The Mothman Chronicles: Introduction, 01-Apr-2003

Editor’s note: This is an abridged reprint (with Jim’s permission) of an email from Jim Heaney sent during his “through-hike” of the Appalachian Trail.

…I’m going through with my two-year-old crazy dream to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail this summer. This email is the first in my “virtual thru-hiking” series.

The Appalachian Trail, or “AT,” is a National Historic Trail, with parts dating back to the 1920s. You can read more at,, or in any one of dozens of books. (To the three of you who didn’t ask whether I had read “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson:
this is a very humorous account.) Most of it runs through federal or state
parkland or forest; the National Park Service or the various maintenance
clubs annually acquire more and more of the land surrounding it, with the
goal to one day have the entire trail on protected land. Because of these
annual efforts and the associated re-routings, the distance changes; this
year, the “white blazes” mark off 2,171 miles from Springer Mountain in
Georgia to Mt. Katadhin in Maine. This takes the average thru-hiker,
carrying most everything he or she needs along the way (25-50 pounds) on
his or her back, four to six months, averaging something like 15 miles a
day with the occasional rest day. Since the first thru-hike in 1948,
something like 15-20% of those who start actually complete the whole
distance. They estimate that 20% of the 3,000 or so who start every year,
drop out before getting 30 miles up the trail.

Surely you ask yourself, why? And why now? A few reasons… I’ve watched several of you drop everything and chase your dreams—move to Vermont, join a band, write the Great American Screenplay—and I’ve been envious.

To go, I have the following obstacles to overcome:

  • My backpacking career is almost two weeks old, having gone once in late March. I’ve never spend more than three consecutive days outside.
  • Most of my gear is shiny and new—that is to say, not exactly field-tested.
  • I dropped out of Boy Scouts before, you know, actually getting to Boy Scouts. I made it to the WeBeLos phase of the Scouting life-cycle. Never got my knot-tying merit badge.
  • Let’s say that a hiker burns 4,000 calories a day. (That may be a little low—I’ve also heard 5,000.) If you use the standard conversion of 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate and protein, and 9 calories per gram of fat, and try to maintain a diet with approximately 70%/15%/15% of each respectively, and THEN found the perfect food that had no extra weight (e.g., water) beyond its caloric components, you are looking at just over 2 pounds of food. A day. Using CLIF bars as a unit of measure, that would be 17 CLIF bars. And for large stretches, both to maintain a good diet and to avoid being gouged at little Trail convenience stores, I’ll be carrying over a week’s worth of food.

Yet stubbornly I go. I have ultimate confidence in my ability to walk this thing because I have engineered a most excellent AT Planning Spreadsheet. I have an Executive Dashboard up front, based on my company’s “7 Keys to Success” management methodology; a risk log; a menu planning tool measuring such dimensions as “calories per dollar”; and a pace-o-meter, which will allow my support team at home to track where I am at any given time, whether I’m at risk of missing milestones, when I should pick up my next mail drop, and so on. I only need to do the actual walking now.

I’m staying with high school buddy John Hollinger and his wife Judy in Atlanta the day after the NCAA Men’s Final Four games, potentially watching the championship game at the, then riding up to Springer Mountain in Georgia to start on April 8. (The hike to the actual terminus of the AT is 8.8 miles up Springer, so in theory I could drop out before ever officially starting!) John has written a great book of the NBA; you can find out more details at his personal web page, (That’s a heart-felt endorsement as well as a plug; inasmuch as John is saving me shuttle fare to the trail head, he is “sponsoring” my hike.) This puts me, at a realistic pace, 15 miles west of Charlottesville just two days before the reunion; somewhere in Pennsylvania for July 4; getting a few days at home when Mom picks me up in the west New Jersey Highlands; staying with Doyle (who is not selling anything, thus no plug) in Vermont for as long as he’ll have me in early August, and eventually getting up to the peak of Katadhin in Maine by the middle to end of September. …

Hey, that’s a lot of detail. I’m planning occasional emails from a yahoo email account as I embark and then as I hit occasional internet cafes or public libraries along the way; some will surely be philosophical, some will be me complaining about pain or mosquitos, but hopefully it will be more good stories than anything else. … I’m taking an old 2G analog camera, so no pictures until I’m done, but I’ll probably do a slideshow in the winter.

I leave on Sunday. Oy!

Hope everyone is well.