There’s a misty-eyed look that comes upon people who have hiked the Appalachian Trail that convinces others there must be something spiritually transcendent about the trek, so I’ve encountered confusion when I’ve explained that in my limited experience—I’ve hiked only a quarter of the AT’s 2,200 miles—the reasons the expedition is so memorable are both more modest and more meaningful. The first is about companionship. Forget the myth of the solitary adventurer: The Appalachian Trail is virtually a mosh pit in high season and you leave having forged deep and unforeseen friendships. The second reason has to do with basic physical fitness. Those who can persist beyond the crucible of the first brutal weeks quickly find themselves in better shape than they have been in their entire adult lives.
Flights climbed: 2