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As a new subscriber, I was asked to introduce myself, so here goes ...
Hi, I'm Jeff Loen, living in Butte, Montana.  I hiked Shenandoah to Rangely,
Maine in the summer of 1974, right out of high school.  
I found the AT an outstanding way to:
1. develop your body.  Hiking will give you strong legs and lungs.  After a
few weeks, it's amazing that a 60 lb pack doesn't feel too bad at all!
2. learn basic outdoor skills. like staying dry, learning how to build a
fire in the rain (although I'd agree fires are usually unneccessary),
preventing blisters, orienteering, and learning what makes equipment any
good (function and durability are of utmost importance, and was probably
easier to find in the 70's than now, when fashion and high-tech designs have
become such a priority!).
3. learn to socialize.  Our society, more than ever, avoids "getting down to
basics".  But the AT will force you to interact with people on a very basic
level (walking, eating, staying warm, finding a good place to sleep, bodily
functions, dealing with discomfort, etc).  I recall the friendships made on
the trail as being some of the deepest and most trustworthy of my life!  You
can really talk to hikers about things that count, and usually there's no
time limit or distractions.
4. getting a feel for the woods.  Most avowed "Environmentalists" have never
spent even 3 nights away from home in the woods, and so have a weird, false
impression of wilderness!  After you've spent 100+ nights out, you look at
the woods differently, and more accurately (less romantically?).
5. develop self-reliance.  Yes, YOU have to decide what your doing all the
time.  That's ok, it's good for you (maybe the first time in our life for
most of us?)!  It will carry over into other things you do later.

So, there's my introduction.  Since ' 74 I've travelled to the Himalaya,
Africa, the Andes, Britian, Iceland, and throughout the western US, but
still there is much to be said for the rocky, often muddy, buggy track from
Ga to Me.
I'd enjoy communicating with other hikers.  Cheers!

Jeff Loen