Long-distance hiker from Lincoln completes trek of a lifetime

LINCOLN — On March 2, at Springer Mountain, Ga., Alan Kamman took the first step of a 2,185-mile journey.
Along the way, the Lincoln resident and Mount Abraham Union High School guidance counselor busted through four pairs of hiking shoes, camped in snow, endured heat and rain, hiked through injuries and fulfilled a promise he’d made to himself 41 years ago — to through-hike the Appalachian Trail.
Kamman completed his  nearly five-month odyssey on July 24, atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin.
“I have wanted to hike the Appalachian trail since I was thirteen,” said Kamman.
His love of hiking developed as Kamman grew up, mostly in the suburbs of Boston. His father loved to hike and sent him to summer camps to learn wilderness and backpacking skills.
“We would do backpacking trips. The first summer was hard. The second summer was better. But I kind of liked the backpacking thing,” he recalled.
At the age of 13, he read a certain book, and the hook was set.
“The Rodale Press back in the early 1970s issued a two-volume set called ‘Hiking the Appalachian Trail,’ and it was early stories of people that had done it in the ’60s and ’70s,” said Kamman. “It was 2,000 pages long, and I read it cover to cover — twice.”
With a teen’s enthusiasm, Kamman figured he would hike the trail by the time he’d finished college. But life intervened.
“I was going to do this before I graduated college. and I was going to do it when I was a young man. And then things sort of got in my way,” he said. “I wound up getting a quote ‘real job,’ where I met my wife. And then we got married and we had kids and so all that stuff — life — got in my way of hiking the Appalachian Trail.”
Fast-forward the better part of three decades to Mount Abe high school, where Kamman has been a guidance counselor for the past 17 years.
Kamman’s colleague and fellow guidance counselor Debbie Van Schaack hiked the trail in 2013. Two students who’d just graduated from Mount Abe took a gap year and hiked the trail. Then Kamman’s nephew hiked 1,500 miles of the trail, from Springer Mountain to Front Royal, Va., and then from the Vermont-Massachusetts border to Mount Katahdin.
“It was all around me. It was what I wanted to do my whole life,” said Kamman. “So I said to myself, ‘If you’re going to do this you better do this because you’re going to get to a point where maybe you can’t do it.’ So I made a commitment to myself that I would practice that summer.”
Kamman first hiked a three-day section of the trail, from Killington to Hanover. For his second practice, he wanted to see what it was like to resupply food off trail and get back on, so he hiked for seven days across Massachusetts.
“I knew I didn’t want to carry seven days’ worth of food, so the whole idea was to practice how that would go. On the fifth day in Barrington, Mass., I hitched off trail, I got a hotel room, I washed my clothes, I spent the night — I did all that kind of through-hiker stuff — I went across the street to the grocery store and bought food for the next few days, I ate meals in a restaurant to eat real food, and the next morning I hitched back to the trail and got back on. And that went fine.”
Not surprisingly, the hardest part was asking for time off.
“The biggest decision was to ask for time off at my job because I knew if I got it, I had to do it. I had to do the hike,” said Kamman, laughing at himself.
When the Mount Abe school board and Addison Northeast Supervisory Union superintendent agreed to Kamman’s request, his decision was final.
“They granted me the unpaid leave and so at that point right then and there it cost me a third of my annual salary to not go and so I had to go,” he said.
ALAN KAMMAN OF Lincoln photographed the very scenic Lonesome Lake in New Hampshire while hiking the Appalachian Trail this summer.
Courtesy photo
Kamman spent last fall and winter getting ready. He chose to begin in early March to avoid the crowds that normally start off in early April. And he knew he had to be back in Lincoln before Aug. 13, when his daughter Aliza would be getting married.
One of the best parts of life on the trail, said Kamman, was the kind of community that springs up among hikers.
Kamman said most hikers he met were in their 20s. The next biggest demographic were people retired and/or in their 50s. A few were in their 30s, between jobs. Most were men, about 80 percent.
What bridged differences in age, region or occupation, said Kamman was this amazing thing that they all had in common: walking the trail.
“People came from all walks of life, but you have this thing in common. It’s like, ‘We don’t have to talk about hiking the Appalachian Trail because here we are.’ I got into some pretty intense conversations with people within an hour because you have this common bond.”
These friendships persisted as he hiked north, Kamman said, often across several hundred miles. Hikers might not always hike together. But these upstart communities would regroup in the campsites at night.
“It’s really nice to have people to camp up with at night. We didn’t necessarily hike together but to have that companionship in camp at night was nice. That’s the whole social piece of the trail,” he said.
Among Kamman’s closest trail buddies was a recent Dartmouth graduate who went by the trail handle “Grandma” (Kamman’s handle was North Star).
“We’d just shoot the breeze about whatever. I’m a high school counselor by trade, so I’m sort of a decent listener, I’ll say. And he was just a very sensitive guy. He was very into the state of the world, politics, his career and what he was going to do and wanting to effect positive change in the world. He was just a quality guy,” Kamman said.
The two have continued to talk and text each other, post-trail adventure.
A longtime wildlife watcher, Kamman said that while hiking he encountered many notable species, including moose, bear and bobcats.
“I saw 13 bears. Thirteen black bears,” exclaimed Kamman. “The coolest one and the most unnerving one was we were in New Jersey of all places, which has a very healthy bear population. I saw six bears in New Jersey; five of them were together. It was the biggest black bear I’ve ever seen, the mother, who was trailing four cubs behind her. They basically crossed the trail right in front of us. So we had to stop. We had to back off.
“And we had to wait for those bears to clear, which took a little bit of time. I was not tangling with that mother. Nobody was. But that mother also knew it. That mother was enormous and paid us no mind.”
As with just about anyone who goes camping or picks up a backpack, Kamman also loved the freedom of living with so little. Along the trail, the sum total of his earthly possessions included:
• one pair wool long johns
• one cotton t-shirt
• wool hat
• wool gloves
• three pairs of wool socks
• raincoat
• rain pants
• one pair of shorts
Along with all this, the 30-some-odd pounds on his back included a cooking set for one, a headlamp, first aid kit, Crocs to wear around camp, and his cellphone.
“When I got home and I walked in and I looked in my drawers it’s like, ‘I have too much stuff.’ I’ve already given away a big 55-gallon plastic bag’s worth of clothes. I took it to Goodwill the other day. I just have too much stuff in my house. So I think you’re shown, you learn, how little you really need in life,” he said.
Another part of trail that was especially delightful was what Kamman called the kind of “trail magic” that would pop up spontaneously, especially south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
“Down south, I think they are more in touch with the trail. They’re like, ‘How can I help you.’ I would stick my thumb out and if I waited more than three cars that was a long time. Early on in the trip there were people who would set up where the road crossed, like at a gap, hamburgers, hot dogs. They give you ramen noodles, Cliff bars,” he said.
 Further north, in New York, someone had left 20 gallons of water. In Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness, someone had left two barrels full of Oreos, peanut butter, crackers and potato chips. Typical overall, Kamman said, was a man who just appeared at the gap at Wayah Bald in North Carolina.
“There’s a road up there. And so when we arrived this guy is unpacking his pick-up truck, putting the table up. He’s got a cooler full of sodas and beer. He’s cooking hot dogs. He’s got Rice Krispie treats. I said, ‘Can I help you?’ And he said, ‘Yeah. Set those two chairs up and you boys sit in them while I do the rest,’” Kamman said. “People are hugely generous.”
Back home in Lincoln and with school and regular life about to start up, Kamman has pledged to himself that he will not forget what he learned on the Appalachian Trail.
“My challenge now is to keep that together when I go back to my job and when I live my day-to-day life at home,” he said.
While Kamman said he is still reflecting on and figuring out what he learned during his Appalachian adventure, he knows that for him it centers on four things: the people he met, the beauty he saw, the challenges he faced, and the risks he took to dream big.
“I did something I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do that I’d wanted to do my whole life,” said Kamman, “And I learned that with determination, perseverance, big dreams and a little luck anything is possible.”
To read more about Kamman’s adventures along the Appalachian Trail, access his daily trail journal at http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?id=545832.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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