I had the joy of interviewing an A.T. Section Hiker who tackled the trail back in the 1970s and 1980s. He said when he finished his section hike, only about 70 other people had completed the entire trail. I had a lot of fun doing the interview. I learned a lot about a great guy - and the trail. I hope you enjoy! jpd

Interviewee: Rodney Stewart, A.T. Section Hiker, husband, father, former collegiate athlete, and GREAT GUY!

Alright Rodney, Let's get started. How did you hear about the A.T.? My younger brother introduced me to hiking and the A.T.

When did you start your section hike and where did you start? I started Labor Day weekend, 1971. The first section I ever hiked stretched from Laurel Fork Falls to Roan Mountain in NC/TN.

What gear did you take out on your first hike? An ol’ Boy Scout Canvas pack with a wooden backboard, Limmer Boots that weighed about 12 lbs. A tarp – no tent, snack foods – no stove, no water purification, no insect repellant, a water bottle, a Boy Scout sleeping bag, but no ground cloth, and an A.T. section guidebook.

Limmer Boots (They weight A LOT!!!)

What was surprising about the trail? It was rough and rocky. I didn’t expect all the rocks. Big Hump was steeper than I thought it would be. And there were very few switchbacks. There were horses and riders on top of Hump Mountain. I couldn’t figure out how they had gotten there. We camped on top of Hump Mountain under almost a full moon. I remember the clouds coming in over Jane Bald like fingers caressing the mountains. It was so beautiful. But then in the morning we were all soaking wet. Everything was wet.

When did you decide to section hike? After that first trip, I realized how much fun I had and I got pretty serious about piecing it together. I started to replace clothes and gear from REI in Seattle. There wasn’t much in the area for good backpacking gear.

Do you have a favorite section? I really love Roan Mountain and Hump Mountain. But I think my favorite section is the Bigelows in Maine. And then there are always the Whites. The Whites are just so different.

Hump Mountain

Did you have a least favorite section? Pearisburg, Virginia and all the cow pastures. When we were there, there was no water. It was as dry as a bone. I didn’t see anything in that section that made it worthy of returning. Plus we had a horrible rainstorm to start. We were soaked at the beginning and miserable at the end.

Back then you had to ford the Kennebec. Can you tell me about it? Sure. We stayed at the shelter just before the river and headed early in the morning to the Kennebec. I didn’t know it was that wide and I couldn’t tell where the trail crossed. We found a place that didn’t look terribly deep and started out. There were three channels. The first was knee high and the second was the deepest. It was chest high. We took a hiking pole and stuck it in the water before taking our next step. We came across the other side and were glad to get across. Then we had brunch at the small country store in Caratunk. It took all day to dry the boots out.

Did you ever get hurt on the trail? The one time I got hurt was coming down off Baldpate. I stepped down off a ledge in the rain. I slipped in the moss and fell six feet. I fell on my tailbone and broke a small piece off. It was excruciating. I had to hike backwards the rest of the way down. I drove home with a whoopee cushion under my tailbone.

Who were some memorable trail personalities? I remember Shaw’s boarding house. We got there after a 10-12 day hike. I got to know Keith Shaw well. I remember throwing mule shoes in his backyard. He had never lost and I beat him in that first match. I won the first match. He said two out of three, then I beat him in the second match. Then he didn’t want to play anymore. I sent him some real pitching shoes when I got home. He had just expanded his bunkhouse in the mid/late 70s. When we made breakfast he put everything in the same skillet and just stirred it with a stick. Even a hiker can overeat at Shaw’s.

Shaw's Boarding House

When and where did you finish your sections hike? July, 1987. I finished at Kinsman notch. We went to South Portland in Maine with friends and had a celebratory dinner. That was one of the scariest section of the trail with the shear rock face and steep steps. I was heavier than most hikers and I was worries that those wooden steps in the mountain wouldn’t hold me. I threw away all my clothes at the end of the trail.

What advice do you have for other section hikers? Talk to someone who has been out there and done it before. Don’t bite out more than you can chew. Don’t buy everything you need before you go. Borrow it, find out what suits you. Know where you are going. Get the trail guide.

Do you think your time on the trail helped you in your personal life or business? I have no doubt it did. Planning. Perseverance. Preparation. You come off the trail with a feeling that there is very little that you can’t do.

Any closing thoughts? I never had any real interest in thru-hiking. But different things are for different people. You know it’s out there, so just take advantage of it. I don’t even know how to relate to people who are scared of the woods. It’s where we’re supposed to be.

Thanks Rodney ; )