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Northwest Salmon




One journey complete, Peterson

on to the next

by Amanda Fanger

Jeff Peterson thought hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail this summer – 2,190 miles of rough wilderness that crosses 14 states – would only be 20 percent physical and 80 percent mental focus. After 164 days, he did what he’d set out to do but found it wasn’t as he’d first imagined.

“It was a little more physically challenging than I thought, but I made it,” the 1976 Bristol High School graduate said by phone last week.

Peterson completed the trail Sept. 10 at Mt. Kathadin in Maine. He started his trek in Georgia in March after spending five years planning. The hike was done as a charity for Sun Dial Manor in Bristol, K9s for Warriors and Down Syndrome Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. While Peterson had hoped to raise at least $50,000, he ended up receiving pledges totaling more than $60,000 he said. One person from the Appalachian Trail told him that is believed to be the most money ever raised for charity by a single person while hiking the AT.

“A big chunk of that comes from Bristol and people in South Dakota,” he said. “It’s really touching and I’m appreciative of the support.”

Looking back, Peterson said the toughest part of the entire trail was in the White Mountains, a 300-400 mile stretch from New Hampshire to Maine.

“That was the physically most challenging part of the entire trail. It was mountain climbing, not hiking,” he said. “It was hard. I always told my wife, ‘hiking is just walking’ but this was more than hiking. This was rock climbing.”

Peterson said he’d been used to averaging 16-20 miles a day, but in the White Mountains he counted himself lucky to put on 12 miles.

Overall, Peterson said the hike took about a week longer than he’d initially thought. Part of that, he said, was due to injuries and illness he’d not anticipated.

Midway through the hike, Peterson was diagnosed with Lyme disease, which he said slowed him down to only 10 miles a day for a few days. At first, he attributed his lack of energy to the humidity, but eventually decided to seek medical attention for an ever-increasing red spot on his knee. Within two days of starting an antibiotic, his symptoms were gone. Aside from the expected cuts, scrapes and bruises, Peterson said his biggest injuries were from falls which resulted in dislocated fingers, a banged up elbow (which he suspected resulted in a possible bone fracture) and a bashed knee. Although he hadn’t had a chance to find a bathroom scale to weigh himself, he guessed he lost 25-30 pounds over the course of the summer.

Throughout the summer, Peterson did not shave and said after the trail was done, he went to a local barber shop to have his beard shaved off.

“It felt like I was a sheep going in to get sheared,” he said with a laugh then added that he was sure his wife was glad for the facial hair to be removed.

In the wilderness, Peterson said he encountered a lot of deer but was disappointed by not getting to see a moose, although he thinks he heard one nearby his tent once. There were also three black bear encounters, each which passed with no incident.

“I really think they want no more to do with us than we do them,” he said.

But his scariest moment on the trail was at a point in southern Virginia where some of the trail passes through private land. While camping near a stream one night, he said he heard a sudden thundering of many hooves. Peterson said it sounded as if 100 animals were bearing down on his tent. He curled up into a ball and prepared to be trampled – however, he reasoned that the animals must have been able to see his tent in the dark and veered around. When he got out to look, he said there was a handful of cows drinking from the stream.

Peterson went through three pairs of hiking shoes and said even though he wore the same two shirts the whole way, the microfiber didn’t show any wear. His single pair of shorts lasted the whole trip also and he was surprised that his two pairs of sock liners and wool socks didn’t wear out either.

While he ended up sending home a go-pro camera (choosing to use the camera on his phone instead), a portable cook stove (he said it wasn’t worth the effort and water at night to rehydrate his packaged food) and a jacket, Peterson said the only thing he found himself wanting was entertainment for the evenings.

“That’s where I was the most deficient in my planning, just needing something to do in the tent at night,” he said.

He eventually remedied that by purchasing a small crossword puzzle book.

By far, the item that proved to be the most valuable was a battery charger for his phone, he said. During the day, Peterson would put his phone on airplane mode, using it only to take pictures then email the text and pictures for his blog at night (which his daughter kept updated). By doing it that way, the charge on the phone would last almost two days, and since he could get three charges for his phone out of that battery pack, Peterson was able to go nearly a week through the wilderness with a fully charged phone the whole time.

Although Peterson said he had minimal contact with the outside world during his hike, he did admit to accessing the internet just long enough to check the Twins scores.

“You’ve got to have your priorities,” he said with a laugh.

With his home now in Florida, the Bristol native said it wasn’t until nearly finishing the trail that he learned of Hurricane Irma.

“I’m glad I didn’t know about the hurricane,” he said. “I would have just fretted. We came out pretty good.”

For a few days following the completion of the trail, Peterson said he spent time with his wife Chris in New Hampshire for some rest and relaxation. By next week, he is scheduled to play in a golf tournament, although he isn’t sure how he’ll do after not having touched a golf club all summer.

After thinking about it, Peterson said he thought he might do alright – considering golf is more of a mental game.

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