, Bronxish, for saying in a very poignant way what I as trying to say. Sadly, Adam is not the only person who I have known who has been lost to this world to alcohol. Sometimes it's too easy to make someone into a legend and miss what's inside them.
Michael on May 5, 2016
How well did you really know him in the later years of his life? What do you know about "us" that supposedly fed him and gave him drink. As far as I recall BJ never asked anything of another hiker, had an address and always gave gave gave.

What do you know about the trail community? What do you know of his loneliness? As far as I can tell Baltimore Jack or Adam Tarlin was well loved and will be missed by many. He was a charming guy and great story teller. Most people couldn't or wouldn't make an imprint on as many lives in several lifetimes as he did.

As far as his vices, I wish he could have made better decisions concerning his health, he would still be with us today. I really feel bad for AT thru hikers 2017 and onwards who will not have their own Baltimore Jack stories.
Sharon G Miller on May 5, 2016
Michael, I'm not saying what I said in an attempt to blame. Adam was ultimately responsible for his own life. I am simply encouraging all of you to try to think about someone that you pass by and understand that mythologizing them may not really be so very good or healthy for them. As to your question about what I know about all of you, all I know about all of you is simply based on what he told me, as I did not live the same life that Adam lived. And what I know of his loneliness is from 40 years of knowing him, knowing what happened to his family, knowing about his losses and his loves, and him talking with me over the years about his loneliness and pain. Because Adam and I do go back so far (his girlfriend when we were in college was my roommate, so we spent an awful lot of time together when we were young), he didn't feel the need to entertain or pretend with me. He and I were there for each other in difficult times when we were younger, so I think that sense of understanding and trust in each other was there for the duration. It's funny with people like Adam. I'm sure that so very many of you were truly very fond of him, and that was clear to him and shows through in so many of the photos that many of you are posting. And he surely did appreciate the affection that all of you had for him. The sad thing is that he never let himself really be known to most of you. I asked him why he didn't tell anyone on the trail that his name was Adam. He said, "They don't know Adam". That said it all to me.
Jim Garlits on May 7, 2016
If Baltimore Jack is who he wanted to be remembered as, I say good on him. Who is to say he wasn't a success? Perhaps his success didn't look like what you wanted his success to look like. His legend on the trail will stand. He loved the AT. He loved hikers. He loved the subculture. I'm sorry that he didn't take care of his health, that part bothers me. But nobody is perfect. Nobody has a perfect life. Baltimore Jack had 2200 miles of "home" and people who respected him, appreciated his knowledge of the trail, and his big heartedness toward newbies and aspiring thru-hikers. He was NOT a success according to the traditional formula, but I could only hope for a legacy as big as his. He isn't a myth, he's a legend. Legends aren't perfect. Lots of legends were a-holes in other respects. Lots of legends were poor family men or women. I would assume that somewhere in the past he buried Adam, and the seed that was planted there grew into Baltimore Jack.
Jim Garlits on May 8, 2016
Sharon, I went back and read my first post and wanted to clarify that I appreciate what you wrote and I appreciate the perspective you have on this unique, big hearted, flawed "trail legend." I think my main point was that we can love someone warts and all. We can love someone as they present themselves, without completely knowing them. We can be deceived into loving a "myth." That was the only thing you said that sort of knuckled me in the ribs a bit. But it also spoke deeply to me, to be authentic with people. So much truth in what you said.
Jenny Juneau on May 6, 2016
Sharon I just sent you a private message on Facebook.
heliocen on May 8, 2016
I appreciate your input into Baltimore Jack's life mostly. I met him on four or five occasions and frankly I don't glorify AT hikers for good reason.They are mostly pains in the butt and Jack, though we had nothng in common, was one of those exceptions. You talk about needy, I picked up two hikers the other day off the mahoosuc notch trail where they were stuck in inpassable ice. They thanked me for helping them out and repayed me by throwing my clean laundry that I unknowingly left in my dryer and tossing it in the dirty laundry bin because I guess they didn't want to bother to tell me it was there. This is very typical of extremely self absorbed AT hikers. And the younger the more unconscience usually. Jack was never that needy or unconscience. In fact he was very sharp mentally and I would bet on him over Rain Man on the game show Jeopardy any day. My only complaint with your observations is that you judge him by his disabilities rather than by his abilities. I will always think of him as more than an AA failure or simply being homeless. He was a very intelligent person who was original in taking the path less traveled by and I appreciate him for that.
Robert Sutherland on May 10, 2016
Thank you for your insights, wisdom, opinions and reflections.

Robert Sutherland
TNred on May 6, 2016
Sharon, I thru-hiked the AT and lived on the trail for some time volunteering. I ran to Baltimore Jack several times here and there over the years. I didn't know him intimately like so many good folks on the trail, but was engaged in a few conversations. The trail community is like a small town and we all know each other somewhat. My mother also suffers from alcoholism and depression. And, I wasn't positive until now, but I did sense that he suffered from that as well. It's important to me to try and see a person whole like God can see us. I fail so often at this.

I just read your post and I thank you for sharing. I am able to see him even more fully. So my opinion is this (you didn't ask, but I feel compelled): people that hike the trail have a trail handle for a reason. It is because we are somewhat different people when we hike long distance. When you leave society for six months or long time, you are the same person, of course, but you leave parts of your life behind for whatever reasons good or bad. We can be the people we want to be (or think we are), leaving the hurtful pasts behind... leaving behind stressful lifestyles, disappointments, failures, relationships, hum drum 9-5 working our lives away... money, complicated living, etc. ...leaving behind even good things because ultimately there is a desire to wander and explore. To live simply in the elements. As they say, the trail calls you.

On the AT, you find people that have made that same decision to walk through the woods (dangid, Bill Bryson!), for the most part. And there is camaraderie in that. It is a zany, loving community that we are all proud to be a part of. Over the years, I came to know several homeless people who thankfully instead of living on the streets in a city where crime is high, they hiked the trail over and over or would "haunt" certain sections of the trail. Because, food and shelter is plentiful and everyone pretty much accepts you as you are with no questions asked. What is great about the AT is that once "trail magic" happens to you, regardless if you have a home or not, you are infected with kindness and from my experience, you want to give back by feeding and encouraging others. Baltimore Jack was one of the biggest "trail angels" and a celebrity on the AT.

Being a good friend is challenging for us all. We are all trying - whether it be letting our friends make their own decisions, encouraging good choices, respecting one another, having fun, and sharing life together despite all our own individual quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. Most alcoholics I know, know where and how to get help, but they don't want it. Only 10% of alcoholics that are recovering, stay recovered. It is a nasty disease, and no one is to blame. I am being sincere in thanking you for being candid and for loving Adam Tarlin. Baltimore Jack was indeed loved by the Appalachian Trail community too...
Deborah SG on May 8, 2016
November 12, 1958, Robert Sutherland. Raised, as Sharon said, in Brookline, Mass. Brookline High School Class of 1976. Only indication back then that he would love the AT was that he walked everywhere. He loved walking. Super-friendly kid. One of the few from that class to attend the very progressive Hampshire College. As a teen, a neat combination of interests in history and the arts. He was 57, may he now forever be on the trail that he loves.
Deborah SG on May 8, 2016
Here is his high school graduation pic, available to the public on the Internet. He loved wearing that corduroy blazer (which was brown, you can't tell from the pic): <a href='http://www.brookline1976.com/class_profile.cfm?member_id=3829440' target=_blank rel=nofollow>www.brookline1976.com</a>
PaterTemporalis on May 9, 2016
So, there are two stories we can tell about the life of Baltimore Jack. If I want to make a moral choice about how I remember him, I am DAMN SURE going to think first of what story Jack would have WANTED us to tell.

I won't question for a moment the stories that Sharon G Miller tells us about this "Adam Tarlin" person. That person was CERTAINLY not Baltimore Jack's preferred identity. Anyone, like me, who knew the Trail Tarlin, knew that he had demons, that he was a raging alcoholic, that he was escaping some life in consensus reality. We knew it; we didn't need anyone to tell us the details or act like we are shitty people for celebrating the identity that Baltimore Jack built over DECADES of hard work, of selfless care for those in need, and countless thousands of miles hiked and services rendered.

If you wish to try to turn this man whom we loved, faults and all, into an object lesson about how people should feel shame about alcoholism, or poverty, or even mental illness, then you certainly have the right of free speech to indicate that that is your position. But I am also entitled to ask you a question:

How fucking DARE you?

Here is a man who was very much trapped in a miserable life in consensus reality: a job he hated, a head full of demons, and a serious alcohol problem. The magic of the trail, which you obviously have not experienced, is that it is a place of acceptance, a place for people to find a community that loves and allows and supports, and most importantly, a place of self-re-invention. And the person that your "Adam Tarlin" built, out of whole cloth, based on a Boston Red Sox hat and a Bruce Springsteen song? That person was a triumph, a glorious, bombastic, fiery phoenix born from the ashes of a life too strait, too constricted, to hold the greatness of his soul.

And lady, I KNEW Baltimore Jack. I washed dishes with him. I drank beer with him. He saved my life, in an act of magnanimity, and I watched him save and serve and help others with every ounce of his being. The identity he built as Baltimore Jack was a beautiful thing, and if we wish to honor his actual wishes, why don't we look at the life he CHOSE to live, not the one that was deterministically thrust upon him by his birth and circumstances?

Maybe you think you're speaking for the people in the tiny world of town, of consensus, who wished he had merely stayed "Adam Tarlin", and had "sought help" for his alcoholism, mended fences with friends and family, and lived a longer and healthier life. In a house. With a job. And responsibilities. And in what you people call "sanity". If that's what you want to preach, then go to the people from town, and they'll commiserate with you. Preach to your own choir.

But don't you dare come to this Appalachian Trail community of thousands of people who DO idolize Jack as a Trail Divinity with that moralizing garbage, because he represents one of the grandest and most sacred mysteries of our beloved trail: that even the worst person can join our loving community and receive a sacred Trail Name, and make themselves anew, to re-create themselves in their own image. This is the heart of magic, and the Appalachian Trail is one of the last sanctuaries in the world for this kind of alchemy. The rejected stone, the troubled, homeless drunk that the world of consensus would mock and throw away, and hold up as some object of shame can literally take a new name and become a veritable King of Kindness, a paragon of radical freedom, and the cornerstone of what we all aspire to become as Appalachian Trail Hikers. I was in AWE of the identity that your "Adam Tarlin" chose to build around the name Baltimore Jack, and I choose to remember him as he WISHED to be remembered: as Baltimore Jack, the whisky-fueled, caring, bombastic, pain in the ass, with the head full of encyclopedic knowledge of the trail, kept ONLY so he could help others, who made himself into a famous name that shall not be forgotten for a long, long time. I've already forgotten whatever dumb name he had in your little world. For me, and for my trail community, there is and shall only ever be the one, the only BALTIMORE JACK.

Here's to him and the identity he chose to create!
Aaron on May 13, 2016
I've known Jack since 2009, doing my first AT section. I talked with him in late April in Franklin this year.

Was sad to see him go, but not surprised from a medical standpoint after I examined him and talked to him for awhile.

I got off the trail at the smokies because of an injury, and googled his name today to check on him.
Ralphfoster on May 18, 2016
I never met Baltimore Jack or Adam Tarlin. But the things I have read paint a classic picture of something I am sadly familiar with. Namely the untreated alcoholic. The isolating. The self-centered self seeking. The headlong flight from reality Which isn't to say he was not a kind, helping hand To thousands. But there is one thing that for me leaps out from these tails of the great Baltimore Jack. Whose name comes from a Springsteen character who leaves his family and never came back. Classic alcoholic move. It's called pulling a. 'Geographic' where the sufferer constantly is on the move to escape or start over elsewhere. What better place to do that than on the AT in the guise of outdoor adventure? And while Baltimore Jack was livin' the dream &amp; downing lots of Jack, what was Jack's daughter thinking? I cannot see how a life like JL's could make for anything remotely resembling responsible parenting. So please love this man, and cherish his memory. But also bear in mind Sharon's words and be aware of the alcoholism that fueled his decades of walking and no doubt led to his untimely death.
Grayson Schwarz on Jun 16, 2017
If he stayed in his suit job , he probably would have died sooner and not touched so many people. I was his friend and drinking buddy in college. What he became amazes and inspires me. I just wish I could have met him on the AT. Long live Baltimore Jack!
SwathHiker on Oct 4, 2017
Regrettably I only learned today of Baltimore Jack's death. My condolences to you, Sharon. And my thanks for your comments. I spent a couple of weeks with Jack at Bob Peoples' place a few or maybe several years back now. We spent all day and night together day in and day out, while I was injured, reading the NY Times and chatting about current events, enjoying Jack's gourmet cooking, amazing sharp wit, and his general charm (and Bob's too). Jack wasn't really drinking in amounts that I noticed, and he wasn't a "partier" in my presence during those several days. I don't know if you'll see this, Sharon, but I want you to understand that in the trail community we generally don't bother sharing our real names, not because we are hiding behind a persona, just because our trail names are unique and reflect our personalities. They are chosen names with more meaning than a regular name, not less, in a hiker's view. Nonetheless, Jack did tell me his real name at the time. And he and Bob Peoples seemed quite close as well. In fact I did not know he was the famed "Baltimore Jack" for a few days. I also want to explain to you that for some people the trail can be a lifesaver. And it was for me. I had a very successful career and then was diagnosed with an illness and lost everything. My illness was tied to my military service and it took years for me to win a battle for my benefits. In the interim I was unable to work because I would be very ill for weeks or months and then okay for weeks or months, very unpredictably. Unable to work and with limited funds, I decided to head to the woods and just try to live, and just walk. I just kept walking. Eventually I met Jack, and Bob, and lots of others, but these two fellows were the most kind. And Jack was the smartest person I encountered on the trail, and certainly the best chef. I suppose he may have been similarly situated with his illness. Now that I have my benefits and I am getting real medical treatment, I am able to plan a real thru-hike for next year. I was so looking forward to catching up with Jack.