Walking the Appalachian Trail for the hungry

Walking the Appalachian Trail for the hungry

Will McCranie recently finished walking the Appalachian Trail and he can’t stop eating.

The walk was an effort to raise awareness of hunger in America and to raise money to help The Society of Saint Andrew in their fight to end hunger and food insecurity for 40 million Americans. McCranie was burning calories at a tremendous rate during his journey, losing 50 pounds along the way and food was a huge part of the planning of the walk. He had bought a lot of food beforehand and sent it to post office boxes along the way. He had planned on doing pick-ups every six days but he got behind schedule and had to change things around because food he expected to last him 10 days only lasted three or four days.

“There is also a lot of food I got tired of and hope to never see again,” McCranie said. “I ate oatmeal every day for breakfast and I don’t think I’ll ever eat trail mix or jerky again.”

McCranie, a Peachtree City resident, was on the trail for 158 days. He walked 2,184.6 miles, from Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in North Georgia. It was a walk he had always wanted to do.

“I remember going to Springer Mountain with my Dad when I was seven years old,” McCranie said, adding that since then he has walked the Georgia section of the trail several times and portions of the trail in North Carolina with the Boy Scouts. McCranie, a forestry major at the University of Georgia, was an Eagle Scout and still does work with the Scouts at camps and climbs around the country. He has worked at Philmont Ranch in New Mexico the three summers prior to this one.

“I had a great time. It was a blast,” McCranie remarked. “It was an incredible experience because of the people I met and the things that I saw.”

In addition to the breathtaking scenery and natural beauty along the trail, McCranie saw 18 black bears, a moose in Maine, four bald eagles and other assorted animals and critters.

“The views were incredible. Maine and New Hampshire were hard but they were worth it because it was so beautiful,” McCranie said.

There was a stretch just north of Smokey Mountain Park where McCranie expected to see some more beautiful views but the storm that was Hurricane Sandy got in the way.

“I was on Iron Mountain when it hit. It was snowing sideways and visibility was down to about three feet. I couldn’t feel my knees and I just wasn’t prepared for that kind of weather,” McCranie explained. “I hitched a ride at the next road because I couldn’t hike to the next shelter. The guy who picked me up took me back into town to a McDonald’s and bought me dinner.”

Lots of people who were walking the trail either quit during the storm or skipped 70-80 miles of the trail. McCranie was doing a through walk and quitting was not an option. He walked in ankle deep snow for close to a week but continued on his trek back to Georgia.

McCranie’s daily schedule often involved him waking up at 6:30 a.m. to cook breakfast and have a cup of coffee. He would start walking around 8 a.m. and would camp at night around 8:30 or 9 p.m., at least at the beginning when light was on his side. Towards the end of the trip, when he was just hoping to get it done, McCranie was putting in 15 hour days on the trail.

His pack at the beginning of the trip weighed around 44 pounds. By the end, after he had tossed out all non-essentials, it was down to 32 pounds.

McCranie started his trip on June 14 and finished on Nov. 18. He only used his tent 10 times because there are shelters every 10-15 miles along the trail.

“I loved the shelter system,” McCranie said, before adding, “except for the mice.”

McCranie estimated that he walked with others for only 35 days of his trip, meaning that for over 150 days of his trek he was alone. He found the loneliness to be one of the biggest challenges of the trip.

“I could go 24 hours without seeing another person,” he said, adding that in patches with no cell service he often found himself talking to squirrels or salamanders.

Someone always knew where he was on the trail though, either through communication with his iPhone or a spot GPS locator that could send out a message of his location and that he was OK. It also had a 911 button that could alert people to his location if he needed help. He emerged from his trip without enduring any significant illness or injury, although he was taking a lot of ibuprofen towards the end for the aches and pains he accumulated throughout his journey.

“My knees will never be the same and I have tendonitis in both my feet,” he explained, adding that he was lucky because lyme disease is common for walkers on the trail, as are stress fractures.

McCranie spoke fondly about the people he met on his trip and the places he visited.

“There are a lot of towns along the trail whose economy is based on trail walkers,” he explained. One of his zero days (days without a hike) was in Hanover, New Hampshire. “A lot of the restaurants there give free items to walkers like a slice of pizza or a donut. I bounced around from place to place.” The town also had a list of people who could help out walkers, either giving them a place to sleep for the night or a place to take a shower or do some laundry. That friendly spirit showed up for McCranie all along the trail.

“There were other instances of ‘trail magic,’ like someone leaving a cooler of cold sodas for walkers to enjoy,” McCranie explained.

McCranie has raised over four thousand dollars for Meals for Millions, a joint program between The Society of Saint Andrew and United Methodist Men to combat hunger in America. He chose Meals for Millions in part because The United Methodist Men at Peachtree City United Methodist Church sponsor BSA Troop 175. That’s where Will earned his Eagle Scout award at the age of 13. He also knew that he would be hungry while he was on the trail. His overall goal is to raise $10,000 for the program and he will be accepting donations through January.

McCranie’s walk was a once in a lifetime experience. He could walk it again, like one man he met who had walked the trail eight years in a row, but he won’t.

“If I ever did a walk like this again, I’d want to do a different trail and see other parts of the country,” McCranie said. “I don’t think I will do a walk of this size again though because of the wear and tear on the body and it is a long time to be gone.”

McCranie, a McIntosh graduate in 2008, will graduate from UGA in the spring. His biggest takeaway from the trip is to appreciate the little things.

“There were little luxuries that I missed, like sitting in a chair with a back or taking a shower every day instead of once every few weeks,” he said.

McCranie got back home in time for Thanksgiving and certainly ate well that day. His hope now is helping the close to 40 million people in the U.S. who deal with food insecurity every day. To help him reach his fundraising goal and to help those who are hungry, visit walkingwithwill.com.