ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PAT WICK
Charles and Rita Quinn, who sound a little like a modern Lewis and Clark, are setting off on foot to explore the Appalachian Trail for six months.
“My guide here has been working out the itinerary,” said Rita Hensley Quinn, nodding toward her husband, Charles.
Rita is a native of Tampa now living with h er husband near Kansas City.
“When he announced to his siblings that we were going to hike the Appalachian trail this year, I thought he was completely nuts,” Rita said. “For months I couldn’t even talk about it.”
Rita, a retired labor and delivery nurse, and Charles, a retired obstetrician/gynecologist, have never been hikers. Their passion has been gardening on their five-acre plot near Kansas City with a ski trip or two thrown in during the winter months.
“I’m not positive about how I got this idea,” Charles said. “I may have read an article in the Kansas City Star about the Appalachian Trail. This past year we were in Washington, D.C, and took a day trip to Shenandoah National Park. I actually took a few steps, felt the pull, and thought that would be fun to do.”
“Now, I think we’re both nuts,” Rita said.
Shess gathered a lot of information about the 2,167-mile trek from Georgia to Maine. It is considered the premier hiking trail in the United States.
The route of the Appalachian Trail follows the ridge line of the eastern Appalachian Mountain chain, beginning on the summit of Springer Mountain in northern Georgia and ending on the summit of Mount Katahdin in central Maine.
As the trail winds its way through the mountains, it passes through 14 states, eight national forests and six national parks. About 99 percent of the route is on publicly owned lands and no fee or special permission is required.
“Every year about 2,500 hardy people attempt to backpack the entire trail in one continuous journey it takes six months,” Charles said.
About 10 percent of those who start, actually finish, he added.
For the past six months the couple have been preparing for this trek by walking six to eight miles a day.
“We have to take everything with us,” Charles said. “It’s what you call no-trace camping. You’re allowed to leave nothing but your footprints.
“Most people do this in the spring,” he said, “and they hike north. There are a few hardy souls who hike the trail in the winter.”
The Quinns plan to start in Georgia as soon as the weather permits, and walk at least 15 miles a day for the next six months so they end up in Maine before winter descends and the park is closed.
As part of their preparation, the Quinns have established a chain of command. “He’s the guide and I’m the group,” Rita said.
Charles has been studying topographical maps of all 14 states, working out logistics of how to get extra supplies should they need them, shipping supplies ahead to designated “general delivery” mail drops, and organizing house-sitters and a way to pay bills while they are gone.
Even though this odyssey is a personal one, it’s almost impossible to accomplish alone. The Quinns’ neighbor, Jamie, is in charge of mailing their pre-packed food boxes to drops along the way.
Another friend, Lynn, will be receiving and transcribing their journal entries for posting on a Web site they have established: www.
On their backs, the Quinns will carry food, a tent, sleeping bags, cook stove, fuel for the stove, a water purifier, a first aid kit, a journal, a camera and a few clothes and toilet paper.
“Well be eating oatmeal and Cream of Wheat, Snicker bars, peanutbutter sandwiches, dried fruits and nuts,” Rita said. “Lipton noodles and sauce are wonderful and that will probably be our staple.”
A couple of weeks’ worth of minimum supplies can be heavy.
“My pack weighs 36 pounds,” Rita said, “and Quinn is carrying 45 pounds. It’s amazing what adding a few pounds to the pack can feel like on your back. Fortunately, not all your body-parts feel bad at the same time.”
Charles and Rita Quinn plan to be at the starting point March 15.
Rita’s mother, Evelyn Hensley, still lives in Tampa.
“I’m cheering them on,” Hensley said. “They’ve figured out a way to get news out to us every week or so and well be anxious to hear about their progress.”