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Oct 23, 2008 1:16 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hampton Bays hiker conquers Appalachian Trail

Oct 23, 2008 1:16 PM

Wearing just the clothes on his back, and carrying only a sleeping bag and a backpack full of supplies, Derek Andrews set out this past April to conquer the ultimate of wilderness hikes: the 2,175-mile-long Appalachian Trail.

And after spending six months on the trail, which runs from Georgia all the way north to Maine, the 21-year-old Hampton Bays resident crossed the finish line October 10 in northern New England.

Every year, thousands of hikers embark on the trail, which runs across 14 states, though only 500 or so completed the entire trek this year. Hikers navigate the trail with the assistance of 165,000 white markings, known as blazes, that are painted on trees along the path.

A student at the University of Vermont, Mr. Andrews explained during a recent interview that he was losing interest in college life and wanted to embark on something unique and challenging. “I was getting bored at school,” he said. “There wasn’t anything I could get excited about.” Then in 2007, he put his studies on hold to begin preparing for his six-month journey.

Mr. Andrews considered hiking the Appalachian Trail—known to hikers as simply “The AT”—after his father, Stuart Andrews, successfully completed the journey in 2006. “I could start with what he had as far as gear goes,” the younger Mr. Andrews explained.

His father warned him that hiking all day, every day, for six straight months can lead to aching bones and sore muscles. “People take so much ibuprofen on the trail that they call it Vitamin I,” he said.

After soliciting the advice of his father, Mr. Andrews said he made only minimal preparations prior to the start of his journey. “I just hit the ground running,” he said.

Standing at 6 feet 9 inches, Mr. Andrews’s long strides gave him an advantage over shorter hikers, though he still said that there were a few times along the trail when he thought about giving up. Still, he kept going, refusing to stop until he met his goal of reaching Mount Katahdin in Maine.

“There were times where I wanted to quit, but I never said ‘I am going to get off the trail,’” he said.

Mr. Andrews added that this lesson in perseverance is one that he will keep with him for the rest of his life. “I think the whole trail can be a metaphor for any goal you have,” he said. “The feeling of accomplishment when you finish, it is unlike anything else.”

For shelter, Mr. Andrews often stayed in one of the 250 three-walled shelters, known as lean-tos, that populate the trail. Protein shakes and bars, freeze-dried foods, ramen noodles and Pop-Tarts were the staples of his diet. “I went extremely minimalist,” he said.

Some nights, he would lay on a self-inflating mattress placed over a piece of Tyvek with only a tarp for shelter.

Mr. Andrews noted that while he spent much of his six-month journey in the woods, he rarely spent a whole day without interacting with others. He explained that he frequently would meet the same hikers along different parts of the trail.

“Someone described it to me as the thinnest, longest town in America,” he said of the trail itself. “I met somebody in Damascus, Virginia and I didn’t see him again until Rangeley, Maine.”

One of the most surprising things about the trail, according to Mr. Andrews, was the generosity of those he met while hiking. He noted that numerous “trail angels” can be found along the way, providing food and shelter to hikers.

“There are people who have opened their houses to hikers,” he said, noting that the mayor of one small New Jersey town let hikers stay in his home as long as they adhered to one rule: “This is your house, treat it like it.”

“When you have respect like that for people, it commands respect,” Mr. Andrews said. “You’re not going to find that anywhere else.”

Mr. Andrews brought his cell phone on the trail as a safety precaution but said he rarely used it. “It’s something I could have done without,” he said.

Meanwhile, his father said that despite the dangers of hiking alone, he rarely worried about the safety of his son. “I worried about him a couple of times, but I wouldn’t say I was really nervous for him,” the senior Mr. Andrews said.

In terms of expense, Mr. Andrews said that some people can spend thousands of dollars hiking the trail while others can do it for virtually nothing. He estimated that he spent about $5,000 on equipment, lodging, food and—his largest expense of all—local bars. “That’s the big expense,” he said, smiling. “You go to town and you just want to relax.”

Mr. Andrews said he will return to the University of Vermont this spring to resume his studies in film and to share some great stories with his college friends. He said he will also take back with him a new perspective on life. “It’s changed me in more ways than I’ll ever know,” he said, referring to his journey.

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Any hiker interested in doing part of the Appalachian should try the 100 mile wilderness section from Monson to Mt Katahdin in Maine. Some trip man. No services so pack all you need for the few days it takes
By BruceB (142), Sag Harbor on Nov 8, 08 5:23 PM
Great video Wavepool. Thanks for being part of my AT experience!!
Trailname: Sprite
By shirley (1), Greene on Jan 26, 09 12:14 PM