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‘Through hiker’ signs new book

By Staff | Dec 11, 2009

Hiker and author Gene Espy talks with Sharon Garbey at Harpers Ferry last weekend. Her father Edward Garbey, wrote several books, including one that is considered the Bible for Appalachian Trail hikers. Photo by Tucker Riggleman

HARPERS FERRY – On Saturday, Dec. 5, legendary hiker and outdoor enthusiast Gene Espy paid a book-signing visit to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry.

A Georgia native and long-time Eagle Scout, Gene Espy has been idolized as a great American hiker ever since his completion of the Appalachian Trail in 1951. Espy became only the second “thru-hiker” ever, which means he hiked the entire trail straight through from Georgia to Maine. In his book entitled “The Trail of My Life: The Gene Espy Story,” Espy chronicles his many stories and adventures that were abundant on his hike.

When asked about his motivation to undertake the daunting task of hiking the Appalachian Trail in its entirety, Espy referred back to a week off from classes at Georgia Tech in 1945: “We had a week off between semesters, so some friends and I decided to hike the Great Smokey Mountains,” said Espy in an interview during his recent book signing. This trip had such an impact upon the young Espy that he decided to tackle the Appalachian Trail promptly after his graduation from Georgia Tech. A 17-year-old Eagle Scout attempted the journey with Espy, but ducked out after two days. Gene was on his own as he hiked the 2,179-mile-long-trail for the next four months in solitude.

Unlike some young hikers of current day who are more concerned with the competition of hiking, Gene Espy was more of a spiritual enjoyer of nature.

“Whenever there were side trails I would take them,” he said. “Many of them would lead to beautiful waterfalls. I wasn’t just out to go from one end to the other – I wanted to see God in nature.”

Perhaps it is this gentle and respectful demeanor that has made Espy such a popular American hiker, giving speeches and presentations in nearly every state encompassed by the Appalachian Trail.

When asked about the differences between hiking the trail in the 1950s and hiking today, Espy pointed out that his pack was between 45 and 50 pounds, whereas newer technology has made the modern hiking pack a mere 25 to 30 pounds. He also admitted that the trails were more rugged and less maintained in the days of his hike. Espy would often go an entire week without seeing another human being, something that is all but lost today due to the increase in hiking popularity and trail upkeep.

As for advice for those interested in the world of hiking, Espy suggested going to an outdoor store and purchasing lightweight equipment and proper hiking shoes. He then recommended going on what is called a “shakedown” hike, in which the new equipment can be properly worn in and tested during a less stressful trial situation.

– For more information regarding Gene Espy and his book visit www.geneespyhiker.com

– To contact the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, call (304) 535-6331.

For more information on the Appalachian Trail and to find out how you can volunteer, visit www.appalachiantrail.org