Monday, May 19, 2014

Roadwalking on the Great Eastern Trail

"But aren't there . . . roadwalks?"
I get that a lot when talking about the Great Eastern Trail.  It's a fair question because yes, there are roadwalks.  There are roadwalks in the south, and there are roadwalks in the middle, and there are even roadwalks in the north, although they are rarer up there.

Hikers have a hard time with the R-Word.  I understand, because I used to have a bad attitude towards roadwalking, too.

Having hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, the thought of hiking a trail with roadwalking was very intimidating.  Except, oh wait, the AT has roadwalking too.  And not all of it is pleasant, in-town roadwalking.  Hiking out of New Hampshire into Vermont was not particularly scenic or enjoyable.
But what do the AT (and, for that matter, GET) roadwalks do for the trail?

  • They allow for the best possible sections to happen.  
  • They make resupply easy.
  • The give hikers a break from constantly looking down at the ground
  • They let hikers move at least 1MPH faster than they usually do.  
  • They help the hiker out with useful bridges.
  • They allow for hot meals and cultural tourism.  
The AT is always going to have some roadwalks and hikers like it that way.  No one really bothers to talk about AT roadwalks because they are no big deal.

But people do talk about GET roadwalks because we've got a 1,600 mile trail and about 25% of that is roadwalk.  Is this significant?  Well, let's put it into perspective.  First of all, this % is going down every year.  Since Bart and I hiked last year, I know of at least twenty miles that have been routed onto trail and off road, and there have probably been more. That's fast progress, but even so: this is a young trail.

Earl: Badass and inventor of the thru-hike

Back when Earl Shaffer hiked the young Appalachian Trail in 1948, the AT was nearly half on roads.  Half!
The Appalachian Trail Conference was founded in 1925, so the movement was around 23 years old when Earl hiked.

Compare to the Great Eastern Trail Association, which incorporated in 2007 and is about 7 years old.  The GET movement is much older than that but still, the active plans to link the GET host trails together are relatively new.  Yet it is about 75% finished already.  Pretty impressive, huh?

So yes, there are roadwalks on the GET and there will be for a long time.  Some will be there forever. The AT is still rerouting onto an optimal route; every trail is a work in progress. The Ice Age Trail and Mountains to Sea Trail are still 50% on roads; the Continental Divide Trail is 76% completed yet these all boast thru-hikers and positive hiking experiences despite roadwalks.  That's because roadwalks aren't inherently bad.

 Here are three examples of GET roadwalking.

Guess how many cars we saw on those roads?  The answers: 1, 0, and maybe 2.   Bonus: we got to see the POWERLINES sign.  It makes sense in real life, but I won't spoil the reason why.

Here are some things we saw along roadwalks:

Too bad there's no beauty along roadwalks.

This is without a doubt my favorite tree along the GET.
Nope, no roadwalk views to be found! :)

Roadwalks on the GET supplied all the perks of roadwalks on the AT, only moreso because as the roadwalks are larger, so too are the benefits.

  •  Resupply was, on average, easier than the AT despite the GET's lack of hitch-hiker culture. 
  •  Our packs were often very light, as some sections only required a day or two of food before resupply.  
  • Faster miles were another perk that we could bank on - not only thanks to a lighter pack but also because roads offer fewer obstacles to trip on.  
  • But most importantly, the biggest redeeming quality of roadwalks was the people.

We met people on roadwalk sections that we otherwise wouldn't have run into.  Like Ramar and Angie, whose kindness towards us inspires us even today.  So many people made time to talk to us, to help us. . . it was overwhelming.

Don't let the GET's roadwalks scare you away.  Many of the roadwalks are incredibly beautiful, unique, and refreshing -- just like the people you'll encounter.

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