Conyers resident Jared Price stands on a mountaintop along the Appalachian Trail in New England. (Special Photo)
Jared Price had no particular interest in backpacking, but the 24-year-old recently completed what many would consider a major feat in the outdoor adventure field. Price, a 2007 Heritage High School graduate, and his two friends hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in just over five months.
The three young men began their journey in Katahdin, Maine, on July 7, walked the A.T. south for 2,180 miles through 14 states. They ended their odyssey at Springer Mountain, Ga., on Dec. 23.
Price said he’s still sifting through all of his experiences on the trail and it’s too soon to say exactly what he learned.
“I was saying early on it was like waking from a dream almost. It’s as if it never happened. I was also tempted to call it a nightmare because at the end it felt like that, doing 30 miles some days and everything would be totally soaked (from rain) and it felt like your feet were going to dissolve,” said Price.
“But it was certainly a pretty huge adventure of the sort that most people don’t have a chance to get, which is what motivated me,” he said.
Price hiked the Appalachian Trail with friends and former University of Georgia roommates Alex Mills of Trion, Ga., and Andrew Fortenberry of Marietta. Though the trio faced plenty of physical challenges, the greatest hurdle they encountered proved to be each other, said Price. At one point, tension between the buddies (who remain friends today, he said) ran so high that some in the group considered abandoning the trail.
“One way or another, we all sort of reconciled and we got over our dispute and continued hiking,” said Price. “Dealing with each other was probably the most challenging thing, and often people remarked that it would be a wonder if we stayed together and it is a wonder we did. There was a lot of prayer involved. All three of us are religious and committed to being of one mind in that.”
Price said that a few months before the three left, they read books related to hiking the A.T. and amassed some supplies such as backpacks, sleeping bags, a camp stove and a water filter.
Hiking through the first two states — Maine and New Hampshire — provided them with a quick education in backpacking, as those two states have the most difficult trails to navigate. The path required crawling over boulders and navigating rocks and tree roots.
“You almost couldn’t look up from your feet and enjoy the scenery,” said Price.
The trail also required the group to hike through rivers, which could be deeper and have a stronger current if it rained. The hikers kept their backpacks on as they walked across the slippery rock bottoms.
“The most dangerous thing we did was crossing the rivers,” said Price.
The group slept in hammocks under a tarp and didn’t have any trouble with wildlife, save for a stray moose that wandered into camp one night. Whenever they encountered a bear along the trail, the animal up and ran the other way.
Learning what kind of food worked best on the trail also proved to be a learning process, he said. Early on, the group subsisted off of items like energy bars and tortillas.
“We would find ourselves happy to eat a tortilla with olive oil on it. It would be a delicacy to have a summer sausage to put on it,” said Price, who added that they expanded the food selection to include pasta, rice, dehydrated vegetables and quinoa, a grain high in protein.
When the group began their hike, their goal was to average 15 miles a day. That idea began to deteriorate when the group took some “zero-days” to rest and then had further setbacks due to weather, like a snowstorm in Virginia.
“So every zero day your average goes up. The pressure was on,” said Price.
The parents of the young men stepped in to help and “slackpacked” for them. A parent would meet the group at a trail head, take their backpacks and drive the packs to the group’s destination for the day. Shedding the weight of the packs allowed the men to hike faster, up to 30 miles a day towards the end of the trip.
Price said he lost about 15 pounds during the hike and one of his fellow hikers lost 60 pounds. He also wore out three pairs of hiking boots.
“The high point (of the hike) was when we finished. We were all very happy to be done, especially the way the weather was turning at the end,” said Price.
Price said he’s put his hiking days behind him and is looking forward to completing his semester of student teaching at a high school in Walton County. Price holds a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and a master’s degree in social studies education, both from UGA.
“A lot of people would say ‘You’ll miss the trail,’ but right now I’m really enjoying sipping coffee and sitting in chairs,” said Price.