HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Last year, 532 through-hiked America’s most famous long-distance path, The Appalachian Trail, a 2,178-mile trail that runs from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Mount Katahdin, Maine.

Thousands of others are taking, the uh, more scenic route, piling up the mileage on one-week-and-two-week treks on the trail.

Ed Dzierzak, director of the Medical School Library at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and local United Methodist pastor, Tim Conrad, are just two of the local hikers who have been smitten by the lure of the legendary trail that crosses six national parks, traverses eight national forests and touches 14 states.

Dzierzak, making his fourth trip over to the trail, just did 126 miles in mid-June through three states, and said that the two week solo trek seemed perfect for him physically.

Last year, Dzierzak did two weeks on the Appalachian Trail in April and then two weeks backpacking with local Boy Scouts at the Philmont Ranch in the mountains of New Mexico.

Dzierzak laughed and said it looks like he’s on the 12-year plan to finish the trail.

“This year and last year when it was the next to last day I was like yeah, this two-week stretch is about right,” Dzierzak said. “I did have the extra maps with me, and I could have gone for 40 or 50 more miles but this seemed right. There’s something really special about carrying everything you need with you.”

Conrad, who has racked up some 650 miles hiking in the region this year, went over and did 30 miles on the Appalachian Trail in May before getting dehydrated and having to cut off part of his trip.

Conrad, who like Dzierzak has racked up unbelievable mileage locally on the 32-mile backpack trail, The Kanawha Trace, said that while West Virginia backpacking (like Otter Creek and Dolly Sods) is better for a more wilderness experience, that there is something really special about sharing the Appalachian Trail.

“There’s a real culture on the trail,” Conrad said. “There’s just a whole bunch of different people, too. I ran into three hikers coming up from Georgia from Israel, a couple from San Francisco, Maine and a person from Canada.”

Dzierzak, who said that because of his slower, more deliberate pace, he ended up walking solo a lot, said the trail is very much an amazing sub-culture of fellow nature lovers and hikers.

“I hate to call it a walking party but in some ways it is,” Dzierzak said after showing off a photo of fellow hikers such as Huck Finn, Kiwi and Ninja (trail names) trying the half-gallon challenge at a general store just off the trail.

For those who might catch a little Appalachian Trail fever, both said there are some definite things you should do to prepare.

Both said that essential to making your trail experience a good one is to do some training with weight (i.e. your backpack).

On the trail Conrad carried a 52-pound pack, while Dzierzak’s was about 10 pounds less.

Dzierzak said last year when he packed food for two weeks, he ended up having three days worth of food left.

“This time I was more packing the night before and just going through the pantry and grabbing a few things,” Dzierzak said.

Conrad, whose trail name is “Gotta Hike,” said he also learned the hard way how important it is to stay hydrated.

“I ran out of water and didn’t have an extra day to really get re-hydrated,” Conrad said.

Both said they loved the experience of the trail, and are looking forward to more trips back to experience some of that “trail magic.”

“It does keep you going,” Dzierzak said of hiking trips. “It’s definitely a lot more interesting than doing a treadmill and looking at a wall or a TV ... and I think walking the trail is a good reminder that there’s a lot more good people out there than you think. There’s people who do things that are nice for no reason at all.”

Distributed by the Associated Press.

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