While it’s said that a journey begins with a single step, for the Jenkins family of McLean, their 2,000-mile plus journey began by literally climbing a mountain. Mount Katahdin in Maine, to be precise, the northernmost part of the 2,184-mile Appalachian Trail. Scott Jenkins, his wife Lisa and son Tracy all scaled the mountain in mid-May.
Scott and Tracy Jenkins had wanted to hike the trail for years, even doing a five-day 50 mile hike during one of Tracy’s spring breaks that Scott says “only whetted our appetite.”
They planned this trip about a year-and-a-half in advance to coincide with Tracy’s graduation from William and Mary, and Scott was able to get a leave of absence from his job.
“I requested about five months off, I didn’t know what to expect only that we wanted to start about May and be back by Thanksgiving,” Scott Jenkins said. “I finished on Oct. 9, about six weeks early.”
Due to their May start, they decided to go southbound, from Maine to Georgia, because a northbound trip wouldn’t get them to Maine before it got too cold.
“It’s harder to start in the North, because there’s Mount Katahdin and then the 100-mile Wilderness, a stretch that doesn’t pass through any civilization,” Scott Jenkins said. “We didn’t really have our hiking legs yet, so the first few weeks we hiked our way into shape.”
Tracy Jenkins said the mountains in Maine and New Hampshire were among the best sights of the journey.
“The views were great, just sitting on top of a mountain where you don’t see a single thing that was manmade,” Tracy Jenkins said. “No roads, not even places that have been logged. It’s hard to come back, just the other day I got the feeling in my bones, like I need to get out to the mountains instead of being stuck in the D.C. area doing schoolwork.”
Since they were moving south while the majority of hikers were going north, Scott and Tracy’s hike was largely solitary, only meeting hikers that crossed their path going north.
“We met a lot of people from the West Coast, and a lot of people from Germany, oddly enough,” Scott Jenkins said. “The National Geographic Society created a documentary about the trail, which aired last fall in Germany, and it got a lot of people excited.”
The two took a few detours, taking some time off to attend a wedding in New York, and Scott took some time to visit the family farm in Madison County, Va.
They also ran into their fair share of obstacles, whether it was a few close encounters with copperheads and rattlesnakes, or long stretches where the summer’s drought left them without readily available water.
They were supported from afar by Lisa Jenkins, who spent the summer at home, but was able to send them supplies on the road and meet them on occasion.
“As the weather changed, they needed less warm clothes, less fleece and long johns, so I sent them lighter clothes,” Lisa Jenkins said. “In about mid-September I sent their cold weather gear back, because it was starting to get cold again.”
Scott Jenkins says he went through four pairs of boots during the trip, with one pair lasting only two weeks before the soles wore out.
THE TWO QUICKLY LEARNED how to tell the difference between essential and non-essential items, as every ounce in their backpacks became important as they lugged it over hundreds of miles.
“The little things ad up, things like my harmonica or my sunglasses were sent home pretty quick,” Scott Jenkins said. “You carry literally what you need to survive, food, clothes, sleeping bags, that’s it.”
They quickly found themselves experiencing what hikers refer to as “trail magic,” when they were able to find supplies left for hikers, and “trail angels,“ fellow hikers or people who live near the trails that provided them with everything from much-needed water to a cold bottle of beer.
“One time we were outside of Pennsylvania and found a few empty water jugs, so we headed to a nearby ski lodge to fill them. And on the way, a man picked us up and gave us a ride, and he turned out to be the executive chef of the lodge,” Scott Jenkins said. “He took us to the kitchen and loaded us up with fried chicken, corn, mashed potatoes, and packed up bags to go. For the next two days we were coming across fellow hikers and offering them fried chicken, and they thought we were joking until we pulled out the huge Ziploc bags from our packs.”
Scott and Tracy benefited from trail magic, but they also did their part to help out as well.
“One day we were hiking near Boiling Springs, Penn. and we came across a fire that hadn’t been put out, and there was all this peat around that had been burning for days,” Tracy Jenkins said. “We didn’t have anywhere near the amount of water it would have taken to put it out, so we basically started digging and tried to smother it with our hands and knives.”
While on the trail the two were practically impervious to news that didn’t involve trail conditions ahead of them. Election news, even baseball (of which Scott is a fan) news didn’t make it to them.
“We did come into two towns on the trip and saw the flags at the local post office at half mast, which was scary, because who knows what could have happened,” Scott Jenkins said. “The two occasions were the Colorado movie theater shooting, and the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin.”
Tracy Jenkins had to start graduate school at the end of August, but was able to accompany his father from Maine to Harpers Ferry, W.V.
“Once I started hiking alone, it was a totally different mindset. I had to carry everything myself, and do everything myself, from setup the tent, to starting a fire, to hanging the bear bag,” Scott Jenkins said. “I had to be much more cautious, much more thoughtful, because if I get hurt, or something happens, I’m out there alone.
“I thoroughly enjoyed this chance to bond with my son, to take on a challenge as equal partners,” Scott Jenkins said. “It was a great opportunity to spend time together doing something we both love, and experiencing it together.”
SCOTT AND LISA JENKINS say they hope to remain involved in the Appalachian Trail hiking community, maybe even looking for a chance to get a place nearby and become trail angels themselves.
“It‘s an experience that brings everyone to the same level, you have the same clothes, same equipment, you’re going through the same trails as everyone else,” Lisa Jenkins said. “Being able to access this remote wilderness is important in this society, and the trail is one of this country’s great resources.”