Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What's Your Trail Name?

Bob Grau -- a 59-year-old hiker from Berea -- traveled the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. That's 2,181 miles of rocks, tree roots and trails; and he walked the final 380 miles on a broken ankle.

He also wrote a book about it, 5 Million Steps on a Journey of Hope.

Grau visited Mentor Public Library Tuesday to talk about his journey and his book.
Bob Grau and some of the tools that helped him hike 2,181 miles.
Here are some fun tidbits from his talk:

1. The Appalachian Trail is almost 3,000 miles, but that's just one way to measure it.

The trail also crosses 270 mountains and traverses 14 states -- Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

About 500 of the trail's miles are in Virginia. No other state even has 300 miles (but Maine comes close.)

2. The trail also has about 90 miles of elevation change during its length.

In other words, while traveling the trail, you'll climb a total of 90 miles and descend another 90 miles.

That's the equivalent of 17 Mount Everests.

3. Grau had no hiking experience when he saw a documentary on the Appalachian Trail and decided he wanted to walk its length. He didn't even own a pair of hiking boots.

That meant Grau made some rookie mistakes during his hike.

For example, he carried way too much stuff.

When he left Springer Mountain, Georgia, on March 22, 2011, he carried an enormous pack that weighed about 53 pounds.

After four days of hauling that load, he stopped at an outfitter, bought lighter gear and mailed the things he didn't need back home. Afterward, his pack only weighed 40 pounds.

4. About 80 percent of all thru hikers -- that is, the people who hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail -- start in Georgia as opposed to its northern terminus, Mount Katahdin in Maine.

They do that for timing reasons. It takes about six months to travel the entire trail and, if you wait for Mount Katahdin to warm up, it will almost be Thanksgiving by the time you finish.

The downside to starting in Georgia? Mount Katahdin closes on October 15 each year for safety reasons. So you need to finish your hike before then, because it's a felony if you trespass in the park when it's closed, Grau said.

5. The trail is marked by about 180,000 "white blazes." The blazes are 2-by-6 white rectangles left on trees. They let hikers know they are on the right path.

Grau guessed that he walked an extra 10 to 15 miles during his hike because he lost track of the white blazes at one time or another.

Similarly, blue blazes indicate a path to a shelter, water source, privy or historical site. (No, this is not where the phrase "where in the blue blazes" originated.)

6. Ever heard of trail magic?

It's when a stranger leaves a gift along the trail for a hiker to find. Usually, there's a note attached to let a hiker know where it's from.

From when Grau began his trip on March 22 to when he finished on Sept. 7, he was the beneficiary of trail magic on 30 occasions. In two instances, somebody left full picnic meals for him and his fellow hikers.

The gifts are usually left by other hikers.

"It exemplifies the support of the hiker community," he said.

7. When Grau started hiking, he would travel about eight miles a day.

It's not uncommon to start slow and then speed up as you get more used to the rhythms of hiking. In fact, it's risky to start off too fast.

"You see it all the time," Grau said, "too fast, too soon, to home."

The most Grau traveled in a single day was 27 miles.

Once he got into his rhythm, he would burn between 4,000 and 5,000 calories a day.

8. When you're hiking, you get a trail name. Either you pick one or it is bestowed upon you.

Grau went with Buckeye Flash because he's from Ohio and a Kent State grad.

To learn more about Grau's trip and his book, visit his blog. For more on programs at the Mentor Public Library, check out

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