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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Communing with nature helps hiker appreciate human fellowship

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Clint Galbraith takes a break and rests on the ledge of a cliff at McAfee Knob in Virginia with fellow hiker, James "Wandering" Nunn. Submitted photo

Part 2 of 2

Brazil native Clint Galbraith walked the entire 2,160 mile Appalachian Trail this year. It took nearly six months to complete his journey from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Katahdin, Maine.

It was a rewarding experience but not without peril. Twice during the trip, Clint almost quit and headed for home.

Early in the trip, his feet blistered and swelled badly. His whole body ached.

"Finally the blisters healed and scarred over," Clint said. "Then my body seemed to adjust and decided to be a little more cooperative. But that took about a month. Just four days out, in North Carolina, it was so cold and I hurt. I thought, why am I here? And it rained every single day while I was in Vermont. Every day for seven days I'd get up and put on wet socks and wet shoes and wet clothes. I thought about quitting but I'd gone too far. I'd covered 1,700 miles and just had 400 more to go. So I stuck it out."

Clint's in the minority. Only 10 percent of the 3,000 to 4,000 leaving Springer Mountain, Ga., each year finish the hike. The most common reasons deterring completion are budget, getting homesick, injury and just not being fun.

The usual motivation for attempting the hike follow a graduation from high school or college, a recent divorce, death in the family or being laid-off from work. It costs about $1-$1.50 a mile to make the trip.

But money couldn't buy some of the breathtaking scenery Clint saw. Some days he climbed to a 4,200 foot elevation then would descend down into a valley. He was inspired by the beauty of sunsets, foliage displays, rock formations and wildlife.

Clint got close to numerous wild animals during his excursion. He saw lots of bears but said they were like 200-pound squirrels.

"They'd see you and run away," Clint explained. "Black bears on the trail were not threatening at all."

He saw lots of snakes. Once, Clint stopped abruptly when he realized he was just four feet away from a rattlesnake. The snake saw the man but, fortunately, didn't make any moves.

Clint very slowly backed away from the serpent and made a wide path around it. He had to be extremely careful because he had discarded his snake bite kit early on to decrease the weight he was carrying.

But Clint said it was all worth it.

"It's total freedom," he said. "That's the great thing about it... You feel closer to nature... You can reflect on the past and plan for the future. It puts things into perspective. You realize how material items seem less important after a hike like this."

What does Clint now think are the most important things in life?

"People. People and relationships in general," he said. "This was probably one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. A lot of people describe it as a cleansing of the mind, body and soul. I'd have to agree with that."

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