PHOTO PROVIDED BY TIM AND VICKIE
The Holmes Beach couple began their journey on March 15
at the southern end of the Trail in Springer Mountain, Ga.
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HOLMES BEACH - They may not be the highest mountains in the world, but walking the entire Appalachian Trail is the equivalent of going up and down Mt. Everest 14 times.
That didn’t keep Tim and Vickie Edwards from their six-month walk along the entire length of the trail.
Just how long a walk is it?
“It’s 2,178.3 miles,” said Tim Edwards, laughing over the three-tenths of a mile. “We don’t want to forget any of it.”
The retired Holmes Beach couple, in their early 60s, made the trip in one week short of six months, finishing on Sept. 8 in Maine after walking through New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.
“We averaged about 12 miles a day,” Edwards said, which was twice the distance of their practice walks with backpacks in Robinson Preserve. And if you consider walking up and down hills and mountains as opposed to the flat west Bradenton park, the effort is considerably more significant.
When it was over, Vickie had left more than 30 pounds behind on the trail and both had better leg muscles.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Edwards said, wistfully remembering their optimism after two shakedown trips last fall to the mountains. “You just can’t imagine how difficult it is.”
Now that two months has passed, he said, he’s thinking it might not be so bad to try it again.
Then he remembers the tree, and the cracking sound it made just before it toppled over.
“Your instinct is to run,” he said. “I backed up, and fell flat on my back.” That’s when the falling tree caught Vickie’s backpack, knocking her down in front of him. Neither was seriously injured, but “Who would ever think you’d be walking in the woods and have a tree fall on you?” he said. “Towards the end we said, ‘We’re not doing this again.’ ”
But they wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world.
It all started when they retired from working overseas as civilians for the U.S. Department of Defense, where Tim was a computer specialist and Vickie was a schoolteacher; on her summer breaks, they lived in Holmes Beach.
After a lifetime of traveling careers, staying in one place didn’t suit the new retirees. Vickie had tried a two-week hiking trip in Europe, and decided she wanted to tackle the Appalachian Trail.
“She invited me along,” Tim said.
They subscribed to a backpacking magazine, read a few books, researched online and decided to go for it.
The couple traveled mostly alone, although they met up with some of the same people several times along the way. The last two places they stayed in Maine, they met a woman who winters in Bradenton and a man who winters in Anna Maria.
“Some hike faster or slower than you,” he said. “We were slow and steady. Some kids would blow by us, but they’d take more breaks, and we’d wind up at the same place that night.”
They slept under rustic shelters or in their tent, while others brought hammocks or tarps.
They got water from rivers and streams and treated it, keeping track of how much they had and how far it was to the next water source using a data book designed for hikers.
They carried several days worth of food with them, hitting towns every four or five days to restock. Tim’s sister made food boxes and mailed them to motels or post offices that would accept them, he said.
A couple of months into the trek, they noticed their appetites had increased due to the enormous number of calories they were burning, carrying 25 and 30-pound backpacks.
“We got rid of some extra clothes along the way to lighten them up,” he said.
Without a map, the couple followed the trail, marked on trees with white paint, or blazes. Only once did they take a wrong turn, adding 30 minutes to the trip.
“It is difficult physically and mentally, sometimes both at the same time,” Edwards said. Like everyday life, “The trick is knowing what you have to do every day and keep doing it.”