11/07/04 — Hiking the Applachian Trail

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Hiking the Applachian Trail

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on November 7, 2004 2:04 AM

He had felt something was missing. There had to be more to the world than stores, law offices and skyscrapers.

So he hiked 2,174 miles on the Appalachian Trail.

Larry Filion Jr., who lives in upstate New York, is the son of Larry Filion Sr., a retired Air Force master sergeant who lives off Hood Swamp Road in Wayne County. He and his girlfriend, Melissa Shaw of Missouri, spent the week visiting his family here and told of his adventures on the trail.

Filion and Ms. Shaw started out on April 2 from Springer Mountain in Georgia and hiked 15 miles a day until Oct. 23 when they reached the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine.

The Appalachian Trail goes through 14 states and is 2,174 miles minimum, if you don't make any stops for supplies or equipment.

Why did they do it?

"We got a free patch at the end," said Filion, who used to be a Boy Scout. He said he wanted to see the beauty of the country while it was still there.

"I couldn't walk for four years," said Ms. Shaw, who goes by the name "Mr. T" on the trail. Nobody uses their real name on the trail. Filion went by the name "Flint."

Ms. Shaw got her name because she has a titanium hip from hip replacement surgery in 1999 brought on by cartilage deterioration.

While they were hiking, she sustained some injuries. She broke her wrist and, a state later, sprained an ankle.

"She's like a crash test dummy out there," said Filion.

"Larry has these long legs, and he's always in front of me," she said.

"It's kind of like a marriage," he said. "You get up in the morning and have breakfast, break down camp and hike at your own pace. We'd meet for lunch. Her pace isn't slow. Mine is fast. When I'd stop for lunch, I'd wait so long some times it would be dinner time."

Some hikers did sections of the trail. Those who went all the way were called "thru-hikers." The local folks treated them like celebrities. Some people let the hikers stay the night in their homes and eat, take a shower and do laundry.

"They were called 'trail angels,'" said Ms. Shaw. "When I was injured, the doctors didn't charge me anything. When you say you're a thru-hiker, everyone helps out."

"Trail magic" happened all the time. They would be walking in the woods along the trail marked by white splotches of paint on trees and rocks, and they would find things like cold sodas in the stream next to them. They had been left by trail angels.

Hundreds of snakes were on the trail, including a copperhead that fell out of a tree and tried to bite Filion. The snake struck his hiking pole rather than his leg and disappeared.

In Virginia, he almost stepped on a rattle snake and shifted his weight. He lost his balance and fell 60 feet down a mountain.

"I was all bloody when she found me," he said.

About midway in July and August, they got caught in the storms from the hurricanes. Most of the people they met at the beginning of the trail got off at the half-way mark in Pennsylvania.

The hike cost more than they expected, "because our appetites were outrageous," said Ms. Shaw. She read from her trail diary: "One meal, he had one large order of waffle fries, one large order of curly fries, a bowl of soup, a salad, three foot-long chili cheese dogs, one Salisbury steak with a side of vegetables, chicken strips, a piece of cake and one scoop of ice-cream."

It would be common for a child nearby in the restaurant to say, "Mom, what's wrong with them?"

Mom would say, "Oh, don't worry, honey. They're just hikers."

The couple encountered a mother bear and three cubs in Massachusetts. They stopped to take a picture. He started trying to "communicate" with the mother bear. The mother bear charged.

"We ran like the wind about 30 feet," said Ms. Shaw. Filion was laughing.

The bear stopped suddenly and returned to her cubs. "Thirty feet was long enough for me," she said.

Ms. Shaw's parents, Peggy and Ron Shaw, met the hikers at Mount Katahdin and hiked the last 37 miles with them. It was their second hike on the Appalachian Trail. Mom's trail name is "Fairy G," and Dad's is "Supreme Commander."

Ms. Shaw wept when they saw the trail-end sign at the top of top of Mount Katahdin. She started running as fast as she could. Filion said she looked like "a horse heading for the barn."

Ms. Shaw took it hard not being on the trail any more. She would go shopping and couldn't buy anything. There was nothing there that was necessary to survive.

On the trail, said Filion, you only carry what you need to survive.