After 187 days, the former Cartersville resident completed his 2,184.2-mile trek, reaching Georgia’s Springer Mountain at 12:12 p.m. Along with getting a good night’s sleep, Eason also caught up with friends and family this week while staying at his grandmother Catherine Eason’s Cartersville home.
“Completing it wasn’t really harder than I thought,” said the 18-year-old, who attended the fourth grade and was a member of the Cub Scout troop based at Heritage Baptist Church when he resided in Bartow County. “I hadn’t given it too much thought. I basically got my gear together and guessed how long it was going to take.
“But one of the hardest parts is just waking up in the morning when it’s freezing cold and everything you have is frozen solid and just having to get up and knowing that if you don’t do anything, you’re going to run out of food. So you don’t have any choice but to get up and push through it. [During my trip], I hiked through several tornado warnings, I think, where it’s just a torrential downpour and ankle deep water on the whole trail. And other times, you’re walking across a half mile of ice uphill.”
Starting his trek in Maine, Eason hiked through 14 different states, encountering various wildlife, including 15 turkeys, seven black bears, 70 deer, three porcupines, two black squirrels, three moose and one skunk.
“The thing that I enjoyed most was just the simple lifestyle. You didn’t have to worry about anything except walking and the next place you were buying food,” said Eason, adding there often were stores within a few miles of the trail. “Some of the highlights — I rode some wild ponies in Virginia. That was pretty fun. I tell other people one of the best parts of the trip was just being around other people that had a similar mindset. We’re all out here doing the same thing, sharing similar experiences.”
Graduating high school in Winston Salem, N.C., in May, Eason decided to hike the Appalachian Trail after participating in an Outward Bound program the prior year. Venturing out on his own, he met and joined various groups of hikers along the way.
In an email to The Daily Tribune News, Hal Eason listed several of his son’s highlights along the trail: “Grilling and eating a large rattlesnake on a skewer — killed earlier that day by one of his team ...; hiking 46 miles in one day, setting foot in four different states (PA, MD, WV, VA); being snow-bound by Sandy; hiking on hands and knees in 2 feet of snow, crawling under the rhododendrons whose branches were weighted down under the snow; catching and riding a wild pony in Grayson Highlands, [Va.]; catching a ride into Gatlinburg on an AARP bus in exchange for telling stories about his journey; escaping from the car of a drunk driver who had offered Bill a ride into town for re-supply; encountering many forms of wildlife, including moose, bears, snakes, and too long a list for me to recite; [and] Thanksgiving Dinner at Shoney’s, joined by his college-student brother who took the break to hike with Bill for a couple of days.”
Pleased with the cellphone access along the trail, Hal Eason and his wife, Gayle, were able to talk with their son once or twice a week, often posting updates on his Facebook page.
“It’s been exciting to see him take ownership of this project from end to end,” said Hal Eason, who grew up in Cartersville. “It’s been exciting to see him accomplish a huge goal for himself that he had set for himself.
“We deliberately chose to back off and let it be his project and his goal. Whether he succeeded or failed, it needed to be his own volition. So the closer [he got] to the finish line, the more excited we’ve been to see him achieving something that he had set his mind to.”