Jane and I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail a few years ago. I’m not sure exactly how far we went, but you could barely see the vehicles in the parking lot. If we had worn our walking shoes and taken a bottle of water, we likely would have gone on for another fifteen minutes or so.
Will Ransom is the only person I personally know that has hiked all 2,189 miles from Georgia to Maine. When Will takes a walk, he doesn’t quit until he gets to his destination.
Will’s father, Jack, has been a friend of mine since elementary school in Unadilla. Jack is an avid hiker. He and Rudy McAnally have carried their sleeping bags on mountain trails all over the Southeast. Will was introduced to these rugged outdoor excursions early in his youth. He’s now 31 and has a passion for seeing nature at ground level.
One morning in early December, I visited with Will in his home. It was interesting to learn about long distance hiking, but what I enjoyed most was learning about Will. He loves the outdoors, practices good stewardship, and has an admirable determination to pursue his dreams.
Will began his journey April 21, 2017, at the southern tip of the AT in Springer, Georgia. He finished November 9th in Maine. His dog, Rhetta, walked over 2000 miles with him, only missing small parts of the trail where dogs are not allowed. Baxter State Park in Maine is the northernmost end of the AT. The park land was donated with a stipulation that doesn’t allow dogs. Will walked Baxter State Park without Rhetta, then he went back to a dog friendly section of the trail that he had intentionally skipped. He had bypassed it earlier so that Rhetta could be with him for the celebratory ending.
It’s not often you find that kind of loyalty for a pet, or even towards a friend. Rhetta wouldn’t have known the difference, but Will would have. He impresses me as a man who has convictions for doing the right thing, even if it takes him down an inconvenient path.
Will walked away from a steady job with ten years of employment. Hiking the AT had been a longtime goal, but he wouldn’t go while his elderly grandmother, Audrey Ransom, was living. Her love and influence helped shape Will’s outlook. He valued their time together enough to put his dreams on hold. She encouraged him to pursue a degree in nursing, a possibility that he has not yet dismissed. I expect she saw in Will a compassionate heart, a young man who cares about people, and pets, and preserving our planet. When she died, December 15, 2016, Will knew it was time to begin his long walk.
Carrying a 50-pound backpack in rugged terrain for almost seven months takes a physical toll, even on a very fit young man. Will still has some sore muscles. Next time he’ll try to pack a bit lighter.
He wasn’t concerned with bears or moose. He smiled and said that he kept a knife hung around his neck in case of trouble. The blade was only 3.5 inches long. It seems to me that might only help if dealing with a really tiny bear. There actually were some tiny things that were rather bothersome, like the ticks in part of Vermont. Small problems left unattended can swell into big troubles.
Rain and freezing weather were minor inconveniences from Will’s perspective, a small price to pay for the deeply cherished times of quiet reflection. Trail Magic, a term he had to explain to me, often came when most needed. He told about a married couple, now in their 90’s, who had set up a spot on the trail to give out treats to the through-hikers, doing their small part to encourage others. Will ran into folks all along the AT who were there for that same purpose. One man had even brought a grill and cooked hamburgers, a welcome menu change for both Will and Rhetta.
Will plans to one day tackle the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. Those two, along with the AT, are considered The Triple Crown of hiking. I don’t know much about long distance wilderness hiking, but I hope that next time Will carries a bigger knife.
He’s now working in Danville, Georgia, building tiny houses and planning one for himself. Will likes making something useful that also leaves a small imprint on the environment. He’s enjoying the path he is traveling, and patiently searching for the next turn in the road.
I’ll go on record with two predictions. First, I believe Will’s life will be one that makes things a little better for the rest of us. Secondly, I have no doubt that he’ll figure it all out somewhere along the trail. When Will takes a walk, he doesn’t quit until he gets to his destination.