The Appalachian Trail isn’t the longest footpath in the world, but it is arguably the most famous and certainly the most traveled. A complete traverse is the ultimate backpacking challenge and the adventure of a lifetime for many hikers. In fact, several thousand people attempt the trail every year, but only a fraction who start actually finish.

This hiker is gearing up to tackle the entire Appalachian Trail, a journey of some 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia to the lofty summit of Katahdin in Baxter State Park deep in Maine’s North Woods. This will be my second end-to-end or “thru-hike” of the trail; the first was in 1977, right out of Bangor High at age 18. I’d like to say I knew what I was doing then, but I can’t. I made it anyway in spite of myself, you might say.

At 56, I am mentally tougher and physically stronger than the greenhorn kid of so many years past, plus I now have many years of backpacking experience, so I’m hopeful for a second positive outcome. Time will tell, of course. Anything can happen over the many long months of a hike, but barring serious sickness, debilitating injury or worse, I expect to finish. I’m not much of a betting man, but I will put a beer or two on the line.

Ever since that beautiful blue October day nearly four decades ago when I stood atop Katahdin after 5-1/2 months on the Appalachian Trail, I have dreamed of making the trip again. Incredibly, a very full adult life having been lived in the meantime, that moment has arrived. I can hardly believe the opportunity is upon me again.

I began the hike in Georgia in mid-March, walking north with the change of seasons from late winter into spring, then summer into early autumn. I chose the traditional south-to-north route because with each step I’ll be getting closer to Maine and home, a very powerful incentive.

The Appalachian Trail passes through 14 states over the crests and through the valleys of the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine, including North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. Completed in 1937, the trail is continuously marked with 2-inch by 6-inch white paint blazes. Some 250 three-sided lean-tos en route offer overnight shelter; there are also a wealth of tent sites, plus a couple dozen towns with civilized amenities.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail requires about five million steps while climbing more than 500 mountain peaks with a cumulative elevation gain of some 565,000 feet. That’s roughly equivalent to scrambling up Katahdin with a loaded backpack nearly every day for five months, an amazing statistic and perhaps why the thru-hiker success rate is relatively low.

Undaunted, every spring hordes of hopeful hikers take to the trail in Georgia intent on going the distance to Maine.

There were no crowds in 1977, to be sure, so I’m likely in for some trail culture shock. The experience has changed, with a lot more people and hiker services like hostels, outfitters, shuttles and the like. But it’s still the world’s premier hike and I’ll be reporting on it as I go.

Carey Kish of Southwest Harbor is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast. Follow Carey’s AT thru-hike in his Maineiac Outdoors blog at: maineiac-outdoors

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