On the Trail

Winter Edition 2023/2024 | Living Power Magazine

george preiss

George Preiss hasn’t always been the outdoorsy type. When he began his career as a middle school language arts teacher, he befriended a colleague who kept inviting him to go camping, but he always declined. Finally, Preiss decided to accept the invitation and to his surprise, ended up loving the experience.

“Driving home from that first trip, we crossed the sign indicating the Appalachian Trail, and I was like, ‘What is the Appalachian Trail?’ I’d never heard of it,” Preiss says. “My friend explained that it was a 2,000-plus mile continuous trail through the Appalachian Mountains. And I told him, ‘We’ve got to do that.’”

Over the years, Preiss began to see hiking the Appalachian Trailnas a goal for retirement. And when he wrapped up his teaching career in December 2022, he set his sights on finally making the hike a reality. Though he maintained an active lifestyle of walking and biking around his home in Wilmington, NC, Preiss says he didn’t do much hiking prior to tackling the trail.

“I showed up cold turkey, and I’d say a quarter to a third of the people I met on trail had a similar story,” he says. “This was their first hike. So it’s not that uncommon for people to get this idea in their head and do it.”

Preiss did other prep work, though, purchasing all the equipment he’d need on the trail and planning his trek to maximize the best possible weather conditions. On March 11, he set out from the southern entrance of the trail, in
Springer Mountain, Georgia. From there he spent the next 201 days—minus some breaks to nurse injuries—traversing the Appalachian Trail through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania,
New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Preiss says that one of the biggest misconceptions about hiking the Appalachian Trail is the belief that you’ll be alone in the forest the entire time. While he certainly enjoyed plenty of peaceful solitude hiking and camping through the wilderness, the journey also included stops in trail towns along the way where hikers can rest and replenish supplies.

After completing his trek in September, Preiss says he has gained a greater appreciation not only for hiking, but also his ability to face a challenge.

“I realized pretty early on that I’m a very determined person, and when I commit to something, I’m going to finish it,” he says. “But I’ll never do a six-month hike again with that magnitude. I did learn to love hiking, and I’ll love to go out for a week at a time and go see some new places in the United States—it’s going to be really fun.”