written by becca nelson sankey | photos provided by john hall
What 66-year-old John Hall learned hiking the sometimes treacherous 2,000-plus-mile Appalachian Trail over a period of seven months could also serve as solid life lessons.
John Hall (The General), Michael Sloat & Jacob Sloat.
“You get water from creeks, rivers, streams, waterfalls, springs, wherever you can find it, and you filter it.” –John Hall
“Never quit on a bad day; never quit when it’s raining,” he said. “Always remember you had a goal when you started. Hike slow. Don’t worry about time. My lowest day (of hiking) was 3.4 miles; my highest was 20.9. You don’t need to hike high mileage as long as you keep pushing forward.”
Hall, who served 20 years in the Navy and retired from UPS in 2017 before returning to his hometown of San Angelo, decided to take up hiking in 2010. “I’m retired, and I don’t want to just sit around and watch football,” he said. “I still feel young. I can get out there and hike, I can put one foot in front of the other.”
Traveling through Mahoosuc Notch. Mahoosuc Notch is known as the longest mile on the (AT).
Hall jokes that he started training in 1954 as a toddler learning to walk. “That’s all it is, walking,” he said. “I can still do it…(and) I have the funds to do it. Equipment is expensive; people put a lot of money into equipment, backpacks and boots. And my wife doesn’t mind. In today’s world there’s Facetime, cell phones, Facebook, and everything else, so communication (on the trail) is a lot better than it was back when we were younger.”
Every 100 miles you will find a distance marker.
More than a million people hike the trail every year. Some are section hikers who walk through one state instead of all 14 that span the trail. Others might hike just for a weekend. Still others, like Hall, traverse the entire stretch, stopping (or not) at shelters every 10 to 15 miles, and restocking their packs with food and supplies in the towns they hit along the way.
Hall began gathering equipment, reading, and hiking overnights in preparation. In 2015, he hiked Georgia on the Appalachian Trail, an adventure that solidified his decision. “I absolutely fell in love with it and thought, ‘This is absolutely what I want to do when I retire.’”
The Appalachian Trail stretches from Maine to Georgia; mileage changes year to year, but Hall said last year’s count was 2,190.1. On March 8, 2018, Hall – who was 64 at the time – started out on his longest journey yet, heading north with his friend, Michael, and Michael’s teenage nephew.
“Never quit on a bad day; never quit when it’s raining,” he said. “Always remember you had a goal when you started.” –John Hall
“On the second day, Michael blew out his knee and could not continue, so I hiked with Michael’s nephew off and on for about three days, but he’s young and healthy so he was gone before long,” Hall said. “He finished about a month before I did.
“I met a guy who recently retired from the military, and we hiked off and on the whole way. We met up two, three weeks after I started. But we would hike in 15 mile-, 10 mile-, 20 mile- (spurts), and meet up at the next campsite or in town. You meet somebody and it may be a couple months before you meet them again.”
On Tinker Ridge.
Hall said more than a million people hike the trail every year. Some are section hikers who walk through one state instead of all 14 that span the trail. Others might hike just for a weekend. Still others, like Hall, traverse the entire stretch, stopping (or not) at shelters every 10 to 15 miles, and restocking their packs with food and supplies in the towns they hit along the way.
“You get water from creeks, rivers, streams, waterfalls, springs, wherever you can find it, and you filter it,” Hall said. “You carry three or four or five days (worth) of food and resupply in town every four or five days or have it shipped, have somebody at home mail it to you. I decided (on the trail that) I’m not going to eat another Cliff bar or Pop-Tart this whole time.”
4 states down. Entering West Virginia.
People called trail angels wait for hikers at a trail head with drinks and snacks. If a hiker can’t hike any further, the trail angels will give them a ride into town, Hall said.
Hikers give each other unique nicknames. Because of Hall’s perceived likeness to the cartoon character The General on the insurance television commercial, he was given the moniker “The General,” which - much to his chagrin - stuck.
But time on the trail wasn’t always light-hearted. “I had several injuries,” Hall admitted. “The first was a knee injury the first day. I did bruise a couple of ribs on my left side and cracked a rib on my right side. The last couple hundred miles I dislocated a cuboid bone in my foot.”
The General, Pretzel & Snaggs. Thirteen states completed. Crossing into Maine. One state left.
Weather was another obstacle. “It was the rainiest reason the Appalachian Trail has had and one of the coldest,” he said. “We had snow well into April. There are zero days (where you cease travel and stay in a shelter). Your sleeping bag gets wet; you’re just miserable…getting up when it’s freezing outside and putting on frozen boots.”
The night before his final day of the hike, Hall and his fellow hikers were expecting 70-degree weather for their ascent to the top of a mountain, where the Appalachian Trail ends, but a cold front and rain moved in instead, making the steep climb incredibly grueling. “The mountain is covered in clouds; the wind is blowing 50 to 60 miles per hour; it knocked me down twice. We’re saturated with rain. You cannot see more than 15 yards in front of you.”
Mt Washington has some of the worst weather in the country. It is also known as clocking the highest winds in the world at over 200 mph.
Hall felt sheer exhilaration when he finally reached the top, knowing that only 19 percent of hikers complete the entire trail. “It gives you goosebumps,” he said. “People cry because everybody’s had a hard journey to get that far. I think everybody was injured at one time or another, but they persevered.”
Hall finished Oct. 9, 2018, seven months after he started, and 60 pounds lighter. He vowed never to do anything like it again, but time has changed his mind. “I just got my notice yesterday that my permit has been approved to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, Mexico to Canada.” With a laugh he added, “Yes, yes, I will do this again.”
An Epic finish through thick fog, over 60 mph winds, cold weather in the low 40’s, & completely wet, John finishes 2,190.9 miles.
“Your plans change almost daily. Listen to your body, listen nature, and adapt and accommodate. Enjoy it. Keep your goal in mind.” –John Hall
Asked what advice he would give would-be hikers interested in setting out on a similar journey, Hall said, “Your plans change almost daily. Listen to your body, listen to nature, and adapt and accommodate. Enjoy it. Keep your goal in mind.” †