- Associated Press - Monday, November 7, 2016

SWAMPSCOTT, Mass. (AP) - Although it stretches for 2,200 miles, hiking the Appalachian Trail is, at its heart, a simple task, according to town resident Rich Malagrifa.

“If you can walk, you can do it and there really is no experience required,” said the Lynn native and St. Louis University graduate. “It’s a test of one’s determination more than anything else.”

Malagrifa, a commercial airline pilot, thru-hiked the trail from Georgia to Maine in 2014. He shares his experiences in his book “From 35,000 Feet to the Appalachian Trail.”

About 2,500 hikers attempt to walk the entire trail each year, and only about 600 are successful, according to appalachiantrail.org.

Malagrifa accomplished the hike in about seven months, leaving the journey occasionally, returning home to work for a few days, and then heading back out and picking up the trail where he left off. This style earned him the nickname Executive Hiker, among the fellow hikers he met along the trail.

“I dreamed about attempting the hike for about a year or two,” said Malagrifa. “I am always looking for new things to do. Then I read a book by David Miller, a hiker who chronicled his own journey along the trail and, eventually, I made the decision to go for it.”

And so, on March 10, 2014, Malagrifa, who admits to being in his 50s, laced up his hiking boots and headed for Springer Mountain, Ga., to begin the trek through 14 states. He kept in contact with family and friends through a Facebook page and looked forward to an occasional phone call home to a loved one or two.

“They all thought I was crazy, but that didn’t stop me,” he said. “I have no regrets about doing it, and I gained so much on the journey.”

Malagrifa spent from six to 10 hours hiking each day, clocking about 15 miles, depending on the weather and the terrain. He slept in a hammock tied to a couple of trees at night, occasionally leaving the trail to sleep in a motel and splurge on a better meal than his usual dried nuts, beef jerky sticks and protein bars.

He enjoyed talking with other hikers he’d encounter on the trail each day.

“I met James Hammes, the Pepsi executive who was on the run for about six years,” he said. “He was known only as ‘Bismarck’ and none of the hikers I met, including myself, knew who he really was.”

Hammes was eventually caught and arrested in Virginia. He was put on trial for embezzlement, found guilty and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Malagrifa also met many “20- and 30-somethings” who had hit the trail to “find themselves,” along with cancer survivors, homemakers and former couch potatoes.

“I met the oldest woman to ever hike the trail,” he said. “Her name is Nan Reisinger, but she was known as Drag’n Fly to all of us hikers. She was 74 years old at the time. I also met Guy Gardner, an astronaut who flew on two Space Shuttle missions. He was an interesting fellow to talk to.”

Malagrifa successfully completed the hike at Mount Katahdin in Maine. His journey ended with little fanfare on Oct. 6, 2014. He was back to work, as an airline pilot, within a week’s time and little changed in his everyday life. He did keep a journal throughout the hike and, with encouragement from loved ones, turned his journal notes into “From 35,000 Feet to The Appalachian Trail.”

“I enjoyed every bit of the hike, “he said. “I listened to a lot of great music, met some wonderful folks from small-town America and, most importantly, I learned how true the expression ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is. I am happy that I achieved a goal I set for myself. It’s a nice feeling to do something that not everyone else does.”


Online: https://bit.ly/2eV0nbJ


Information from: The (Lynn, Mass.) Daily Item, https://itemlive.com

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