Just like Robert Redford’s character in the new movie, “A Walk in the Woods,” Charlie Welborn of Rome wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail with a friend. Unfortunately for Welborn, his friend passed away in 2010 so there was no one to take on the Nick Nolte role.
But Welborn decided to make the trek solo, in 2011, as a tribute to his friend.
Like the majority of through-hikers, Welborn started at the Springer Mountain southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail near Amicalola Falls. He started on April 2 and, five and a half months and 2,180 miles later, he finished at Mount Katahdin, Maine, on Sept. 15.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy estimates 1,800 to 2,000 people attempt to through-hike the trail annually.
Welborn said that as much of a challenge the walking was, the mental aspect of the trip was probably tougher.
“Your legs are not used to climbing mountains and pushing yourself like that,” Welborn said, “But, once you get your trail legs under you, the physical aspect of it is just a mere fraction of everything that you’ve got to do on the trail.”
During one segment of the movie, a bear created a stir in the Redford and Nolte characters’ campground. Welborn said his encounter with a bear was even closer than the movie scene.
“I set up camp late and I didn’t have time to tie up a bear bag so I just put my backpack up underneath my hammock and went to bed,” Welborn said. “I woke up in the middle of the night with a bear trying to rifle through my backpack.”
He was able to yell and scare off the bear before it caused any serious damage to his pack.
“That was probably the closest encounter I had with anything,” Welborn said.
He said the bear population was much greater than he imagined, particularly in Shenandoah National Park. He also saw enough snakes to realize they always would be out there but didn’t have any close encounters of the reptilian kind.
The Rome hiking enthusiast said the physicality of the trail really came into play as he got into the White Mountains of New Hampshire and crossed into Maine. It confirmed an old adage for him.
“I had heard that once you’ve done 80 percent of the trail, you’ve only done 20 percent of the work” Welborn said.
The trail crossed a lot of extremely rough terrain in Maine and the climb to Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus in Baxter State Park, is marked by a lot of boulders that have to be climbed and wiggled around.
“No matter how long you’ve been walking you can’t really be completely prepared for that,” Welborn said. “That is the steepest, most difficult part of the trail. But once you get to the top of the hardest mountains, there’s always a pretty good view.”
The views, however, were just a part of what made the hike special to him.
“The people you meet along the way really make the trail such an awesome experience,” Welborn said. “I made some of the best friends that I’ve had my whole life on the trail.”
He’s still connected to a number of them, four years later.
“I’ve got contacts pretty much in every state right now,” Welborn said.
In addition to Redford and Nolte, “A Walk in the Woods” features Emma Thompson and Mary Steenburgen. The adventure comedy, ehich opened last week, is based on the travel book of the same name by Bill Bryson. Much of it was filmed around Amicalola Falls in Dawsonville.