Among the huge (and to the casual researcher, seemingly utopian) Appalachian Trail community that stretches along a path of 2184 miles, the countless numbers of volunteers that selflessly maintain the trail, the 4 million annual users of the trail, and the approx. 11,000 who have completed the whole thing, there are a few names that pop up repeatedly in books, forums and web pages that warrant some attention.

There are many “famous” hikers out there, some are hardcore, some are originals, some are nuts. All of them make up a strange folklore that most people have never heard of. Some of you reading this may know one, two or all of these people. For the rest of you, here’s a group of interesting folk who have made a name for themselves on the trail.


Earl Shaffer

The original; the first dude to hike the whole thing in one go. The Crazy One became his trail name. On returning from the Pacific theatre in WWII in shock and having lost close friends, he decided to hike the whole trail in 1948. Something no one ever imagined would happen on the trail’s completion in 1937. He was the first to complete both directions (northbound and southbound). He successfully walked it again in 1998 at age 79, died 2002. A true leg end.


Jennifer Pharr Davis

Trail name of Oydessa, she is the fastest AT thru hiker ever on the trail – she was supported by her old man throughout so some people diss her a bit. I saw a talk by her on the net and gained a lot of respect for her. Struck by lightening and found a dead body on her first hike, she kept on truckin and came back to beat the record a few years later. Tough lady; 2181 miles, 46 days, 46 miles each day. Her talk. 


Emma Gatewood

Ok, sorry Jennifer, but scrap my previous statement. This was a real tough lady. Grandma Gatewood first hiked the 2000 miles “for a lark” at 67 years, then again at 72 and 75. She was the first ultralight hiker with a shower curtain for a shelter and a homemade “backpack”. Tough as the cheap sneakers she was wearing.  Held the oldest female thru-hike record till 2007.


Bill Irwin

Trail name Orient Express, he was the first blind person to hike the full 2100+ miles. Need I say more?! A couple years back, Mike Hanson (Bulldog) also did it blind. You’ve got more stones than me, guys. Way more stones.


Ward Leonard

Known as Ward or Chip, the first guy to walk the trail 10 times, unofficially. Some say he’s walked it 13 times. There’s no one there to measure, unless you report it. He’s a bit of a polarising character on the trail. He’s weirded people out, insulted and at the same time been a jolly good chap to others. He’s got issues by all accounts, but he’s a famous one that’s for sure. Still holds the record for the fastest unsupported hike (I think).


Bill Bryson 

Not a thru-hiker. Though this dude made me sit up and take notice of the trail about 12 years ago when I was 17. I’m sure his book A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail has inspired hundreds if not thousands of successful and aspiring thru-hikers to do so. I loved the book when I first read it (disappointed by it recently) and he’s responsible for this madness and also my hike on El Camino de Santiago in Spain.  He gets ripped by a lot of hikers partly because he only completed about 40% of it (of which a lot were driving!). Probably walked about 400 miles. I wouldn’t be here without the big ginger wanker though.


These are just a few guys that have played a small part in my thoughts over the past 2 years of reading. There are many more, these are just a taster.

Other mentions should go to Warren “no trail name” Doyle who has hiked the trail 16 times, David AWOL Miller who writes the hikers guide and wrote the great AWOL on the Appalachian Trail , and many many many more, plus Zach Badger Davis who I’m putting on here just because I write for his blog, plus he wrote the great Appalachian Trials


I’m going to be in the airport in 10 days, on the trail in 13.

*fills compression shorts*



14 responses to “Trailore

  • Paul

    Thanks for the nice capsule summary.

    I’m wondering, what was your recent disappointment in Bryson’s book?

  • Jake

    Well, a bit unfair maybe, my comment. I enjoyed the first part but then when he quits and drives along the trail, it lost my attention completely. Was after pure hiking reading though 🙂

    • Paul

      I don’t think your comment was unfair at all. If you’re disappointed, you’re disappointed! I was just curious.

      I love almost everything he writes, simply for the excellent humor (and I think his excessive worry about bears was some of the best humor).

      I’m enjoying following your blog!

      • Jake

        Cheers for the comments, Paul. Yes, he’s a good laugh. I’ve read a couple of his others but can’t for the life of me remember what they were…. think about Europe with Katz and another about the states…. glad you enjoy the blog! Keep your fingers crossed for me on the trail!

  • Jake

    I also found his obsessive worrying about black bears quite over the top.

  • Rob Murphy

    Don’t forget Warren Doyle. I’ve never met him but sounds like another AT character.

  • Jake

    OOOppppsss yes of course…. he’s walked it 16 times right??!!

  • Jane E. Gower, RN

    Hi Jake,
    Love your comments. I am a section hiker, started as a millenium challenge to help me stay healthy 11 years ago. Because I am still employed can only do a week at a time and have always had the joy of a granddaughter being with me plus other good friends.

  • Jane E. Gower, RN

    Because I have completed Maine, I know exactly where Bill Bryson quit the AT and when you reach that point, hopefully your weather will be good, you will understand why he quit as well, on a dark rainey eveving, steep, steep, steep with slippery slate on angels! Happy hiking! Jane from Maine

  • John Seaman

    Best of luck on your hike. I would highl recommend, if you have time, On the Beaten Path. In my opionin by far the best I have read regarding a through hike.

    Just John

  • zrdavis

    Great work man. Thanks for including my name. The check is in the mail.

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