Jamie Boblitt used to walk Jack and Freckles on Bellman Avenue in Conimicut. When he decided if he was really serious about hiking the Appalachian Trail, a 2,168-mile trek from Springer Mountain in Georgia to the ascent of Mt. Katahdin, in Maine, he would need to do something a little more demanding. He took the dogs that are now showing their age and are more plodders than walkers to Rocky Point. At least at the park there are some hills.
While he walked fast and found he consistently clocked a 14-minute mile, he was in for a surprise when he hit the trail this summer for a sample of what he hopes to accomplish in 2022. Yet to get this far he’s overcome many hurdles, which in themselves are personal triumphs.
In his 20s and 30s when Jamie lived in Ohio he would use his vacation to hike the White Mountains of New Hampshire for a week following the hut system managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Jamie called the hiking frequently “steep and treacherous,” but when you reached a hut you could count on a place to sleep and a good meal. An added benefit is that you didn’t have to lug a heavy pack.
Jamie kept up with his outdoor sports but not with the same intensity after marrying and moving to Rhode Island. The company he founded, Aura Accessories, had him traveling a lot, and at the age of 62 he decided it was time to retire and discover some new hobbies. He sold the business.
However, his health interrupted dreams of retirement. He had zero energy; he had aches and pains and he felt listless. After a battery of tests involving four days in the hospital, physicians diagnosed polymyalgia rheumatic that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own connective tissues of joints, causing pain. As conditions didn’t improve, Jamie was also diagnosed with giant cell arteritis, which frequently causes headaches, scalp tenderness, jaw pain and vision problems. If untreated it can lead to blindness.
“All my activities slowed down,” he said. He gained weight and what walks he took with the dogs were slow tedious and tiring. Slowly over a period of six to nine months his energy started to return.
“I kind of didn’t want to sit around,” Jamie says.
It was at that point the lure of the Appalachian Trail took root. Jamie turned to the internet where he found blogs, personal accounts and videos on what to bring and what one should be prepared for. He was beginning to wonder if he could do it. Most compelling was Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods, Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.
Jamie researched what gear he would need. The emphasis was on weight. The less he had to carry, the easier it would be on his body and the more ground he could cover in a day. Jamie had some of his own gear, as well as some gear belonging to his son, Jake, an Eagle Scout, who is now in his second year at NYU. He could use Jake’s pack, but that was comparatively heavy. Jamie bought a pack weighing 2.7 pounds and a tent tipping the scales at 2.8 pounds. Traditional hiking boots were out.
“One pound on your foot is like 17 pounds on your back,” Jamie said. He went for trail runners that are light and resemble sneakers. There were other considerations including clothing, a stove, sleeping bag, water and enough food to make it for stretches of four to five days if that was in the plan.
Jamie used the camping stove he had although he could have bought one several ounces lighter. He bought an ultra-light sleeping bag but found it insufferable. The bag was made of a heat retaining reflective crinkly material. Whenever he moved, the bag would make noise. He gave up on that and went for something a little heavier. As for water, he bought a filtration system to purify water from streams and lakes he would find along the way.
There is no way around food. Jamie estimated he would be burning 4,000 calories daily. Power bars and candy are light and energy packed. He went for those.
Jamie was feeling good by this summer. He wanted to make a trial run and planned on a 2-day climb of Mt. Washington with Jake. Despite all the walks, the pounds he shed and feeling in shape, climbing Mt. Washington wasn’t a walk in the park. He soon discovered age also made a difference. There were times he was out of breath and he had to stop. Meanwhile, Jake was “bounding from rock to rock.” He was starting to wonder if he was cut out for the trial.
Soon after he put himself to the test, driving to Great Barrington, MA to connect with the trail there. It was late August. The trail, nicknamed the Green Tunnel since trees blot out the sun for much of the stretch, was relatively active. In the course of the five days it took him to reach Dalton, MA, Jamie met about eight others hiking the trail either heading North or South.
Among them was a woman by the name of Mozeta in her 60s, who had broken her foot, which incapacitated her for more than a month. When she finally returned to the trail, she came down with Lyme disease. Doctors put her on medication and finally gave her the clearance, only now her funds were running out. Mozeta sold her house in California and bought a van to live out of and then returned to the trail.
Jamie said it’s takes $4,000 to $5,000 to do the trail properly.
After doing a portion of the trail, Jamie returned in late September to complete the Massachusetts section from Dalton to North Adams. He found a different experience. He didn’t encounter a single other hiker. Trees had lost their leaves and he was walking in the sunlight when it wasn’t raining. With leaves blanketing the trail, Jamie depended on the GPS app Gut Hooks, now Far Out, on his phone that outlines the length of the trail. The app pinpointed his location and he could see what he needed to do to get back on the trail. He recommends the app as the one thing hikers can’t do without.
Tough going through the mud
He also discovered with all the summer rains, the trail was muck. The mud made to heavy going there were occasions where a combination of exhaustion and conditions brought him to a stop. There was nothing he could do but to plod on.
Although the trail is 2,168 miles, Jamie estimates he’ll put in an additional 300 miles leaving and then returning to the trail to stock up on food, charge a cell phone or better yet spend a night in a motel where he can get a hot shower and a good meal. His plan is to start in mid March 2022.
Compared to the two other major trails in the country, the Pacific Crest and the Continental Divide that are both slight longer, the Appalachian with all its ups and downs has 515,000 feet of elevation gain - the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest 16 times. The other two major trails fall short of that elevation gain by 200,000 and 100,000 feet respectively. Jamie is thinking of doing the Pacific Crest, should Jake get an internship in the film business in California.
But for now, his attention is focused on the Appalachian Trial. His wife, Gina, has no issues with his goal as “long as you let me know you’re alive.” A daily text or phone call works.
As for Jamie, what does he think of during all that time in the woods and on the trail?
He said he takes in the surroundings and thinks of the next step, whether it’s getting around the boulder in front of him or the days ahead of him.
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