By EMILY KIMBELL
Every year, thousands begin hiking the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine.
Of the thousands who attempt the “thru-hike,” however, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy reports only about one in four makes it all the way. This summer, Newnan resident Davis Ozier became one of the few to complete a thru-hike and conquer the Appalachian Trail.
Ozier started his journey on March 18 at Springer Mountain, the southernmost point of the trail. While the Appalachian Trail Conservancy reports most thru-hikers take between five and seven months to complete the hike, with the average being a “week or two shy of six months,” Ozier reached Mount Katahdin in Maine on July 15, taking a mere 120 days, or roughly four months, to finish the trek.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail is something Ozier has always wanted to do. He found the perfect opportunity to accomplish his goal after graduating in December from the Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology at Kennesaw State University, an achievement that earned him the trail name “Engineer.” Though he is an avid outdoorsman, the Appalachian Trail is Ozier’s first major hike.
To prepare for the journey, Ozier conducted research by watching videos, and practiced for the mountain terrain by taking 10-mile weekend hikes.
Ozier’s preparation did not fully equip him for the harsh conditions of the trail. He related that hiking the Appalachian Trail was “definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
A big part of the difficulty was “the monotony of doing the same thing every day for four months. Walking anywhere from 15-30 miles a day, starving, walking over mountains, the bugs, the rain, the mud… a lot of it (the trail) was flooded.”
New Hampshire and Maine proved to be the toughest parts of the trail because of the rocky terrain and presence of what Ozier describes as “mosquitoes the size of a quarter.”
A typical day on the trail for Ozier began with waking up with the sun and eating Pop-Tarts for breakfast. After packing up his tent and backpack, Ozier spent 10-12 hours walking, stopping briefly for lunch, then setting up camp for the night. Each day provided breathtaking views, new adventures and encounters with several animals.
Among the animals Ozier encountered were an angry mama bear and her cub, snakes, a moose and a pesky skunk who stole Ozier’s food bag.
Despite the difficulties of the trail, Ozier declares that the “once-in-a-lifetime” experience “was all worth it.”
While on the trail, Ozier learned much about himself and others. “You really get to see the best of humanity out there,” he said.
Many hikers, including Ozier, find kindness from locals living in trail towns and their acts of generosity for hikers. These locals, known as “Trail Angels,” may give hikers food, let them camp in their backyard – or even pay for a stay in a hotel room.
Ozier found camaraderie in a group of hikers he met on the trail. Though he began the hike alone, he quickly formed a hiking group with three other men, who, despite their different ages and backgrounds, connected over their shared goal of completing the Appalachian Trail.
Ozier learned valuable life lessons on the trail; lessons he plans on keeping in mind in his latest adventure – starting a new job. The Appalachian Trail taught Ozier about patience and determination.
“The trail is 2,200 miles. That’s a long way. You can’t do that in one day. It’s really taught me a lot about taking it one step at a time, being patient,” he said.
One day, Ozier hopes to hike the Pacific Crest Trail or hike the Appalachian Trail again at a faster pace. He says that everyone should experience the difficulty – and the thrill – of hiking a major trail.
He offered advice for those needing inspiration to start their journey: “Find an excuse to get on the trail. People say, ‘I would love to do that one day, but I have kids, I have a job.’ They seem to find an excuse not to get out there. Find an excuse to get out there, and just start walking.”