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An Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Dream

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On Febraury 24, 2018, I will begin my journey northbound on the Appalachian Trail. My wife will join me and day hike the Approach Trail and the first mile north from Springer.  The next day I will depart, alone with 32 pounds on my back and Oboz Tamaracks on my feet, to start trying to fulfill a dream I have had for almost 44 years.

Intro to the Outdoors

In the summer of 1974 I participated in “Boys State” in Connecticut; a week-long “camp” where we studied U.S. government and political science. While there one evening I attended a presentation by a man who had recently backpacked from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

In fact, at the time he had just set a new record for completing the hike in the fewest number of days. I now realize that gentleman was Warren Doyle, who has walked the entire AT more than any individual. By Doyle’s count, he has traversed the Trail seventeen times, consisting of nine “thru-hikes” and eight “section hikes” or approximately 36,000 miles!

The Dream is Born

Having done some hiking and backpacking at the time, I was completely captivated by the presentation. I fell in love with both the romantic notion and the audacious idea of doing the same – walking over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. That night I said to myself, “I’m going to do that someday.”BHM on AT 2016 in Berkshires

Bruce, the author, imagined a life of outdoor education, but instead opted for law school and raising a family. He still got out, instilling a love for the outdoors and hiking in his kids. Here he is in 2016 in the Berkshires. All images: Bruce Matson

During the summers of 1977 & 1978 I guided canoe trips in the North Maine Woods. Encouraged by many of my fellow guides, I considered a career in “outdoor education,” which allowed me to dream more about grand wilderness adventures. 

Some of our canoe trips in Maine those summers would include guiding our crew up to the summit of Mt. Katahdin as a “side trip” at the end of an expedition. Also, on our days off from lake paddling and whitewater navigation, we sometimes would climb Katahdin.

Life Interrupts

Law school won out over outdoor education. Work and family won out over long distance hiking and backpacking. Father Daughter Katahdin hike

Father and daughter hike up Katahdin.

Thirty years after my summers in Maine, I again climbed Katahdin, this time with my then 18 year-old daughter along with my old college roommate (and former, fellow Maine guide) and his daughter. (A month after our successful climb, the girls started college at our alma mater, where they roomed together for three years.)

Not only did this Connecticut Yankee go to school in the South, but I have only been a visitor to New England for almost 40 years, having met my wife at William & Mary and having then settled in Virginia after graduation.

Bringing the Dream to Life

After practicing law for 35 years I was able to negotiate a “sabbatical” that permits me to take the time I need to attempt a thru-hike.  (My thanks and appreciation to LeClairRyan and my partners there.)

I’m sure I didn’t think it would take more than 40 years to complete that promise I made to myself, but – God willing – as mentioned above, I will begin my attempt to return to Mt. Katahdin at the end of the month.  After a few days I may only respond to “RTK,” my trail name. 

Returning to Katahdin

Its based upon the theme of my journey – “Returning to Katahdin,” which is also the name of my website and podcast (with the subtitle” “An Appalachian Trail Dream”). 

Hiking for a Cause

In addition, in an effort to express a life filled with enumerable blessings, I have decided to “give back” by attempting to set a fundraising record — $250,000 — for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy as part of my thru-hike.

RTK donor patch

If you are interested in helping me reach this goalThe hiking community can help me reach this goal, which I started by donating a $100,000 matching fund, please consider contributing here.

 

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