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Kentucky by Heart: Lawrenceburg resident Bob Snow shares adventures through-hiking Appalachian Trail

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story account of a Kentuckian’s successful hiking of the Appalachian Trail.

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

A funny thing happened to Bob Snow on the way to completing a 2198-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Springer Mountain, in Georgia, to Mount Katahdin in Maine and covers fourteen states. However, it didn’t seem funny at first.

Bob Snow on the A.T. at Damascus, VA (Photo courtesy of Bob Snow)

“I was sleeping in a shelter by myself when I heard a huge commotion,” he said, grinning. “I just knew it was a bear and it was the end of me.” Perhaps it had something to do with waking up from a dream he’d been having, or maybe it was just a normal human reaction, but fortunately for Bob, it wasn’t a bear as he feared. “It ended up being a tiny, four-once flying squirrel that had crash-landed into the shelter and was scurrying around for cover.”

For the Lawrenceburg resident, there were some other light moments along the Trail, often called the “A.T.,” but as one might expect, navigating such long and rugged terrain brought a host of daily challenges for the 52-year-old retired federal Fish and Wildlife Service employee. The fact that studies show that only one of four people who set out to conquer the A.T. succeed should tell you something about the daunting, though doable, task.

Bob Snow “prepared” thirty years for his A.T. expedition, he noted. At age 19, while interning in the Chesapeake Bay area, he met a recent college graduate who had completed the Trail. Through their talks, it got Bob thinking of putting the same goal on his future agenda. Before that encounter with the young man, Bob explained. “I hadn’t even heard of the Appalachian Trail. It planted a seed in my mind.”

By the time Bob started the journey on April 23, 2023, he had done his homework. Besides having plenty of hiking experiences in recent years, he became a frequent viewer of You Tube videos about hiking the A.T. and read such books as Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, A Walk for Sunshine, by Jeff Ault, Walking with Spring, by Earl Shaffer, and Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, by Ben Montgomery. His retirement work, operating a vegetable and flower farm with his wife, kept him in shape. His wife agreed to maintain the farm, though most of the local market selling would take a hiatus for the year.

Uncle Johnny’s Hostel, Erwin, TN (Photo courtesy of Bob Snow)

Bob started his quest from Harper’s Ferry, WV. He would be taking the “flip-flop” route, starting at a location that would be more weather-friendly over the long-term, yet allowing him to cover every mile of the A.T. Interestingly, before hitting the Trail, Bob and other “flip-floppers” participated in the town’s Flip-flop Festival, which commemorates the occasion.

On his Facebook blog on that date, he wrote: “While the vast majority of thru hikers (ones who plan to do the entire A.T. within twelve months) start at Springer Mountain, in Georgia, and head north to Mount Katahdin, in Maine, I’m starting near the middle. I’m heading north to Maine, and after hopefully summitting Mount Katahdin in a few months, I’ll shuttle back to Harper’s Ferry and continue my journey south on the A.T. to Georgia.” Besides better weather conditions, the route would allow him to avoid large crowds at Springer Mountain, the most popular starting point.

According to Bob, hikers on the A.T. are identified by their “trail names.” It’s not a formal process, as names tend to emerge from circumstances. “The only hard and fast rule of getting a trail name,” he said with a grin, “is that the hiker has to accept it. It’s a ‘let it happen thing’ and it emerges. You hardly ever know anybody’s real name.” Bob’s trail name, “Natgeo,” came from a fellow hiker commenting on a full-brim outdoor hat and binoculars he had just bought as looking like a National Geographic picture.

Here are some other hikers’ names Bob recalled hearing:

• “Bones” (a mortician)

• “Birthday Girl” (an older woman who started hiking on her 76th birthday)

• “Propensity” (a person who simply was overheard using that word in conversation)

• “Scratch” (a woman whose tent was ripped by a bear intrusion)

• “Waterboy” (hiker who provided water over several days to another hiker who had lost his water filter)

Bob at the Keffer Oak, a three-hundred-year-old oak in Craig County, Virginia. (Photo courtesy of Bob Snow)

Certainly, a challenge to the daily hiking experience is the thirty-to-thirty-two-pound backpack one carries on the Trail, most of it containing food bought at outlets along the way. There’s a bit of a quandary to hiking multiple miles, often ten or more hours per day. One must pack enough food, obviously, for sustenance. That said, a hiker “must buy just enough to get to the next stop,” Bob explained. “Never more than you need.” The good thing, he said, is that the “hiker is getting rid of poundage by ‘eating poundage’” along the way.

Those “next stops” are few and far between. Resupply places are stores and hostels, but shelters, often remote places, do only one thing — provide shelter from the elements and don’t offer eats. “My resupply stops ranged from three to five days,” Bob said. “Mileage between potential resupply stops probably ranged anywhere from forty to a hundred miles. Therefore, the higher I could get and keep my daily mileage, the less food I would have to carry between resupply stops. I would typically leave town with about eight or nine pounds of food for a five-day supply.”

And the food choices? Bob noted that he seldom ate prepackaged freeze-dried meals because of them being expensive. After leaving a resupply store to continue the hike, he always carried foods such as leftover pizza or a sub to eat on the first night. Here’s a rundown of his typical nourishment choices on the A.T.:

• Dinner consisted of tortillas or ramen noodles with packaged tuna or chicken, Knorr pasta sides, and usually chocolate candy bar for dessert.

• Lunch was tortillas with peanut butter or pepperoni and cheese, Captain Wafer cream cheese and chive crackers with pepperoni on top, and sometimes crackers and beef sticks.

• Breakfast was simpler, always a pop-tart or protein bar eaten while hiking.

• Snacks through the day were trail-mix and five to six protein bars.

Bob noted that he ate plenty of food to add calories and an energy source to his body to fuel his physical ability for the trip. At the occasional hostel he visited, he ate “as much as I could… and I had cravings for vegetables.” Despite his attempts for what he called a “high caloric load,” he lost thirty pounds from his start in April to finishing the A.T. in September. “I went from 170 to 140 pounds. I lost muscle mass in my upper body, but my calves (leg muscles behind shins) got big,” he said with a smile.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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