KINGMAN – Jon Casson of Kingman succeeded in an endeavor that four of five people fail at. Hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, all 2,189 miles of it.
The 24-year-old’s epic journey began March 17 and ended Aug. 27.
While some hikers use side trails or roads to make the journey less difficult, Casson, a Kingman High graduate, took the “purist” route. He hiked the entire trail.
“I decided I was going to take every step on the trail. Sometimes my friends would walk the road for a day or something, and I chose to walk the trail every day and tried to make sure I stepped on the trail every single step,” said Casson.
And when it ended, Casson said his emotions were all over the place.
“It was a big wave of emotions. Six months of a goal coming to an end right there. It was everything,” said Casson, who is currently looking for work after graduating from Colorado Mesa University with a degree in Radiologic Technology.
When people approached him and asked what it was like to conquer the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, ranging from Georgia to Maine, Casson said they would have to sit down and listen for about two hours. He said he can’t explain it quickly because there was just way too much that he experienced.
No easy stroll
“There were plenty of days when I thought about turning around and getting off the trail. At the beginning I had a lot of foot problems,” said Casson.
The problem was his arch. He has a 10½-size foot, but his arch is built for a shoe measuring size 12.
“Until I got that figured out, I was in pain 95 percent of the day,” recalls Casson, who resorted to icing his feet in the river whenever he could.
“I needed to slow down. Your body’s not ready for it. There’s no way to really train your body for that,” said Casson, who said he did as much cardio work as he could in preparation.
“I lost 12 pounds. I lost it about a month in, and then I didn’t have any more to give,” he said.
“Once you realize you’re on a six-month vacation and you can take more time and go at your own pace, it really changed the game for me,” said Casson, who took a break sporadically for 28 days of the hike for self-preservation.
Planning is key
“If you are not able to plan six to eight days ahead then you’re not going to make it because that’s everything,” said Casson.
He eventually got up to the point where he was covering 20 to 24 miles a day. But it wasn’t like that at the beginning. “Once you get your legs and your joints used to doing that (hiking) every day, you can start pushing bigger miles,” said Casson.
He said one of the keys was to never run out of food between stops for provisions. There are places off the trail where hikers can get food. But they are spaced out by a week or so.
He and his hiking partners he met along the way would usually hitchhike into a small town for provisions, and Casson said he met a lot of gracious people. Some even cooked for them and shared beer and sodas. They are known as Trail Angels, he said.
“These people were awesome,” said Casson. “With all the nasty stuff in the world now, to see people still being kind to random strangers out on a goal. That was a big change. It was really nice.”
“I learned how to eat some not-so-great food consistently and dealt with it. You have to eat everything you can,” said Casson.
Breakfast usually consisted of Pop Tarts, maybe a protein shake and some coffee. Lunch was a little more sustenance, with meat and cheese wrapped in tortillas. And dinners were managed by Knorr’s pasta and rice side dishes.
“You absolutely don’t want to be out there without much food. There was plenty of times I was hungry,” said Casson.
Casson wrote a daily journal and it is accessible at www.trailjournals.com. He was took some stunning photographs of the area’s beauty. His trail name is Catfish Jon.
The journal let him share his experiences with family and friends while out on the trail. But it wasn’t always easy making time for the journal.
“After 10 hours of hiking, that 45 minutes (the time it took to write a page) is your only free time. It was tough,” said Casson.
“I was really glad that I did (the journal). I’ve already gone back and read through it a little bit to relive some of the memories. It’s nice to have all the pictures in there, too,” he said.
“The toughest section of the trail was the White Mountains in New Hampshire,” said Casson. “You’re just going up and down the whole time,” he said.
Also tough was the time it rained six inches in two hours. And the time Mother Nature provided white-out conditions with 10 feet visibility. And he won’t forget walking up an incline of bedrock in a foot of water. Two of his buddies pulled out of that one.
And the place he liked the most? White Mountains, said Casson, without hesitation. “The views were just spectacular,” he said. The oak and ash trees gave way to the evergreens with plenty of lakes to swim in. “It was awesome,” he said. Some hikers broke out their fishing poles they hauled with them.
Casson met up with his girlfriend, Casey Kemper, of Princeton, N.J., after 600 miles, and the two of them hiked the rest of the way. He said between them they lightened the load by shedding one of the tents. He carried the tent and she carried the stove.
Light is right
When asked what he would tell someone thinking about attempting the Appalachian Trail, Casson said, “I would absolutely say, ‘Go for it.’”
And he offered some advice. “Try to keep it as light as possible,” he said.
He said he started off toting his guitar and had way too much stuff in his pack. By the time he got into the swing of things hundreds of miles down the trail, he was down to carrying only 25 to 28 pounds.
He said in the middle of summer all he had for clothing was a T-shirt, socks, underwear and shorts.
“If you can go light you should go light. And then as you get a little colder into the winter you have to carry a little more winter gear. You want to go as light as possible,” Casson said.
Is there another trail Casson has his eyes on?
He said he has studied up on the Pacific Crest Trail, and that he would love to bring his dog, a Siberian Husky, on it someday.
For now Casson will be on the job hunt. That should be like a stroll in the park compared to what he’s conquered.