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Thru hiker season comes to an end

November 15, 2010

By Callie Stevens, Staff Writer

As the leaves change colors and fall turns to winter, another season comes to an end— the ‘thru hikers’ season. A thru hiker is a person who hikes completely thru the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia. Early every spring outdoorsmen and women set out to hike the whole 2,179 miles of the Appalachian Trail, known by hikers as the AT. Thru hikers either hike north bound from Springer Mountain, Ga., or south bound from Mount Katahdin, Me.

It takes thru hikers an average of eight solid months to finish the hike. Thru hikers hike for many different purposes some being very personal and others not so much. Often the hikers are in a transitional part of their lives moving between college to the “real” world, moving between jobs or simply lost in their lives. So, they decide to take the time to get away from society and figure out what they want in life.

One of these thru hikers is one of Young Harris College’s own, Dr. Jim Bishop, who is an assistant professor of English. When Bishop decided to hike the AT, he was a college graduate, who was teaching outdoor education at the time.
When asked why he decided to hike the AT, Bishop said, “I wanted a change in my life. I liked my job but just wanted something different; and since I had the time to do it, I decided to take some time out of my life and thru hike.”

During his thru hike, Bishop recalled the simplicity of life. Bishop said, “I would wake up, ate breakfast, hiked all day, set up camp, slept, wake up and repeated the whole process. The simplicity of those months allowed me to process through my life and figure out some different aspects.”

Though captivated by the simplicity of life during the day, at night Bishop would have extra time to reflect or read.
However Bishop added, “depending on how exhausted I was. Some nights I would be so tired from the day I would fall asleep early, some nights I would just reflect on life and other nights I would read. I rediscovered how much I enjoyed reading for fun on the hike.”

Often while thru hikers are on their adventure, they hike for days between towns and without society.

While left without any real contact to society, Bishop stated, “The trail has its own society. The people who are on the AT are usually there for a purpose and are very caring and friendly. I didn’t feel disconnected from society, but simply placed into a different one.”

Bishop met many friends on the trail that he still in contact with 15 years later. Bishop believes that “thru hiking the AT isn’t about finishing. It’s about the experience as a whole, the people you meet doing it and the lessons you learn.”

When asked if his life changed any after his eight month journey Bishop replied, “Of course it did. A few years after hiking, I decided to go back to school and study literature because I loved reading. I am now a literature professor at Young Harris College. The biggest change in my life, however, is the perspective I have towards life. The simplicity of the trial and the mental toughness I had to create on the trail has allowed me to find a happy place when I am tired or uncomfortable. I think back to the trail and realize how simple life is. You simply live and be happy doing it.”

Though it has been several years since Bishop’s completion of the AT, he is only one of more than 9,000 people to have reportedly thru hiked the AT, since its completion in 1937. The trial itself is more than a trail that crosses 14 states, it’s a trail that changes people’s lives every year.

The phenomenon of thru hiking occurs every year, and each year people’s lives are changed by the solitude of the woods and the friendships formed with other hikers. So, as this year’s thru hiking season comes to an end and winter takes its place, some hikers are just beginning to plan out their spring adventure as they start the first step towards the 5 million steps of thru hiking the Appalachian trial.

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