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Veteran hiker shares Appalachian Trail tale

Date: 10/4/2010

Oct. 4, 2010

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW -- The first thing Roger Tetreault will tell you is if you're going to hike the Appalachian Trail, you'd better do it for the love of hiking.

Tetreault, a resident of Boxborough, will be at the East Longmeadow Public Library on Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. with a presentation about his experiences on the trail. The presentation will include a PowerPoint slideshow with music and a voiceover, as well as a question and answer period.
Roger Tetreault stands on Mount Katahdin, the final stop on the 2,176.4 Appalachian Trail. Tetreault will be at the East Longmeadow Public Library on Oct. 4 to share a presentation on his experiences during his five and a half month long hike on the trail.

Tetreault hiked from Georgia's Springer Mountain to Maine's Mount Katahdin at age 60.

"It's not about reaching the end," Tetreault said. "It's about the day-to-day hike. If you start thinking about your destination, you'll go crazy. You'll never finish."

Tetreault only started hiking about 10 years ago when his wife turned him onto the pastime. After taking to day hikes, he decided he wanted to try longer, multi-day hikes.

"I thought, why don't we take a backpack and get two or three mountain in during a trip?" Tetreault said.

Eventually, Tetreault and his wife had completed a list of all the 4,000 foot mountains in the Northeast and had completed the Long Trail in Vermont, which runs from the Massachusetts border to Canada.

That's when Tetreault reached the point where he was ready for a new challenge. A carpenter by trade, Tetreault found a period of time when his business was slow and he decided it was time to give the Appalachian Trail a try. Five and a half months, 2,176.4 miles and three pairs of shoes later, he had achieved his goal.

"It was such a fantastic time," Teteault said. "It's the best think I've ever done in my life."

Tetreault said his age did not concern him as much as his physical conditioning for the trip.

"I was way out of shape. I only had two months to get ready," Tetreault said. "But I listened to my body. I've hiked enough to know that when your body tells you to take a break, then you take a break."

Tetreault added that his first couple of weeks on the trail were long and not overly productive.

"There were some days I would only be able to hike eight or 10 miles," Tetreault said. "After about the third week, I really got my hiker's legs."

Tetreault saw all kinds of conditions along the way, both geological and meteorological.

"One day in the Smokey Mountains, I woke up and it was 18 degrees," he said. "I went to bed in a 30-degree sleeping bag wearing every article of clothing I was carrying."

Despite all this, he said while it wasn't always fun, he was able to appreciate the hike and get through it.

Along the trail, Tetreault came upon the Grayson Highlands in Virginia, which he said he would never forget.

"I fell in love with that place. You're always walking on the crest of mountains. The views were fantastic. You're walking through this place and you're walking past three million-year-old boulders and going through caves," Tetreault said, adding that in that area he came across free-roaming wild ponies.

Despite the beauty of the highlands, Tetreault said his favorite state on the trail was Maine.

"In New Hampshire, you come across a lot of day hikers," Tetreault said. "Once you cross into Maine, you're leaving behind something like 100, 000 hikers and it's remote again."

Tetreault set out on the trail by himself, but very rarely found himself alone. According to Tetreault, the trail is filled with hikers that he would meet up with along the way and hike with. In addition to that, people, known as "trail angels," oftentimes would either be at parts of the trail with food and supplies or would leave a filled cooler for passer-bys.

"The people were fantastic," Tetreault said. "I ran into people on the trail from around the world and I would ask them what they thought of the trail and they said that the people in America were the most generous in the world."

Having friendly people nearby was extremely fortunate for Tetreault when he began experiencing vertigo. He woke up one morning dizzy and sick under one of the three-sided shelters that can be found along the trail. Eventually, some people he was hiking with the day before both of whom were nurses came upon him and helped him over the next mountain where an ambulance was waiting for him. After that, he took a week off from the trail.

"I tried to get up and I fell right over," Tetreault said. "But I'll tell you, Serendipity is alive and well. Just when you really need something most, that's when you'll get it."

With all the perils that face hikers on the trail, Tetreault admitted he was surprised by the number of women who set out on their own.

"I was amazed at the number of women that were on the trail alone," he said. "I give them credit for their courage. Everyone on the trail has their apprehensions. We all know there are things like wild boars, cougars and bears out there."

Tetreault said that regardless of whether you plan on hiking the entire trail or simply a part of it, the Appalachian Trail is something everyone should experience.

"Any time spent out there is special," Tetreault said. "Everyone will have experiences that they can take away from it."

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