PEABODY, Mass. — Paul Truesdale once came across a mother bear and three cubs while on a hike with his longtime friend, Frank Palazzi.
“They were just sitting there, munching on vegetation, wandering back and forth,” Truesdale said. “I think the mother saw us and she started walking towards us and grunted at a cub. Eventually they wandered off. Just sitting there, watching the bears munch away, it was an incredible thrill, really.”
It was just one of several encounters with bears and other wildlife Truesdale, 74, recalls over quest to hike the Appalachian Trail.
But Truesdale, of 10 Brookbridge Road, did it differently than most. He hiked the trail only through day trips, without ever camping or sleeping overnight on the path.
The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine, a path that measures roughly 2,190 miles. Truesdale calculates that it took him 226 day hikes, over a span of 40 years, to complete it. He went on a majority of the hikes — about 2,000 miles worth — over the last decade. He finished the trail July 28 in Groseclose, Virginia.
“It was just a goal,” he said. “The first goal, I climbed all of the tall mountains in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. After that the next goal was to do the entire Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, and then the goal after that was to do the entire trail in Maine, and then in New England. Then it was to do the Northern part of the trail, then it was to do the whole Appalachian Trail. It kind of evolved.”
Truesdale’s first experiences hiking on the Appalachian Trail began when he was a Boy Scout Leader for his sons’ scout troops. Despite his love of hiking, Truesdale had no interest in camping overnight.
“I don’t like camping out. I don’t like the weather,” he said. “I don’t like the bugs. I don’t like being cold or hot or wet. In general camping is uncomfortable, I don’t enjoy it at all.”
As a day trip hiker on the Appalachian Trail, Truesdale faced a special slew of challenges. In rural areas he hiked long distances, including a day in the 100 Mile Wilderness where he hiked over 20 miles. For most of his hikes, he started and ended in the same parking lot, which meant he actually passed through those sections twice. At times he left his bicycle at the end of a trail, parked his car at the beginning, and then biked back to his car once he finished. He also had arranged for rides to pick him up after long hikes, but even that had its inconveniences.
“A number of times I was left stranded by people that said they were going to be picking me up,” he said. “I was in areas with no cellphone service coverage. There I was, waiting for someone to provide me transportation with no way to figure it out. Those problems were really annoying.”
Truesdale also faced the challenges all Appalachian hikers face, from injuries to running into rattlesnakes. On one trip, he fell and broke his fibula.
He said his encounters with moose on the trail were among the most remarkable.
“It’s just a thrill,” he said. “Once you’re not worried about being attacked, it’s an incredible, thrilling experience to see the biggest animal in North America. One of the big thrills of going on the Appalachian Trail is the wildlife and the peak are moose, maybe a bear would be second, but I would say a moose has to be the most exciting animal to encounter as long as there’s no danger.”
Truesdale also met several memorable hikers, including a man with no arms who was hiking with his daughter and wife, hikers who were barefoot, and men who wore dresses on the trail to stay cool.
‘A rare accomplishment’
Truesdale claims he’s the first person to ever complete the trail through day trips alone. Laurie Potteiger, information services manager for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, said a handful of people have completed the trail through day trips, and doing so is a significant feat.
“It is certainly a rare accomplishment,” Potteiger said. “Most years out of 1,000 people who complete the trail, there might be one who does what he did. It’s quite unique and notable. It’s a mammoth logistical challenge because it entails a huge amount of driving.”
Potteiger also said day hikers can often do short or medium length hikes, but those who aim to travel the entire trail through day trips have to accomplish hikes around 30 miles in certain, particularly remote sections like the Great Smoky Mountains.
Truesdale said he’s proud of achieving his goal.
“Every day you set up, you’ve had a number of hikes of 20 miles or more and setting those out and achieving those, you feel good about it. Not everyone can hike mountains and not everyone can hike the Appalachian Trail, so it feels good to do that.”