Trail blazers

Jim Brown
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Two Summerside men embrace the challenge of the Appalachian Trail

Faye Gillis doesn't expect to see her husband until late August or early September. Linus Gillis, 59, is hiking the famed Appalachian Trail, which winds 2,175 miles across 14 American states and through mountains and other rugged terrain.

He left March 31, accompanied by fellow hiker and Summerside resident Al MacKenzie. The two started in Springer Mountain, Georgia and are working their way to Maine's Mount Katahdin.

Alan MacKenzie, left, and Linus Gillis at the start of their Appalachian Trail odyssey. SUBMITTED PHOTO

SUMMERSIDE - Faye Gillis doesn't expect to see her husband until late August or early September. Linus Gillis, 59, is hiking the famed Appalachian Trail, which winds 2,175 miles across 14 American states and through mountains and other rugged terrain.

He left March 31, accompanied by fellow hiker and Summerside resident Al MacKenzie. The two started in Springer Mountain, Georgia and are working their way to Maine's Mount Katahdin.

"He calls when he can," said Faye. His last call was Wednesday evening.

"We've got a map at home, and each time he calls I mark the map and that way I can keep track of his progress."

Gillis and MacKenzie aren't carrying a cell phone and have to make calls from communities along the route.

One of Faye's biggest fears is the wildlife they could encounter - notably bears and snakes.

"The main thing is avoiding injuries," she said.

Faye isn't entirely cut off from Linus. There are places along the trail, including little country stores, where mail can be forwarded from family and friends.

He's sending back socks and other gear because it weighed down his packsack.

"That's what happens, walkers drop stuff as they go along," said Faye, who is preparing to pack a pair of sneakers for Linus in time for warming weather.

Gillis and MacKenzie are treading a well-worn path. Thousands of hikers test their mettle every year on the Appalachian Trail. MacKenzie's daughter conquered the trail with her husband in 2001.

Gillis and MacKenzie aren't novices. They recently travelled from one tip of P.E.I. to the other.

They spend most nights sleeping on the trail in a small tent.

"They take with them only what they can carry on their backs. They've got a little tiny stove and noodle packages and coffee, porridge, chocolate bars, wafers, anything that is light," said Faye.

That meager diet will likely be supplemented along the way, thanks to a little "trail magic."

People who live near the trail often leave bottles of water and soft drinks on the trail, as well as snacks.

"Some churches have basements you can go to during the day to clean up and rest. "And if you are at the right place at the right time you'll get a free barbecue," said Faye.

There are no plaques, certificates or other honours for completing the journey, just "the satisfaction of knowing they've done it, they've fulfilled their dream," she said.




Happy Trails to you

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a public footpath that follows more than 2,100 miles of Appalachian Mountain ridgelines between Maine and Georgia. It takes five million adult footsteps to hike the entire trail.
The Appalachian Trail stretches through 14 eastern states.
Approximately four million visitors hike a section of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail each year.
Volunteers monitor and maintain the Trail and its shelters and help with operations at headquarters. There are thirty volunteer trail-maintaining clubs associated with the Appalachian Trail.
The trail is marked with two inch by six-inch vertical white paint blazes. A double blaze, one above the other, is placed before turns, junctions, or other areas that require hikers to be alert. There are approximately 165,000 blazes along the Appalachian Trail.
Conceived in 1921 and first completed in 1937, it traverses the wild, scenic, wooded, pastoral, and culturally significant lands of the Appalachian Mountains.

Geographic location: Summerside, Georgia, Maine P.E.I. Appalachian Mountain Appalachian Mountains

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  • Judith Toy
    April 30, 2014 - 15:30

    I met Alan MacKenzie on Easter Day as he came off the Appalachian Trail, where a few of us waited to perform "trail magic," i.e., we brought food for the hikers. I cannot get the twinkle of his eye and his pure joy out of my mind. He took my card and sent a postcard, but I cannot read his return address because the US post office cancelled over it. Can one of his friends email me his snail mail or email address, so I can reciprocate with a letter that will be waiting for him when he comes home to PEI?