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[at-l] AP story on Earl Shaffer

One Man's Historic Appalachian Hike
.c The Associated Press
PINE GROVE, Pa. (AP) - Earl Shaffer stopped to catch his breath. He adjusted
the canvas straps of his 25-pound backpack and looked up at the canopy of
pines surrounding the Appalachian Trial he had followed for the past 82 days.
Only 1,080 miles to go. ``I'm amazed I've made it this far,'' said Shaffer,
who 50 years ago became the first to hike the 2,160-mile trail from Georgia to
Maine in one uninterrupted trip. At the age of 79, he's trying to do it a
third time. Alone. ``Some people say I'm a legend. I don't know. I just keep
going,'' said Shaffer, who lives five miles from the trail in York Springs,
Pa. This time along the trail, inclines seem steeper and more frequent, and he
often rests on uphill sections. On the other hand, he said, the woods are more
lush and the trail is cleared and marked better than on his first trek.
Shaffer reached the halfway point near Pine Grove, Pa., in July and will be
heading into New York state this week. He is worried about reaching Mount
Katahdin, Maine, by Oct. 15 - when the mountain closes. Unlike younger hikers
in lightweight gear, he wears long trousers, a flannel shirt and an old pith
helmet with mosquito net. The trail was proposed in 1921 and completed in
1937. Back then, nobody envisioned hiking the entire distance, but Shaffer did
it in 1948, finishing in four months, four hours, and drawing national
attention to the by-then-neglected footpath. His hike and the book of poems he
wrote during the journey, ``Walking with Spring,'' drew attention to the trail
and encouraged a generation of volunteers to clear and mark the path. ``So,
how does it feel to go with Neil Armstrong to the moon?'' Christopher Boyer of
Round Hill, Va., asked two people who walked with Shaffer for a day. Boyer is
a thru-hiker, trail walker slang for people following Shaffer's example and
hiking the trail end to end. At the halfway point in Pine Grove Furnace State
Park on July 22, Shaffer was surrounded by admiring thru-hikers as he downed a
tub of cherry jubilee ice cream, following the thru-hiker's tradition of
eating a half-gallon of ice cream at the halfway mark. He has stayed in
shelters about half the time, but he's just as comfortable laying a mat down
along the trail. If it rains, he pulls a tarp over himself and his pack.
The trail now winds through mostly public land in 14 states. Each year, about
1,500 people attempt to duplicate Shaffer's feat, beginning in late spring at
Springer Mountain, Ga., and ending at Mount Katahdin.
Only about one in 10 make it, according to the Appalachian Trail Conference.
Shaffer undertook his first hike on the Appalachian Trail to shake off the
demons after World War II, which he spent in the Pacific. His best friend from
childhood was killed at Iwo Jima. ``After the war, I couldn't settle down to
do anything. So I started walking,'' Shaffer said. The trail covered easier
terrain in 1948, Shaffer remembered, sometimes passing through towns or along
country roads. Now it crosses mountain tops and ridges, ascending challenging
and rocky ground. ``It's like an obstacle course,'' he said. Shaffer thru-
hiked a second time in 1965, walking south from Mount Katahdin and finishing
in 99 days. ``Katahdin is the most beautiful,'' Shaffer said. ``From the top
you can see everything. You can look at it from so many different ways, and it
looks different every time.'' This year's hike is his swan song, he
acknowledges. ``I've been torturing myself sometimes on this one,'' he said.
His left shoulder aches. He has fallen down twice, once earning a black eye.
``People ask me what it is to make me go off and do something like this,'' he
said. ``It's the beauty.''
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