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I was 18 years old when I wanted to go hike the Appalachian Trail.
I was 67 when I actually went.
I’ve always loved hiking. But doing the AT solo, you need six months. Where do you get six months? I wanted to hike it before I went to college, but it never panned out. I studied construction and civil engineering at Wentworth Institute of Technology and then spent 40 years in field operations, mostly in the medical field and mostly in Boston. I retired from Suffolk on Dec. 31, 2021. The following March, I was on the trail.
I had done day hikes and backpacking, all the highest peaks in New England including all 48 New Hampshire 4,000-foot peaks during the winter, but nothing that took months at a time. I was physically in shape for it, and I read up on how to get food and what to carry. I didn’t want to think too much about it because I wanted to learn as I went. All I had to do was walk. I was leaving my wheelhouse and going somewhere I hadn't been, meeting people I didn’t know, so there was some anticipation. But once I got there, I thought, “This is something I always wanted to do. Let's go.”
The AT covers 2,200 miles, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. I knew what it was like to fly or drive that distance, but I didn't know what it was like to walk it. It’s 5 million steps. It's 464,500 feet of elevation change, enough to have summited Mount Everest 16 times. But you're not thinking about that. You’re thinking about the next step. I averaged about 12 miles a day, with most days being 15 or 18 miles and my biggest day being 25 miles. I went through five pairs of trail runners, and my feet went up two sizes by the time I finished. I saw black bears and rattlesnakes, carried a pack with a base weight of 20 pounds and ate mainly freeze-dried meals. If I ever had a bad day, the best thing to do was wait for the next day.
I only had to do one thing every day — I was just walking.
My trail name was LEGO, since I was always looking at railroad trestles and telling people how they were built. What surprised me is that the trail is very social. It's made up of a lot of young people just getting out of school and doing this trip before they go on to their careers, and then there are retired people who are finishing that chapter. We're all out there doing the same thing, hanging out together and having a blast. All the barriers are down and I'm picking up all these ideas from these young kids. Most of the people who do this are extraordinary people. So, even if you’re hiking solo, you're never really alone.
The trip did change me, being in nature for so long. I’m much more mellow. I only had to do one thing every day — I was just walking. It was so relaxing. To go through a whole career and still have enough in me physically to do that? I was never going to complain about anything, because I was lucky to be out there.
Ed Tobin was a general superintendent at Suffolk for 12 years. He was integral to many of our most complex health care projects, including the Boston Children’s Hospital Hale Family Building and Boston Hope, the city’s field hospital in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. He had a LEGO mini figure with him on the trail but lost it somewhere in the Carolinas.
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