How About Hiking the AT in 1951 ?

The highlight of the offerings at Trail Days was the talk given by Gene Espy,who was the second person ( Earl Shaffer was #1) to thru-hike the AT. Gene did it in 1951, at 24 yrs old.

He had no idea at the time that he was only the second person to do it as a thru-hike until after he completed the walk, which he did in a staggering 4 months, in a day where there was few resupply points, fewer settlements near the Trail, no cell phones, or even zip lock plastic bags. During the 1950’s only 14 people completed the trail.

Gene related that his only adventure experiences before hiking the AT included riding a single speed heavy bicycle some 750 miles at 16 years of age. He also did some camping in the Smokies before he thur-hiked, using 6 blankets in lieu of a sleeping bag.

Other than an occasional postcard to home, Gene never made any phone calls, as he held that an expensive long distance call would be reserved for emergencies only, of which he felt experienced none, even completing the Trail.
When Gene arrived at Katahdin Stream campground he was the only person there other than the ranger, who realized that Gene’s accomplishment had to made known to the world, so the ranger called in a reporter from Millinocket who did a story on Gene that was rebroadcast on the Associated Press wires. His parents only learned that Gene reached his goal after hearing it on the radio in Georgia.
Gene had made up a black flag lettered in white with ” Appalachian Trail Hiker’s Club” on it to use when hitching on and off the trail. He sent it home after he realized that no one knew what the sign meant.
He showed us the two very soiled and very worn pairs of formerly white nylon socks that he thru-hiked in. He reported only 1 blister, stifled with a band-aid. His usual food purchases were two loaves of bread and three jars of different flavored jams. He ate 2-3 sandwiches most meals. He used parts of a Boy Scout cook set.

There is an excellent article about Gene’s phenomenal accomplishment in a 2005 issue of Georgia Tech Alumni Association magazine.

I thank Crazy Horse for alerting me about the chance to meet Gene, shake his hand, and experience living history.

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