As he looks back over the events of 2012, George Dahm of Kerrick is pleased that he was able to cross off an item on his Bucket List. He spent six and a half months hiking the 2,184-mile Appalachian Trail. (A Bucket List is a list of one’s goals to reach before he or she kicks the bucket.)
“It was a dream of mine for seven or eight years and on my Bucket List,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “I spent 207 days, or six and a half months, backpacking and hiking on the trail.”
George, known as Mad Hat George D on the trail, isn’t a young man. He recently retired from the Union Pacific Railroad, where he had worked for 39 years and five months as a conductor. He celebrated his 61st birthday on April 16 on the trail.
“I had heard about hiking the Appalachian Trail so much in reading backpacker magazines,” he said. “There are a few other trails, such as the Pacific Crest Trail, but they are longer and would have taken me eight months or more to hike. The Appalachian Range is the oldest in the world.
“The trails are rated from one to ten, with ten being the most difficult. The Appalachian Trail is rated from six to ten. In all of those that try to hike the AT, only one in four make it. A lot of people just hike sections of the trail.”
George was no stranger to backpacking. He’d hiked trails, such as the Lake Superior Hiking Trail.
“I’ve been a backpacker for 30 or 40 years,” he said. “I’d been on one- and two-week hikes but I had never tried a hike this long.”
To prepare for the journey, George said that he tramped through the frozen swamps in his area.
“Last year at this time, we didn’t have any snow,” he said. “I usually cross country ski and snowshoe during the winter.”
George studied books about supplies to bring and how much weight to carry.
“Once I was out on the trail, I definitely did some fine tuning,” he said. “At Franklin, North Carolina, I dumped five pounds of equipment that I didn’t need.”
George started his journey on Springer Mountain in Georgia on March 5, 2012.
“The weather was beautiful, just like here,” he said. “But we had six inches of snow in April. And the weather turned cold. There were 18- to 22-degree days to endure.”
George was joined by other friendly hikers on the trip. And he met friendly, helpful people along the way in communities that he visited for a meal, a shower, lodging and to resupply is backpack.
“There was a drought in New York,” he said. “I often had to go out of my way a mile or so to get water. You can get along without food but you can’t get along without water. That added over 100 miles to my trip.”
Beth, George’s wife, remained at home. When he was able to find cell phone service, he would call her and ask to send more supplies. There were changes in boots and clothing as the weather warmed in the summer, and then again when it cooled in the late summer and fall.
He also found supplies at outfitters along the way.
Beth and George have two grown sons. One is in St. Paul and the other is in the Marines.
Worry set in for George when his son in the Marines was deployed to Afghanistan on March 21 for a seven-month tour of duty.
On the trail, George endured wind, rain, fog, snow, mud, mosquitos, ticks and bear sightings. He was looking for moose as he hiked in the northern states but the only moose that he saw were moose that had been taken by hunters.
Long climbs resulted in sore knees for George and other hikers, and he would take rest days to recover. Other hikers often had to suspend the hike until infections healed or until their bodies recovered.
George used hiking poles to assist him as he hiked, and credited the poles for relieving the stress of climbing mountains, some of which were over 6,000 feet.
He found out that the Smokey Mountains were often foggy. When he was in the Shenandoahs, he and other hikers were interviewed for a PBS documentary. They were later interviewed by the same crew farther north on their hike.
George and the other hikers stayed wherever lodging was available. Sometimes they slept on dining room floors, and other times they slept in hostels, some sponsored by churches.
They often camped on the trail in tents. Wet sleeping bags and clothing and cold temperatures often threatened hypothermia. George reported in one journal entry that he and another hiker had to treat a hiker with hypothermia with hot fluids and a warm sleeping bag.
Each of the hikers had a nickname, and George mentioned the others frequently in his journal entries. He referred to young hikers as “young pups” and marveled at how they could jump from rock to rock.
One of George’s favorite states was New Hampshire. He wrote in his journal that he would have to bring his wife back to see it.
The end of the hike meant climbing to the more than 5,000-foot summit at Mount Katahdin in Maine on September 27. His journal entry stated, “Officially started at 7:20 a.m. Reached the summit/north end of the AT at 11 a.m. East Coast time. Tears were running down my face when I saw the sign at the end. The climb up was Mahoosuc Notch (another difficult portion of the trial) on vertical steroids … tough!
“Life is good. I hiked the whole AT! I’m on an adrenalin/alcohol-fueled high right now. I MADE IT!”
George had hiked the entire 2,184 miles of the Appalachian Trail through 14 states, from Georgia to Maine, in one trip, a feat that only one in four hikers accomplish. He was able to cross that off of his Bucket List.
Since then, George hears often from family and friends that they are still amazed at his accomplishment.
But George is not done. He has another item on his Bucket List that he wants to accomplish — to fight a wild land fire out of state, another grueling mission.
“I’m a member of the Kerrick Fire Department, and we are trained to fight wild land fires in Minnesota,” said George. “But, to pass the test to go out of state, I have to be able to walk three miles in 45 minutes, carrying a 50-pound pack on my back. That’s really moving.”
Meanwhile, George is continuing to enjoy an active life, cutting wood on his 80 acres of land, and ready to rescue injured and stranded skiers with the ski patrol on Spirit Mountain.
The long, grueling hike has changed him.
“Since I’ve been back, I’ve scaled down on the number of things that I own,” he said. “I’ve given a lot of things away. When I found that I could live with the things that I carried on my back, I realized that I didn’t need many of the things that I have. When catalogues arrive in the mail, I put them in the recycling pile. I don’t want to open them and be tempted.
“People were so helpful to me along the trail. That really registered with me. Now I’m more involved and helpful with others.
“And I’m more independent than I was. I no longer can tolerate the traffic in the Cities as well as I used to.”
To read more about George’s hike on the Appalachian Trail and to view photos taken on the hike, go to www.trailjournals.com and click on Journals at the top of the page. On the Journals page, scroll down to Mad Hat George D. The later entries are listed in alphabetical order.