For the next few months, MIT sophomore Gabe Blanchet will be living a life much different from his fellow students: He’s through-hiking the Appalachian Trail–all 2,179 miles of it–by himself. And then he’s going to write a book about it.
Blanchet isn’t actually alone. In one of his first blog entries from the trail–made seven days after his late-February start–he said he had already met more than 100 other hikers who, like him, intended to walk from Georgia to Maine. Blanchet had befriended several and was already well-acquainted with some of the ups and downs of trail life. On three consecutive mornings he had awakened to unexpected snow, icy boots, a frozen camera, and searing pain in his heels. He had also experienced some of the best parts of the trail, showing up at his first trail hostel to find it stocked with food, laundry, a warm bed, and hot showers–plus an owner who accepted payment on the honor code.
In some of his pre-hike blog posts, Blanchet described his reasons for wanting to undertake such a lengthy and strenuous adventure. For one thing, Blanchet is an athlete: At MIT he plays hockey and lacrosse, and from the looks of his blog, he does a fair amount of camping, skiing, and backpacking on the side.
He also likes to write. At a young age, his mother made him keep a journal that he was required to write in daily. He maintained that practice until he was in sixth grade, lapsed for a few years, and then resumed in ninth grade. Blanchet says he has also been inspired by adventure writers, including Bill Bryson.
I first read Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods about his journey along the Appalachian Trail (AT) three summers ago after graduating from high school, and immediately knew that I would someday have to hike the AT. I pulled out my journal and added the hike to my ever expanding bucket list.
Later this summer, after Blanchet completes the AT, he plans to meet with Bryson to discuss the author’s hiking and writing experiences. Blanchet also intends to enroll in a few writing workshops and will be seeking guidance from Andrea Walsh, a lecturer in MIT’s Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies.
Yet another component of Blanchet’s interest in the AT is altruistic. His mother practices medicine in western Massachusetts, and on several occasions she talked to Blanchet about the need for increased support of juvenile diabetes research. So Blanchet is asking people to donate one cent per mile (or more) to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Half of what he raises will go to JDRF, and the other half will go to his most generous donor’s choice of charity.
Even though Blanchet spends most of his time putting one foot in front of the other, news from the outside world eventually reaches the trail. In fact, Blanchet says that conversations about current events have made for some of the most interesting experiences so far.
Instead of reading news on Google about the earthquakes and tsunamis terrorizing Japan, someone will mention current events around a campfire as we all rest our sore feet after dinner. Non-rushed meaningful discussion ensues comparing and contrasting this disaster to Katrina and Haiti, examining efforts to aid Japan, discussing the safety of nuclear power plants etc. Fellow hikers have diverse backgrounds and bring fresh perspectives to each discussion. Although my friends and professors at MIT have a much deeper understanding of the science behind the disasters, I find Trail discussions to be refreshingly interdisciplinary and enlightening. Often other hikers turn to me for answers to the technical questions. It’s really fun to try to explain the basics by patching together information from the core science classes at MIT.
Want to Get Involved?
Read his blog: http://gabehikestheat.tumblr.com/
Donate to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation: http://gabehikestheat.tumblr.com/DONATIONPAGE
Send him snacks! Blanchet picked up his first mail drop at the Fontana Post Office in North Carolina. Sent by his mom, it contained brownies, dehydrated dinners, jelly beans, beef jerky and oatmeal–enough food to last him six days. You too can send Blanchet snacks. We at Slice will post the proper address and deadline as soon as the information is available. Stay tuned!!