Appalachian Trail journals

1983 Journal

1981 Prequel

Contact Gonzo!

Trail Museum

PDF Versions

1983 Hiker Yearbook

appalachian trail online book

Other recommended links relating to hiking the A.T. in 1983:

Vagabond Traveler Journal

Then the Hail Came

A Texan's Condensed Account of Long Distance Hiking

Notes from the Appalachian Trail

Introducing one of the few online Appalachian Trail Journals from the early 1980's!

The Appalachian Trail, the journey of a lifetime… that is what many call it. And in many respects I totally agree. But I have no intention of settling on the fact that this is a once in a lifetime backpacking trip. I am ready to make the journey again at any time. I dream of getting back to the trail during the night, and when my mind wanders throughout the day. The vision of seeing white paint blazes to guide you to your destination becomes etched in your brain. Once you have completed such a trip your life is changed dramatically. While on the Appalachian trail you become used to freedoms that are just dreams to others, yet you are subjected to conditions along the trail that can bring your spirits down and influence your decision to quit at any time. Your outlook on the things that are really necessary is altered compared to the rest of society after you get used to living with only what you can carry.

In the early eighties, it did not even occur to me that only a few people had hiked the trail up to that point, but now I see that I was probably one of the first 1000 hikers to hike the Appalachian Trail in one season. Now, almost that same number register as completing the trail each year. If you are getting ready to hike, or can't hike but are interested, you can experience the trail through my Appalachian Trail journals, filled with images and stories. In particular, my trail journals from 1983 (and now from 1981 also).

My name is Alan Strackeljahn, but my trail name is Gonzo! I was born and raised on the flatlands in the town of Highland, Illinois. My interest in the outdoors, which got me away from the flats, took me to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale where I became a member of the Shawnee Mountaineers climbing club. The club exposed me to greater heights, but nothing taller than 100 feet. I ventured to the Appalachian Trail for that. I am a descendant of a long line of "hikers", like my grandmother, who as a senior in highschool in 1929 was an official member of the Hiking Hobos club.

online book, ebook, e-book

What you are about to read in this online book is a true story taken from the trail journal that I kept as I hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in the year 1983. Left unread for over 15 years, I bring it out now and put it into digital form - with pictures - to help people visualize what I saw, meet the people I met, and understand what the Appalachian Trail was like in that year. I tried not to add anything that I did not remember as truly happening, so all in all it should be mostly true. I hope you enjoy each day as much as I did reminiscing while putting it up. For those of you who are members of the A.T. class of 1983, or are interested in those who hiked that year don't miss the most comprehensive hiker yearbook ever assembled for this or any other year.

Now, thirty years after my first backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, I have the privilage to bring my 1981 Appalachian Trail Journal to the web to provide readers a glimps into the mind and adventures of a wanna-be 2000-miler during an age when ultralight backpacking was virtually unheard of as it is known today. A year when a double homicide on the A.T. shocked the nation, and frightened hikers as they made their way North on the footpath known as the Appalachian Trail.

I became aware of the Appalachian Trail sometime during my first year of college. I remember finding a book in the library written by Ed Garvey. Garvey's trail journal sparked my imagination. I read the book with vigor, even though at the time I thought the author spent too much time talking about food, and how he was welcomed by strangers and fed wonderful meals. Little did I know that I would also become one of those who writes about the kindness of strangers and of the amount of food that thru-hikers can put away at one sitting. I once saw a guy consume nineteen pieces of pizza! Now that was an accomplishment I shall never forget!

Influence came from television as well. I remember watching a documentary on PBS about two guys who hiked, canoed, and swam from somewhere in Alaska to California and thinking “I have to do something like that". Within two years I had formulated plans to backpack the 2000 mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine – passing through fourteen states along the way. My journey seemed like it might just become a reality!

I had never been on a backpacking trip up to this point, and now, in the spring of 1981, I was setting out on my “trip of a lifetime”. Beginning in May, I traveled through the Nantahalas of northern Georgia, named by native Americans to mean “land of the noonday sun” since the mountains were so steep the sun only reached the ground when directly overhead. I waded through undergrowth of stinging nettles that irritated my bare legs with just a touch. The trail took me over picturesque “balds” along the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. And finally into Virginia where the hiking difficulty seemed to be leveling out. After seven hundred miles, and many hardships including the pain of blisters from ill-fitting boots, I decided to return home, but knew that I had to return to the trail at a later date to attempt the journey again.

Two years later in 1983, I was itching to go. Those two years had given me time to get mentally prepared for what was to come. I pretty much knew what to expect this time. I had practiced smiling and being happy when walking in the rain while water penetrated every part of my body, and collected in my boots as if there was a free giveaway of money at the bank. I got strange looks from others on campus as I walked to my classes, without an umbrella, while sporting the biggest grin I could muster. I set out using a pair of boots that were already broken in, and in general – the experience of having spent two months on the trail. The biggest factor, I believe, was my mental attitude that I could complete the trip no matter what.

It has now been over thirty years since I set out on that second trip along the Appalachian Trail. For those who like adventure, I have daily updates following my progress – taken from my trail journal written in 1983. Stories of the fun and danger that thru-hikers face while slipping and sliding down an eroded footpath with up to fifty pounds on your back just waiting to come down on top of your head describe what life is like on the Appalachian Trail. Imagine spending the night with the wild residents of a trail shelter who are just looking for the necessities of life as we all are. Of course there is also the daily grind of churning out the miles. These are just some of the hardships and joy experienced during my trek over the 2138 miles of knee pounding trail beginning in Georgia and ending on the summit of Maine’s tallest mountain - Katahdin. If you cannot finish the whole trip in one read, use the "What you missed" link on any journal entry page to take you to the date where you left off.


...That was an awesome read! I just spent 5-6 hours reading your entire saga. I really loved how you documented your travel on the AT one day at a time and then backed it up with photos dedicated to that day! I have read 4-5 thru hike journals now, and yours was the best designed, and the best told. What an inspirational journey. ___ -Clark

...Gonzo, Many years ago I ran across your website and read your entire journey. I emailed you and told you how much I enjoyed reading about your journey. As the first blog I read about hiking the AT, I wanted to let you know that I recently completed my AT journey and your website may very well have planted the seed. It was a humbling odyssey. Thank you for sharing your journey and inspiring others. ___ Matt "Cheap&Easy" Gourdin

..."It is one of the most complete and detailed journals that I have read, and I have definitely read many." ___ -Kyle

...Enjoyed your journey/story! Im 62 now... got into reading about people hiking the trail. Yours, by far, is the best one I've read! ___ -Frankie

...I just finished your AT journal and it is great. I, now at age 66 have started training for a 2015 start date. I doubt I will do the miles you did, but if I can learn to savor the experience as you did it will be as life changing for me as it was for you. ___ -Jeff

..."It was amazing reading your trail journal. I've been inspired to hike the A.T. since I was ten years old when I went on my first three-day hike on it. I've never really known where to start planning for the hike, only getting tid-bits here and there, but after reading your journal I now have a clear and set path before me. Your journal is a very detailed valuable tool for anyone thinking about hiking the A.T."___ -Julie

..."I have really enjoyed reading about your adventure. Your story has inspired me. I set in a cubical in down town Atlanta and keep your site booked marked so when things seem to close in on me I open your site and read a page or two. It really seems to help."
___ -Drake

..."I stumbled across your website a few days ago and started reading your AT diary. I can't get enough for some reason. ... I feel like I'm part of it and it's a very entertaining read."
___ -Don

... "I am a 71 year old grandma. I found your journal online and am reading it a few pages a day. I really look forward to it. I envy you the trip. It seems like something I would like. I live in PA and very close to Moyers Grove Campground where you stayed. I wish you well and thank you for sharing your experience with me." ___-Carol

..."story about your hike in 1983 inspired me to do the same in 2006." ___-Arius

..."I enjoyed reading your journal and picked up a lot of useful information from it." ___-Pete

..."I have read every syllable that you have written about your 1983 hike and I am absolutely without words. Congratulations, Sir!! You are "The Man"!! ___- James

..."Just read the mouse in the face entry. I haven't laughed that hard in a long time! And I can't believe I drank that much beer! Is that accurate? What a hoot! ___- Chuck

..."I'm really enjoying your journals from the Appalachian Trail. They are good enough to sell through Kindle. Thanks," ___ -Gershon

..."I read your whole Appalachian Trail story. Could not stop reading. Hope to walk it one day as well." ___ - Gerben from The Netherlands.

..."I stumbled on your web site and read about your journey from beginning to end. That was my introduction to the AT. I have read many books about the trail since then. I plan on trying to thru-hike the year I retire. .....I just wanted to say thank you for having that web site. It really was the spark that led me to my growing passion for hiking." ___ -Kenny

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Gonzo! Appalachian Trail Journals ©1983
trail journal