Aaron Schroeder of Hilton Head Island is stepping into an unknown future at about 20 miles per day.
He has fresh degrees from Duke University and the University of California at Berkeley under his belt, and about 36 pounds of gear on his shoulders. He is hiking the Appalachian Trail. He wants to do the whole thing, 2,182 miles from north to south.
"I am drawn to this kind of adventure because it allows me to be self-sufficient and because it has a very clear instruction manual: you walk," Aaron writes in a blog chronicling his stab at an achievement eight out of 10 who start don't finish.
"Real life is filled with goals that have a thousand different approach paths. The Appalachian Trail, or A.T., is exactly one path. I crave that kind of simplicity, just for a few months."
Aaron, 23, doesn't know what real life will hold. But the salutatorian of the Hilton Head Preparatory School Class of 2008 earned a master's degree in civil engineering in May from a very selective school, and he figures he'll have plenty of time to dissect roads and bridges.
We talked by cellphone this week while everything but his rain jacket was in a dryer at a hostel in a Vernon, N.J., church. It was day 48 of the venture, and mile 833.3.
"It's like banging my head against a wall, over and over," he said. "It's just like doing the same thing over and over. It hasn't worn me down yet."
His trail name is Rooster because he starts hiking early each day. At the end of the day he types a blog post into a cellphone with a little keyboard he bought for $29 directly from China. You can follow him in your easy chair at http://aarontakesawalk.blogspot.com.
Aaron wrote this about a group of north-bounders he met one night: "They cooked up a snake they had killed, saying it tasted like bacon."
He tells of seeing the lights of New York City, of all things, and a family of bears walking through Vernon, N.J.
He tells of hardships -- flooding, falling and swatting. He tells of the goodness of mankind, with strangers leaving "trail magic," like cold beverages, for hikers. He's amazed at how resilient the human body is -- weak, sore and bug-bitten at night, but eager to forgive him in the morning.
And he says, oddly enough, it's the hardships that teach him the most about why he is doing this.
"You have a lot of time to gnaw on thoughts out here," he said, "which I think is good."
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