Hikin' the A.T. in A.T. Three - "The Poetic Year"
Known to the hikers as "The Poetic Year" because of the pseudo-rhyme of the "Three" with the "T," the year 1983 was a special time for this class of hikers to be on the Appalachian Trail. While it may seem that the experience of hiking the Trail changes little from year to year, reflecting back to 1983 reveals dramatic changes. For one thing, the number of hikers has surged. During the 1930s - when the Trail was completed - only five hikers completed the trail. By the 1970's, the number of 2000milers was closing in on 1000. Later in the 1980s the number of registered 2,000-milers surpassed one thousand. A decade later that number topped three thousand!
In 1983 most hikers learned about long-distance hiking by doing it. There were no on-line journals or blogs to help hikers prepare. Although official Trail guides were available, in the early 80s "bootleg guides" appeared, giving hikers what they wanted - first-hand information on where to buy food, drink, and other necessities as well as important Trail information in a handy, small booklet. One of the first such
guides was "The Beer Drinker and Ice Cream Eaters Guide to the A.T." home published by a group of hikers from the late 1970's. These guides evolved into "The Philosopher's Guide to the A.T." first published by through the ATC in 1983, and later into "The Trail Companion".
Every hiker tried to minimize packweight but only a few speed conscious hikers thought about going ultra-light. Kelty external frame packs were most popular but a few hikers used internal-frame backpacks. Many hikers wore thick, all-leather hiking boots, with Vasque and Danner most popular. If you had the money, custom-made Limmer boots were the choice. Gore-Tex was patented in 1980, but according to hikers, the fabric was not perfected by '83. Even so, every hiker wanted a Gore-Tex rain suit.
Stoves were heavy and included the SVEA 123, Coleman Peak 1, or if you were lucky, the relatively lightweight MSR "Whisperlite." Water purifiers, such as the "Katadyn Pump," were just emerging. Most hikers considered them useless since they easily clogged. Water was often untreated, although Iodine tablets were occasionally used. Lyme disease was of little concern though the responsible organism had been identified in 1981.
This exhibit provides insight into the 1983 hikers' experiences and how those experiences affected their later lives. Creating the exhibit required identifying and contacting the far-flung members of the Class of '83. To be considered a member, one had to be a long-distance hiker and spend sufficient time on the Trail that year to develop relationships with those hiking the entire trail. With the help of the Internet, vintage shelter registers, and ATC's 2,000-miler register we located nearly sixty hikers from 1983. The stories of those who responded to a request for their recollections and reflections of hiking the Trail in '83 are presented here in their own words.
We hope this exhibit will inspire other A.T. hiker classes to band together and tell their stories about what life was like when they hiked the Trail.
On to the Exhibit!
See the actual exhibit at The Appalachian Trail Museum this summer!