It makes sense to think that of the people who successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, most are probably ready to get back to modern day life once they’ve finished their long trek. JD Rayson’s case, however, is an exception. This outdoor enthusiast feels more alive than ever after walking all the way from Georgia to Maine, and he is hungry for more.
“After the trail, I wanted to keep going,” JD said. “My mind just kept popping the question: what trail is next? I’m ready for it!”
JD’s interest in the Appalachian Trail was sparked by a high school presentation he did pertaining to hiking it. JD said, “After my presentation was done, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
JD had been a fervent hiker and backpacker even before committing to hiking the Appalachian Trail. But even though he had hiked many trails–including an impressive number of the ones in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park–he had never been on a hike that compares in distance to the Appalachian Trail.
His preparation included doing research, most of which was done on internet forums. JD found websites such as these highly useful, saying, “Forum-based websites offer an advantage, in that they are visited by people who are willing and able to answer your questions.“
But, although he was given a lot of useful information from a community of people on internet, JD said, “You can do tons of research and try to prepare all you can, but nothing prepares you for the trail like the trail itself.
It’s understandable to think that people who haven’t hiked the trail might be a little more intimidated by the prospect of hiking thousands of miles. A possible reason for this intimidation factor may be attributed to a lack of knowledge and, therefore, some possible misconceptions about the trail.
To commit to hiking the trail doesn’t necessarily mean one is stripped of all forms of modern-day life for six months straight. The trail runs through several towns and roads, giving hikers the opportunity–every few days to a week–to hitch a ride into a nearby town or, in a case where the trail runs directly through a town, to simply stop and shower, do laundry, resupply, maybe stay in a hostel or hotel overnight and, in JD’s case, get a much-craved bacon cheeseburger with onion rings.
Even though Rayson started his journey alone on Springer Mountain in Georgia, within a week he had already come across other thru-hikers who were more than happy to have him join their group.
“The trail has a very big community of very cool people, with hikers to be found at most of the campsites at night during its busy months,” Rayson said.
The community of people on the trail is a friendly one with a wide range of personalities and backgrounds. “I was surprised and excited to see all the diversity on the trail,” JD said. “I mean, from Tennessee to Australia, there are so many different kinds of people from all over the world with the same goal in mind; it’s a great thing.”
Along with striving toward the same objective, these people also identify with and practice the same traditions and customs that are known to be common within the community. A fun custom in this community is the distribution of trail names. Many hikers acquire a trail name at some time in their trek or, like in JD’s case, they are given a trail name before starting out.
While JD was at home in Knoxville, some of his friends were in the middle of hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail when they realized that they had bitten off more than they could chew. They had underestimated the strenuous nature of the portion they were hiking, and they were running out of supplies. Luckily for them, JD was gracious as well as nearby. Once one of them found out that JD would be picking them up, he shouted, “That rocks! JD Rockefeller is coming to get us!” And JD has been addressed by the community as ‘Rockefeller’ ever since.
JD’s appetite for the outdoors is now bigger than ever before, and he attributes this to having hiked the Appalachian Trail. JD says, “Be careful, it’s addictive.”
Always craving more of what the outdoors has to offer, JD has some major aspirations which include but are certainly not limited to hiking the Benton Mackaye trail this fall, canoeing the Mississippi River in 2012, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2013, and working at the Steamboat Springs Ski Resort in Colorado.
As the rafting season came to an end just last week, JD came back to Knoxville after working as a rafting guide at Big Creek Expeditions on the Pigeon River. When he’s not playing disc golf, JD can be found frequenting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park whenever he gets a chance or hanging out in his hometown of Knoxville as he waits for the next chapter of adventures to come.
Edited by: Ashley N. Jones for ICONN NewsStream
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