Sophomore John Fennessy is ready to embark upon the legendary Appalachian Trail beginning on March 1.
Fennessy is leaving today and taking a train to Georgia, where he will make the final preparations before beginning his 14 state trek. When he is ready he will begin at Spring Mountain in Georgia and finish at Katahdin Mountain in Maine, a total of 2,168 miles.
Having originally planned to leave on March 15, Fennessy decided to get a head start by beginning two weeks earlier.
“I’m starting a couple of weeks early to give myself some extra time,” Fennessy said.
Looking back on the past four months he has spent planning before starting his trip, Fennessy said he has been thoughtful of the time and energy he has devoted to this project.
“This week has been really reflective, because it took so much and so long to get to the point where it’s time to leave,” Fennessy said.
Despite planning to do two hikes last winter to become prepared for the Appalachian Trail, Fennessy said he had to forego them in order to finish gathering items for the main hike.
“Now that it’s time to go, the preparations and the equipment turned out to be much harder than I thought it would be,” Fennessy said.
The weather in the region is also expected to be worse than Fennessy had originally planned for, but main storms like the blizzard currently hitting the east coast will not affect him.
“I’m ready to go, there’s no doubt about that,” Fennessy said.
Fennessy will travel hike for two months, returning to SHSU in May to take his finals. Afterward, his wife and two children, age 14 and 8, will join him the first week in June after their school year ends to complete the remaining 700 miles. Fennessy said it would probably take another three months complete the trail.
When he is finished, Fennessy said he plans to write a book about family hiking based on his experiences on the trail.
Carrying a backpack full of supplies and gear weighing nearly 40 pounds, Fennessy plans on walking 14 to15 miles a day depending on the trail conditions. He will begin the trek in a group with other hikers, and because of the frequent traffic on the trail; he said has no concerns about being in the wilderness.
“It’s about as safe a place as you can be,” Fennessy said. “There’s a lot of people on it, so you’re not alone.”
He said the only worry hikers he has contacted seem to have is that being away from civilization keeps them from being informed of the latest news involving the possible war in Iraq and the troubles with North Korea.
“One of the big concerns among hikers right now is being out of touch with the national situation,” Fennessy said. “With the war coming up, it has a lot of people concerned.”
Fennessy said the trail will be very popular this year and he’s expecting to see plenty of fellow hikers. The trail opens in January and hikers can travel at whatever pace they prefer, just as long as they travel through national forests in the designated period of time the parks set for hikers to traverse the borders.
Despite all the hikers that begin the trail, however, more then half will give up by the 455 mile make in Neels Gap, Ga. Only 20 to 25 percent of the hikers will complete the entire trail.
Fennessy received sponsors from the REI sporting goods retailer in Houston, and also received $3,000 worth of software from ESRI, a math software company.
With the help of the Global Positioning System equipment he is bringing along, Fennessy plans to create a safety map by plotting the locations of water and natural shelters from the elements for future hikers.
Along the trail, Fennessy will stop to mark his progress and send journal entries via e-mail to The Houstonian for a column the paper will run describing his journey. The first of his columns will run next Thursday and describe the history of the trail.
“I just think it’s important for people to understand where the trail comes from,” Fennessy said.
Other entries will include the encounters Fennessy has along the trail.
“Most of it will be the personalities and oddities that happen while hiking,” he said
Fennessy said that while he will be in the wilderness for most of the time, there are plenty of towns along the trail when he can stop and send his information.
“There are libraries along the way,” he said. “There are lots of places I can stop.”
Apart from e-mailing his responses, Fennessy will also be posting entries on the Trail Journals Web site (http://www.trailjournals.com/) under the name “Bearkat”, his hiking nickname.
Fennessy foresees his experience on the trail as both positive to his education and his family.
“I hope it will help my education,” Fennessy said. “Being able to apply the research to the education is very important. But mostly, when my wife and kids join me, I hope it will make us a tighter unit. And I hope it will instill a respect of nature in the kids.”