Trekking the Appalachian Trail

A marker along the Appalachian Trail. (Shutterstock)

A marker along the Appalachian Trail. (Shutterstock)


, Last Updated: 11:09 AM ET

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Perry Hill’s journey of 2,175 miles began with a single step in 1978 in Maine and ended with a single step Aug. 25 near Fontana Dam in North Carolina.

There were roughly five million steps on his way to completing the famous Appalachian Trail.

“It was a real thrill,” the semi-retired Stratford, Ont. lawyer said of the monumental trek, which he completed in stages over the past 32 years. “I set this out as a life goal for myself.”

That was 1978, on a family vacation in Maine, when he got his first taste of what’s considered the “grandaddy of hiking trails in the world.”

“From the very beginning, I thought I’d do the whole thing,” said Hill, now 70.

And that was no small undertaking.

The Appalachian Trail stretches from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, following the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains through some steep, rocky and scenic wilderness terrain, touching some of the highest peaks in the eastern United States.

Hiking with family, friends, and even a few times by himself, usually for a week at a time, Hill would complete small sections each year, adding new links to a chain that would eventually span some 3,500 kilometres.

Accommodations were usually trailside and rarely luxurious — most often a tent or a simple shelter known as a lean-to.

“Sometimes we’d just stay out under the stars,” said Hill, clearly relishing the memory.

And the hiking itself was often challenging, with significant elevation gains over a short space, made more difficult by a heavy pack and rugged terrain in many places.

But Hill was hardly a newcomer to the hiking world, having already completed Ontario’s 800-kilometre Bruce Trail, and he was up for the challenge.

His reason for taking on the Appalachian was the same one that British mountaineer George Mallory gave when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest.

“Because it’s there,” said Hill with a chuckle.

“I seem to have a mind that operates in a way that when I see something like that, I want to do the whole thing,” he said.

And whether it’s the Avon Trail, the Bruce, or the Appalachian, the appeal is generally the same, he said.

“I love the exercise. I love the woods. I love getting to the tops of hills and mountains and being able to see a long way,” he said. “It’s just lovely to be able to walk through nature.”

The logistics of getting to and from the trail — often by hitchhiking, cycling or arranging for rides back to the car from the end of the hike — and putting together all the individual pieces of the overall Appalachian puzzle was as challenging as the hiking itself, he said.

“To complete it, to put it all together, it’s just perseverence.”

Hill speaks modestly and matter-of-factly about finishing the Appalachian, but it’s obviously meaningful to him.

It shows in the way he carefully thumbs through his trail guide to point out memorable sections. It shows in the way he traces his finger over the laminated, full-size map showing just how far he travelled. And it shows in the way he effortlessly calls to mind place names, distances, topography, wildlife and features of one of the most significant journeys of his life.

“I felt it was an accomplishment,” he said simply.