The trek of a lifetime

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- Darton College students Patrick Miller and Ashton Pace say they thought long and hard about the best way to conquer the 2,181-mile trek from Georgia to Maine known as the Appalachian Trail.

Their strategy is surprisingly simple.

"You put one foot in front of the other," Miller said. "We're pretty much throwing ourselves out there."

Nearly a year ago, the former Deerfield-Windsor classmates, both 20, decided they wanted an adventure, one that would stick with them for the rest of their lives.

They decided to hike the Appalachian Trail.

It is a daunting task. Hikers who attempt to complete the entire trail in one season are called "thru-hikers." Weather extremes, rugged terrain and the want-to required to complete the trek make it difficult.

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservatory, the success rate for thru-hikers is just 29 percent. Most thru-hikers trek northward from Georgia to Maine and start out in early spring to follow the warm weather as it moves north.

"We're not what you would call hard-core hikers," Miller admitted." We've hiked some in Colorado and took an eight-mile mini-hike on an approach trail last month. It was tough."

The two friends left Albany for the Georgia trail head at Springer Mountain on Thursday.

"We are a little concerned about the cold weather and storms," Pace said. "Some people have said we were leaving too early in the season, but we didn't want to miss two semesters of school.

"We're mentally prepared for this. I think you have to have a certain type of personality to try something like this."

Miller agrees.

"We both regard ourselves as spiritual people," he said. "We plan on using this opportunity to see new and different things every day and get closer to God. We know the weather could be bad early and we are prepared for temperatures from 10 to minus-five degrees.

"We're not completely dumb about this, we've done our research. If things change, they change. We'll be prepared."

Both men will carry 40-pound packs and a 10-day supply of food and water. They will replenish their supplies at towns and trading posts along the trail.

"We hope to average 10 miles a day, more or less, at the start," said Pace. "Then as we get in shape, we'll try to stretch it our to 20 or more. We had a guy who had hiked the trail before tell you that eventually you stop working in miles, but begin measuring the distance in peaks per day."

While the guys might be looking forward to their excellent adventure, Miller's mother, Carla Durden, has given her blessing reluctantly.

"I don't think they are crazy for doing it, but I do think they are crazy for leaving this early in February," Durden said. "But they are strong-willed kids and I can't stop them. I'll be praying a lot and my husband (Dr. Tim Durden) has given them an emergency locator device to use in case they get into trouble."

If all goes according to plan, Miller and Pace will reach the northern trailhead in Katahdin, Maine, sometime in August.

Until then, the duo will e-mail The Herald with updates and the paper will map the duo's progress in the newspaper and online at albanyherald.com.

And the only thing that is certain is they'll have to place one foot in front of the other to complete the journey.