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Five Months

Featured Photo from Five Months

Oviedo’s Josh Garrett hikes from Georgia to Maine with his whole world on his back

Josh Garrett first heard about the Appalachian Trail in middle school, from a church member who had tackled the mammoth trek.

Josh was intrigued, he says, but put the notion of hiking the Trail himself on the back burner through his early 20s.
This year, though, it all came to a full boil at the front of the stove as Josh, now 23, completed the 2,200-mile hike from Georgia to Maine. Along the way, he made friends, dodged a bear, fought a stomach virus, slept in a hammock, and, as he puts it, “turned my feet into hamburger.”

Most hikers take on individual sections of the Trail. Some complete the entire journey, one piece at a time, over the course of years. Josh, on the other hand, decided to join the hardy souls who make the entire journey uninterrupted. It’s called a through-hike, and fewer than 1,000 adventurers complete the feat every year.

“I felt I’d been going through the motions,” Josh says of his decision to finally tackle the hike. “For the last couple of years, I hadn’t pushed myself.”

So in March, push came to shove. Josh – an emergency medical technician and Oviedo resident – began the hike in Georgia, where he dined on biscuits and gravy. He finished about five months later in Maine, celebrating with a feast of lobster and meeting up with his parents, Jennifer and Mac.

Here is Josh’s journey by the numbers:

Two or Three The number of blisters Josh got on his feet, which isn’t bad. “I got lucky,” he says. “I didn’t take care of my feet. They took care of me.”

60 The number of pounds Josh lost, about twice the average for those who hike the entire trail. He has no desire to gain all of it back.

Five The pairs of shoes he went through. Footwear’s greatest foe runs through northern Pennsylvania, sometimes called Rocksylvania by hikers because of the rugged terrain marked by a seemingly endless expanse of small and not-so-small rocks.

Eight The number of days into his hike when Josh wondered, for the first and only time, if this was all madness. He was striving for the Georgia-North Carolina border, being pelted by rain on a windy ridge. His tarp was soaking wet, and the temperature was dropping into the upper 30s that night. “I was, like, ‘This is absurd,’” Josh recalls. “Why am I doing this?” Fortunately he made it over the hump, and he never looked back.

5,000 The approximate number of dollars the trip cost.

Two The number of nights he spent at his most luxurious accommodation – a hotel in Tennessee. But he didn’t have a chance to savor it, as he was recovering from the norovirus, a stomach bug he caught from a fellow hiker. “It’s a one-day thing,” Josh says, “but it’s not a fun day.”

The stomach bug was his only respite from hunger. The quest for nourishment looms large for hikers. Fortunately, they are usually besieged by offers of food from the locals along the trail, especially in the South.
Fairly often, Josh would slip into a town to indulge in a restaurant meal. His rationalization was this: “I’m done eating backpack food today. I want some real food.”

48 The number of pounds his backpack weighed when he began his trip. It was crammed with a hammock, a tarp, a sleeping pad, clothes, tuna, pasta, and beef jerky. By the end of the trip, it weighed about half that.

One The number of black bears Josh encountered along the way, this one in Virginia. The Appalachian Trail poses its risks. Black bears are much more timid than grizzly bears, but they do occasionally attack humans if they feel threatened. Other dangers include venomous snakes, wild boars, rabid foxes and raccoons, and disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks. As often as he could, Josh spent nights at shelters, campgrounds, hostels, and occasionally motels, usually accompanied by other hikers. But he admits it could be a little spooky when he camped and slept alone.

“There were a couple of nights I would hear things moving inside the bushes a little too much,” Josh remembers. “But it might just have been a porcupine.”

20 to 25 The average number of miles Josh hiked per day. But he had to slow down considerably in Rocksylvania.

Three The things Josh missed the most while on the Appalachian Trail: daily showers, clean running water that does not have to be filtered, and a comfortable bed.

The Appalachian Trail is considered part of the Triple Crown of Hiking, the other two long-distance trails being the Continental Divide and the Pacific Crest.

Josh, an Oviedo High School and UCF graduate, would not rule out taking on one of the other two some day.

“I definitely have my eye on those trails in the future,” he says. “I’ve caught the bug.”

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