No getting away from it all on the Appalachian Trail

Sat Jul 12, 2014 8:36am EDT
 
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By Barbara Goldberg

HARRIMAN STATE PARK N.Y. (Reuters) - Maybe it was guilt over alarming her parents when she inadvertently dialed 911 from the Appalachian Trail, but Caitlin Belcher wishes she could ditch her cell phone for the rest of the 2,180-mile (3,508-km) hike.

"It would really be cool to not have it. I just want to be out in the woods, isolated," said Belcher, 23, who has called home to Fredericksburg, Virginia, twice weekly since her journey began in April and gets constant texts from her parents, who even call her hiking partner's phone as well.

Hiking the AT, the famous path from Maine to Georgia, once meant cutting off communication with civilization for much of the six months it typically takes to complete the route. Then Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina used "hiking the AT" as an excuse for disappearing for six days in 2009, while in fact he was on a rendezvous in Argentina with his mistress.

Today camping gadgets such as a twig-fueled stove that can charge a smartphone while it heats baked beans, and online tips such as using an empty foil-lined potato chip can to boost Wi-Fi signals, mean there is no need to go off the grid while on the trail.

    With Twitter, Instagram and blogs, hikers may be safer but lose the solitude and silence once found in the woods.

    "The whole idea of the Appalachian Trail is to get away from it all," said Bill Bryson, whose best-selling 1998 book "A Walk in the Woods" about the trail is being made into a movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.

    "I am all in favor of gadgets, but my fear is that most people spend all their rest time texting and staring at little screens and miss out on all the glorious solitude around them," Bryson said.

    Summer is high season on the trail that draws up to 3 million visitors a year, including 1,100 "thru hikers" like Belcher who hope to conquer the entire 14-state route. Typically only one in four succeed.   Continued...

 
Hiker Matthew Donnelly, 30, of Milford, Pennsylvania, uses his cell phone on the Appalachian Trail in Bear Mountain, New York, July 10, 2014.   REUTERS/Barbara Goldberg