This tortuous hiking adventure is amazing and inspiring

Appalachian Odyssey photoYou have to give Jeff Ryan credit for his determination, stamina, and love of the outdoors. It took Jeff 28 years to hike the Appalachian Trail, and many of his sectional hikes were, well, not much fun. That’s my opinion, only. He loved every hike, and that love and enjoyment comes through in his book, Appalachian Odyssey, published by Down East Books.

Over the years, Jeff endured terrible weather, injuries, and more, all with an amazingly positive attitude. Here’s how he described one hike.

“The wind and the rain never let up, but neither did we. At the 15 miles mark, we topped the wooded summit of the ironically named Bald Top Mountain. By the time we set up the tent, I was a shivering mess.  We had walked 13 miles since our breakfast in Dalton, much of it in the rain, and were starved… I awoke around 5 a.m. It was still pouring. Damn. Almost everything we had with us was soaked. We fired up the stove to make coffee and to slug down the leftover cheesecake for breakfast. At 7:10, we hoisted the packs and started down the mountain in the frigid rain and wind. Water was sloshing in my boots within minutes.”

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?!

Appalachian Odyssey by Jeff RyanJeff grew up in Maine and worked for LL Bean for quite a few years. At a summer camp when he was 11 years old, a camp counselor led him on a 16-mile hike and he was hooked. He has spent his life hiking, oftentimes on snowshoes. He climbed Maine’s highest 50 mountains in one year, and began hiking the AT in sections in 1985. In 1990, he traversed Maine south to north by bicycle, foot, and canoe, with a friend, in 24 days.

Yes, you might think he is obsessed. But sometimes there were two or more years between his sectional hikes on the AT, making that story particularly engaging.

Let’s see. This sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

“There’s a difference between moving and making time. Today we were dragging ass. By 12:30, we had only covered 5 ½ miles – a pathetic 1.5 mile-per-hour pace. We needed to get it in gear. We allowed ourselves a 15 minute lunch under the brutally hot sun, then we were off again.

“All afternoon, my knees and feet were killing me. It was the first sign that the day-hiking boots were taking their toll. Each time I stepped on a root or rock brought new sensations of pain.”

More fun, right?!

The time they hitched a ride to the trail head in a hearse is hilarious, and almost appropriate. I really enjoyed Jeff’s wildlife observations, and the history he tells us about all along the trail. For example, in Pennsylvania, he recounts the time when that state’s Game Commission put a $5 bounty on every Goshawk that was killed from this particular mountain top. Hundreds of Goshawks were shot each year, until a lady purchased that land and protected the hawks, which Jeff enjoyed seeing in that location.

He got off the trail to visit Gettysburg, a place Linda and I enjoyed, and I appreciated his story of that visit. Jeff’s story of Antietam is particularly interesting, involving one of his relatives. As he noted, “The 40.67-mile hike through Maryland presents an incredible walk through history. And while the events of the Civil War are by far the most notable, the AT touches pieces of history from other eras that left lasting impacts.” And he tells us about each of those impacts.

Jeff’s winter hikes are especially memorable. Imagine arising in your tent, on a 12 degree morning, and hitting the trail. “I was wearing almost every piece of cold weather clothing I had – fleece jacket, rain pants, anorak, even the balaclava and neck gaiter. Even so, the wind was literally mind numbingly cold. One some ridge tops, we were greeted by ice cream headache inducing blasts.”

Sorry you missed that? Jeff reported, “It was invigorating to say the least.” Indeed.

Of course, there are great stories of hikes in Maine, but it’s that 28 years of hiking the 2,181 miles of the AT that makes this book unique and inspiring.

I could have never done it, but it was fun to hike vicariously with Jeff on his amazing adventure.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.