The longest “hiking only” footpath in the world traverses through some of Litchfield County’s loveliest and most rugged terrain. The Appalachian Trail (AT) cuts 56 miles through the northwest corner, giving hikers a tour of Sharon, Kent, Cornwall, Falls Village, and Salisbury. It’s easy to access the trail locally. There is a trailhead on River Road just north of the Kent School in Kent. Other access points can be found on Rt 55 or West Cornwall Rd. in Sharon, Bulls Bridge Rd. in South Kent, and Rte 7 in Falls Village.
Hikers are expected to be self-reliant and knowledgeable about how to survive in the woods. Each year more than 3,500 people attempt to hike the entire 2,190 mile length. However in 2018 fewer than 1,100 intrepid souls completed it. These numbers are increasing; ten years ago it was half that. These folks are called ‘through hikers’.
Most start at Georgia’s Springer Mountain and head north to Mt Katahdin in Maine. It is typically a six to seven month journey beginning in March or April. I staked out the trail in Kent in August, meeting several hikers making their way north. Emerging from the woods onto River Rd., Tony (trail name Sticks) from Monroe, started out with no prior backpacking experience, on the same day as Kiwi (aka Miriam, from you guessed it, New Zealand), who had been planning her trip for over two years, leaving her librarian job for this adventure. They met after a few days and have been hiking together ever since. Kiwi had to replace an air mattress and a broken camp stove but shrugged off the inconvenience. Tony, despite his lack of experience and perhaps bolstered by his youthful fitness, had no trouble hiking, other than getting into condition for the first few days.
Chugga-Chugga, (aka Joshua), a mechanical engineer from Austin, started weeks later than most, yet had made up the time despite being sidelined for two days with a twisted ankle. Living up to his name, he averaged 17 miles per day, including one 50 mile day doing the four state challenge, touching Virgina, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania all in one day.
Hazards can include injuries like Chugga-Chugga’s, or illness in the woods, equipment failures like Kiwi’s, or encounters with unfriendly animals. Fortunately, problems with animals along the AT are rare. The animals must have figured out by now to stay away. St. John’s Ledges, where I met these hikers is just north of the Kent School. It’s a part of the AT that has long been popular with local hikers and climbers, but is also known as home to protected habitat for several rattlesnake dens. None of the hikers had encountered any, much to their relief.
One thing they did share, aside from their age range of around 30, was that all had left a job to take on this challenge and were not sure whether they would go back or find something new after completing their journey. Nick was an aerospace engineer from New York who was using the hike to gain clarity about how he would become a catalyst for change in the world. Sporting a full beard (which he ‘pre-bearded’ before the hike), he met Two-Step (aka Kelsey) along the way and they were going to complete the hike and then figure out their next move together. (Photo at top.)
Even if you are not contemplating a major life change or a three month hike, just a few hours on the Appalachian Trail is sure to clear your head and take you away from your cares for an afternoon. The AT is used by people of all ages; the oldest through hiker was 82 years old and the youngest was 15. It’s a great day hike with kids of all ages. With numerous places to enter in Litchfield County, your next adventure is just a short drive away.