Barry Reed has lived a purposeful life of adventure having spent 25 years working to promote local government and economic development including conducting U.S. Agency for International Development programs in foreign countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Yemen, Kosovo, Pakistan, Albania, Zimbabwe, Georgia and Russia. He finished his most recent assignment working full-time for USAID in Ukraine in September, and now is in training for his next great journey—hiking the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail.
“I first hiked on the Appalachian Trail when I was thirteen,” Reed said. “I probably did twenty to twenty-five miles. Ever since then I’ve wanted to do the whole thing. I’m leaving in late January starting at Springer Mountain, Georgia. From there, it’s eight miles to get to the Appalachian Trail. I will end up in Mount Katahdin in Maine. I’m planning on it taking six months. It could be a little less or a little more.”
Since he was a teenager, he has enjoyed hiking for fitness and to stay connected to nature. But he has rarely carried a backpack with all the gear needed to camp overnight. He did some backpacking in 2005 on the Hadrian’s Wall Path on the border between England and Scotland, and some short trips in the countries of Georgia and Kosovo. Now he’s in training walking the streets and hills around Eureka Springs carrying his backpack to be prepared for the long trek.
Such a long journey on foot is a challenge both physically and mentally. He thinks the mental challenge could be the more difficult.
“It is a challenge to myself,” Reed, who will be celebrating his 60th birthday on the trail, said. “It’s also a chance to connect deeper with nature in a way that most people don’t get to experience. Maybe I will learn something about myself in the process. I might be able to refocus and reorient myself. That could quite easily be part of the experience. I think it will be life changing. I don’t know how. But I think it will be.”
He plans to use lightweight camping equipment so his backpack will weight only 20-25 pounds without food and water. Supplies are minimal, a tent, a quilt, a titanium pot and other cooking utensils, a sleeping pad, a canister of gas with a stove attachment, and clothes for hiking and for sleeping. He’ll have a bear proof canister for his food with reflective tape so he can find it even if a bear picks it up and throws it in the dark.
Because food and water are so heavy, he will resupply every few days, and occasionally stay at a hostel or hotel to have time to wash his clothes, shower and sleep in a real bed. He plans to hike eight to 15 miles six or seven days each week.
How do you start on a journey of more than 2,000 miles? He said it is important to break it into pieces with really short-term goals.
Reed is looking forward to the Covid-19 vaccines being rolled out, and an end to the pandemic.
“The year 2020 wreaked havoc on people on the trail,” he said. “On the trail, you are pretty isolated. You don’t see many people. Obviously, when you go into towns, it is a different ballgame. In 2020, areas of trail got closed for a while because of quarantines. It was pretty disruptive. Going into town, will hotels be open? Stores? I think it will be better in 2021 than in 2020.”
His primary source of information about hiking the trails has been watching YouTube videos. For the past three years, he has been watching the videos to get ideas about how far to go, where to stay, etc. He plans to post his own YouTube videos of his journey. His wife, Suzanne Reed, is going to help with that and mail him things he needs.
“I am lucky, of course, that Suz is so supportive and is going to be so helpful,” Reed said. “If I need something, she can send it along the way. Friends and family have expressed interest in helping or joining me for a few days. You can do it without any support like that, but it is certainly a lot easier when you have it.”
The trail is very popular with hikers doing various distances from just a few miles to the whole route. It is common for hikers to occasionally make friends on the trail and walk with other people for a few days.
“You aren’t alone, but you are certainly insulated from the noise of the world,” Reed said. “You will find out pretty quickly how your body holds up. Obviously, a younger person does better. That is why most people do it in their twenties, not their fifties and sixties. I’ve been training a lot and I feel ready, but you are never quite ready. Even my test hike this past week was a really different experience than just hiking around town or nearby trails for a few hours. Until you get into it, you don’t really know what is going to happen to your mind, your body, everything.”