He headed north toward Mount Katahdin in Maine and for the next 124 days, averaging 16.5 miles a day, beat back the demons of war. His goal, he said, was to ‘‘walk the Army out of my system.’’ He was the first person to hike the full length of the Appalachian Trail.
The beauty and tranquility of the old-growth forests, the vistas that stretch for miles over unbroken treetops, the waterfalls and rivers, the severance from the noise and electronic hallucinations of modern existence, becomes, if you stay out long enough, a balm to wounds. It is in solitude, contemplation and a connection with nature that we transcend the frenzied and desperate existence imposed upon us by the distortions of a commodity culture.
The mountains that loom on the northern part of the trail in New Hampshire and Maine, most of them in the White Mountain National Forest, are also forbidding, even in summer, when winds can routinely reach 60 or 70 miles per hour accompanied by lashing rain. The highest surface wind speed recorded on the planet, 231 miles per hour, was measured on April 12, 1934, at the Mount Washington Observatory. Boulders and steep inclines become slippery and treacherous when wet and shrouded in dense fog. Thunderstorms, racing across treeless ridge lines with the speed of a freight train, turn the razor-backed peaks into lightning rods. The Penacooks, one of two Native American tribes that dominated the area, called Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, Agiochook or “place of the Great Spirit.”
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