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York County native completes Appalachian Trail
Nearly 5 million steps, 2,200 miles, 14 states, five months and four pairs of hiking boots later, David Funkhouser last week joined the ranks of those who have hiked the entire Appalachian Trail.
The York County native's inspiration for the hike was rooted in his days as a Boy Scout, when he developed a love of the outdoors.
"My brother and I belonged to Shiloh Troop 94 back in the '70s, and the leaders there, they were very active in promoting outdoor activities, in particular hiking the Pennsylvania section of the (Appalachian) trail," said Funkhouser, who's now 59 and lives in Salt Lake City. "They wanted every boy to hike the entire section of the Pennsylvania trail."
Earl Shaffer, a York County native and the first person to complete the Appalachian Trail in one trek, spoke to Funkhouser's troop.
"I mean, he was an icon. At that time no one anticipated that anyone would ever hike it like that," Funkhouser said. "And you know, as time goes on, you have flashbacks to earlier times in life, and that always just stuck out to me."
After retiring in January, Funkhouser decided the time was right to start the hike, and at April 1, he began the trek on the southern end of the trail in Georgia.
Supplies: "I've always enjoyed outdoor activities," he said. "I'm an avid hunter; I've gone backpacking; I've gone on weeklong trips, and all that only got me further interested in completing this trail. But thru-hiking is a completely different ball game."
Thru-hiking is hiking a long-distance trail end-to-end, and to prepare, Funkhouser read articles and journals of those who had completed the trail. The major difference from a shorter hike is the supplies that are carried.
"When you hike for a day or even a week, you can bring extra things with you, that little extra weight won't amount to much there," Funkhouser said. "With thru-hiking, you can really only carry the basics."
Funkhouser's pack, which usually weighed around 25 pounds, contained a tarp tent, an air mattress, a blanket, a few sets of clothes, a rain jacket and a cooking system.
"Some people don't cook at all, but I enjoyed being able to eat an evening meal," he said. "I just liked being able to have something hot at the end of the day."
Social: While Funkhouser started out the hike on his own, his brother, Brian Funkhouser, who still lives in York, joined him for the local section of the trail.
"He'd been hiking awhile, maybe 600 or 700 miles at that point, so he was in pretty good shape at that point — he was doing 20-mile days," Brian Funkhouser said. "I hadn't hiked since those days in the Scouts. My wife and I, we run and we bike ride, but hiking with a 25-plus-pound pack on your back, it's a little bit more challenging and completely different than anything I've ever done."
David Funkhouser also interacted with a lot of the other hikers he met on the trail.
"It's a very social trail," he said. "Initially, I was excited about seeing the scenery and seeing what each state had to offer. It surprised me how much I enjoyed interacting with people. And there were people from all parts of the world, and everyone has that common goal."
They even came across a group from as far away as Germany.
"They had to move pretty quickly 'cause their visas could run out," Brian Funkhouser said. "They were worried about not getting done in six months."
Challenges: The most difficult section was the final stretch, David Funkhouser said.
"The trail itself is essentially a footpath," he said. "But when you get into New England and those last two states (New Hampshire and Maine), it gets rugged and rocky and steep. My mileage dropped by half because of the type of terrain I encountered, and I would look and think, there's no way this is the trail. It's all boulders, rocks and roots."
The mental struggles presented the biggest challenges. Only 20 percent of those who start the hike actually complete it.
"It's just a long time, and you get tired of being dirty, sweaty and hungry and achy all the time," he said. "Weather is also a big factor; I know we had spells where we had rain for a week at a time. No matter how hard you try, you're just putting on the same wet clothing."
But with the support of his family and careful planning, Funkhouser was able to reach Mount Katahdin, the ending point in Maine.
"I guess ultimately you set a goal, and mine was Katahdin," he said. "From there I just broke it down day-to-day. I put Katahdin on the back burner and thought 'OK, I just need to get this far today' or 'I gotta make it to this town.'"
Finishing: "I'm pretty proud of him. He's got a little craziness in there, but I'm really proud that he's able to do it and make that kind of effort," Brian Funkhouser said of his brother's successful finish. "It's pretty amazing. I hiked with him, so I know how challenging it was just to do a few days — and we were in the easy section."
David Funkhouser said the view from Mount Katahdin was among the highlights.
"Finishing there is such an impressive end," he said. "It's so majestic."
While most of the trail was beautiful, the Pennsylvania section truly stood out, he said.
"It really is one of the nicest sections of the trail to this day, it's such a nice path," he said. "They have that resource right near them, and I don't think people around here really realize that. I'd encourage anyone to at least go for a day hike just to experience it."
— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at firstname.lastname@example.org.