RIGGS

ED RIGGS

Being a part-time sports writer for the Gettysburg Times has been an enjoyable and exciting distraction for me for the last 28 years. I spent my professional career as a teacher and coach, and have always been a zealous follower of sports. As I aged out of my own athletic career sometime in my 30s, I still remained involved and active, particularly with outdoor activities. My lifelong passion for the outdoors has manifested itself in hiking, particularly backpacking.

For most people, hiking is not a competitive activity. Some super-hiker marathon types have attempted hikes of long-distance trails to try to set a FKT, or fastest known time, but there is nothing competitive about it for me. There are certainly some things that I want to, and have, accomplished, but my reasons for getting out on the trail are much more spiritual than spirited. I hike to immerse myself in nature and try to figure out how I fit in to this world. And now, I get to write about it.

‘On the Trail’ is my first stab at a regular column. I have a t-shirt that says on the front, “Warning: may start talking about hiking.” Well, here is my chance to talk, and you will have a chance to listen. Topics will include good hikes in the area, different kinds of hikes to take, the intrinsic value of hiking and being outdoors, how to take care of and be one with nature, safety while hiking in the wild, local hiking resources and community, the Appalachian Trail Museum in Pine Grove Furnace, wildlife on the trail, hiking in the different seasons, and anything else I can think of. There may even be some stories of local people who have had epic hikes, like the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, Machu Pichu, and Mt. Kilamanjaro…this is going to be a lot of fun!

Personally, I started learning about making my way in the outdoors when I was in seventh grade. My Boy Scout troop had made big plans to embark on a 10-day, 100-mile hike from Valley Forge to Hershey, PA on the Horse-Shoe Trail. We had 15 Scouts and four leaders sign up for the trip, and we spent months preparing. While the excursion seemed very daunting to me, I was excited to try something that I had never done. I was very nervous, because of the physical requirements of such a hike. I honestly did not know if I could do it.

On that hike, I quickly found that I just loved being in the woods. I loved hiking on the trail, just walking and talking, and I loved the challenges that came with it. My pack was too heavy, my boots too bulky, my experience too green, but I forged ahead and made the most of it. Our leaders did most of the cooking and helped us in many other ways, but when you are out there carrying your pack and walking, there is little anyone can do to help you. You have to help yourself. That was probably the biggest lesson I learned on the hike. To be self-sufficient and determined, while keeping a positive attitude, is a remarkable thing to learn.

So, I had fallen in love with hiking and backpacking. Sometime in the next couple of years, I heard about a trail that traversed through the woods and over the mountains and extended from Georgia to Maine. It was a trail over 2,000 miles in length and, at the time, only a few hundred people had ever hiked the whole trail from one end to the other in one trip. I became engrossed in the possibility of hiking the Appalachian Trail, and in the very idea that I could walk that far, and do it on my own.

I became convinced that someday, some way, I was going to join the few hundred individuals who had hiked from Georgia to Maine. I knew I was going to do it, but I had no idea that it would be 46 years until I would actually have the opportunity. Now, thousands of people have hiked every mile of the Appalachian Trail, and in 2014 I became one of them as I completed it at age 59. I have been all in with hiking ever since.

In addition to the AT, I have hiked out West in the Cascades, the Colorado Rockies, the Canadian Rockies, the high Sierras on the John Muir Trail, the Grand Tetons, National parks in Utah, and various other East coast destinations. It is what I enjoy, and it is what puts my mind at ease. As I move about in nature, I have come to realize that I am just a part of what is going on out there. Snakes have warned me that I am in their territory, coyotes have stared me down, bears have passed nearby without a care that I was there, moose have look at me with curiosity, and fox and deer have walked along with me. They know, as I do now, that when I am out there, I am one with them.

Besides the wildlife, there are other partners while I hike. I most enjoy hiking up high on the mountains. The peace that one can find up in the atmosphere with the sky and the wind and the horizon as partners is a peace that cannot be beat. And the views! There is no better reward for a long, tough, steep climb than an endless view across the mountains, up above the clouds. The mountains can look like small islands in an ocean of clouds, and inspire deep thoughts.

Some days when I am on the trail, I am immersed in thought, trying to figure out answers to life’s problems. But usually, I am moving along, paying attention to the details of the trail. It is always good to pay attention to the path ahead, lest one end up face-planted in the mud. But pausing to watch a cascade rolling down the rocks can be awe-inspiring. Seeing a red salamander crawling over the rocks as you eat lunch can be entertaining. Discovering purple and yellow flowers growing out of a small crack in a rock at 13,000 feet can make you wonder how life can find a way anywhere. And watching a spider spin its web across the trail, right at your face level, with the sun shining through the dew-covered strands, makes you think about persistence, even among creatures that are not human.

So, my intent for this journey on the trail is that it will be enlightening and entertaining. I am going to enjoy it, and I hope you will, too.

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