Taking the high road: Onekama man hikes entire Appalachian Trail

Mark Laguire started his hike along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail on March 1 and finished on Oct. 13. He was able to complete the hike in seven months. (Courtesy Photo/Mark Laguire)

Mark Laguire started his hike along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail on March 1 and finished on Oct. 13. He was able to complete the hike in seven months. (Courtesy Photo/Mark Laguire)

ONEKAMA — It was the adventure of a lifetime, one Onekama man taking on more than 2,200 miles of a trail that stretches across the Eastern United States.

Despite all of the odds, Mark Laguire finished the hike in seven months.

Mark started his hike along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail — which is typically referred to as the AT — on March 1 and readily completed his journey on Oct. 13.

Although thousands of people attempt to hike the entire trail each year, many do not finish it; however, Mark was one of about 1,500 people each year who complete the entire stretch.

“I thought about it just as a challenge. I started doing some research and thought ‘I could do this’,” Mark said. “About 10,000 people attempt to finish it. In my age group, only about 7 percent of people complete the trail.”

Mark, and his wife Kathy, who joined him on many of the hikes, spoke to local residents at the Onekama Farr Center on Thursday, as part of Farr Friends programming.

He shared details of his adventure, and demonstrated how to use his 26 pound survival pack, which he carried throughout the entire journey.

The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only trail in the world, and passes through 14 states stretching from Georgia, through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, all of the way to New Hampshire and Maine.

Thru-hikers are daring enough to attempt to hike the trail in a single season.

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail stretches for 2,220 miles across the Eastern United States. (Courtesy Photo/Onekama Facebook page)

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail stretches for 2,220 miles across the Eastern United States. (Courtesy Photo/Onekama Facebook page)

Mark first attempted the trail in 2016, but a painful foot injury sent him home. In 2017, he mustered up the strength to hike the trail again, and after one day of hiking he kept going — only spending time off-trail for about five weeks total.

“I just started and kept going,” he said. “My wife made five trips out to the trail at a few points from anywhere in Georgia to northern Maine. She had a camper, so when she was in town I could catch up with her and stay in that at a roadside park or boat ramp.”

Along his journey, Mark upheld the nick-name “eight-track,” as each hiker typically uses a trail name during their trek. Mark decided to thru-hike northbound, starting in Georgia and ending in Maine.

Others can choose to travel southbound or even flip-flop, deciding to start somewhere in the middle of the trail.

Although, at first, a day’s hike can start in the single digits, he said an average day’s hike eventually spans anywhere from 12 to 15 miles. His best hike hit 25 miles in one day.

“You are just not used to it at first,” Mark said. “After a couple of weeks, you start to get into 13 miles per day and weeks later you are at 15 miles. Toward the end, you might average about 110 to 115 miles a week.”

The most difficult stretch of the trip, he said, was the White Mountains that cover about a quarter of New Hampshire and part of western Maine.

“The White Mountains are some really, really serious mountains. A lot of hikers die in the White Mountains,” Mark said. “I was in the White Mountains for two weeks from Sept. 1 to Sept. 15, and three hikers died during that time.

“It is a rugged territory, which has some of the worst conditions of weather in the world.”

Conditions along the trail can be rough, especially with a chance for wild animals, hot or cold temperatures, insects, disease or illness, and of course, no fresh water for miles.

However, Mark said his strategy was to prepare for the worst, packing only what’s needed. In his backpack, Mark carried a small water filter to attach to a plastic bottle; he carried a few bottles at a time, and refilled them whenever he hit a body of water or a puddle.

At some points along the trail, poison ivy and other ailments were a threat to hikers. Some nights, he said hikers were able to stop in a town to grab a bite to eat or sleep; however, most nights were spent out in the wilderness with nothing but a tent and few survival supplies.

“There are three things you are concerned about: water, shelter and food. Water is an hourly thing, believe me, there were four or five times on the trip where I was out of water — it was not a good thing,” he said. “The trails are full of water, and the most we had to carry water was about 10 to 12 miles.”

While the trip was rewarding and rich in experience, not to mention the breath-taking views, Mark said the hike has a social aspect to it that brings others together on one long journey.

“It’s an athletic event, but it’s also a social event,” said Mark. “You meet a lot of people, really cool people who also are hiking the trails. As you get further along the trail, the dynamic changes because people are starting to think they might actually make it.

“When you get closer and closer, it gets into a really neat vibe because everybody knows they are going to beat the odds.”

 

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Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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