Metcalfs Complete Appalachian Trail

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Mike and Mary Metcalf begin their 2,200-mile hike of the Appalachian Trail.

by Hal Gray

GREENSBORO – Greensboro residents Mike and Mary Metcalf completed hiking their last section of the Appalachian Trail this past May. Over the past decade and more, they have done as much as 300 miles at a time of the almost 2,200 miles of the trail; this spring they completed the last 30 miles.

Even this was delayed because four days before their scheduled overnight at the Cosby Knob Shelter in the North Carolina section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a bear had bitten a hiker, and the Metcalfs had to wait until this danger was resolved.

Now they are among the few who have hiked the entire trail (across 14 states), whether as through-hikers who complete the hike in one season (normally taking between five and seven months), or as section hikers, like the Metcalfs, who hike sections of the trail as their health, activity and employment schedules allow.

One of their most memorable experiences was in May 2019 as they descended the trail in central Virginia. They met a younger hiker jogging up the trail with his smart phone in his hand as he sought reception bars on his phone. A woman had fallen and badly broken one of her legs, and he was seeking to contact the rescue squad. A few miles later, the Metcalfs came to the scene of the accident. Some hikers had erected the woman’s tent to protect her from rain; other hikers stayed with her, offering food and water and keeping her company until help arrived. The Metcalfs still had some distance to go to reach their car so after confirming the situation was under control, they continued down the trail. As they descended, they met two men on their way to the injured woman, one at either end of a wheeled litter (having wheels centered on its length). The Metcalfs later learned through the hiker grapevine the woman had been treated at a nearby hospital and had returned to her home in Indiana. As elderly hikers, the Metcalfs were encouraged to learn of the help available in the hills and they witnessed how the trail community truly takes care of its own.

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The Metcalfs reached Mount Katandin in Maine, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Hikers must reach the terminus before October.

Completing the Appalachian Trail capped the Metcalf’s current outing experiences which in 2005 to 2007 included completion of hiking all 4,000-foot mountains in New England (48 in New Hampshire, 14 in Maine and 5 in Vermont). Mary Metcalf retired after 13 years as librarian at the Greensboro Free Library, and Mike retired after 40 years of public-school teaching at Hazen Union and 26 years as an evening adjunct instructor at Johnson State College (then Northern Vermont University).

As the Metcalfs grew older, they generally hiked from road-crossing to road-crossing and spent fewer nights camping. Their day-packs were for lunch, first aid supplies and rain gear.

They encourage others to make the effort. The “2,000-miler” certificate requires “an honest effort” to complete the whole trail. Forest fires, natural disasters, issues with bears sometimes close sections of the trails, and hikers can get a “bye” for a few miles in such cases.

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Mike and Mary Metcalf of Greensboro completed hiking their last section of the Appalachian Trail in May.

Conceived in 1921, built by private citizens, and completed in 1937, the trail today is managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, numerous state agencies and thousands of volunteers. The conservancy claims the trail is the longest hiking-only trail in the world. Northbound (NOBO) through-hikers must plan to reach Mount Katahdin, Me., the trail’s northern terminus, before Baxter State Park closes the trail to the summit in mid-October.

Many hikers now practice flip flop through-hikes, starting somewhere in the middle of the trail and heading to Katahdin, then returning to their starting point and hiking south (SOBO) to the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Ga. Most hikers see a few bears, which generally avoid people. More likely to be a threat to hikers’ well-being than mice and snakes are ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease. The Metcalfs report their current effort is in planning their next outing chapter.