Across the great divides
A movement is afoot to extend the Appalachian Trail all the way to Morocco
Not so long ago, South Carolina’s “love guv’’ Mark Sanford extended the Appalachian Trail when he claimed to be hiking the famous Maine-to-Georgia path, while in fact he was dallying with his mistress in Argentina. Catcalls and guffawing ensued.
Now there is talk of pushing the AT beyond its northward endpoint, Maine’s Mount Katahdin, through the geological continuation of the Appalachian range, which rises in Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, Ireland, Portugal, and Morocco. And yes, a bit of tittering has been heard.
Author Simon Winchester, who lives near the trail in Sandisfield, explains the geology for us: “About 350 million years ago, there was a huge mountain building episode on the supercontinent Pangea, before the Atlantic Ocean came into being. It occurred in the Appalachians, along Nova Scotia and the West Coast of Scotland, all the way into central Morocco,’’ says Winchester, whose next book, a “biography’’ of the Atlantic, will be released this fall. “This great arc was created, so yes, there is a geological symmetry between the Appalachians and the Atlas Mountains in northern Africa.’’
Whose idea was the International Appalachian Trail? “It was my idea,’’ says Richard Anderson, Maine’s former conservation commissioner. Anderson and a group of like-minded Canadian colleagues have already tacked on AT hiking trails in New Brunswick, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland/Labrador. Now they have begun discussions with hiking types in the British Isles and elsewhere about creating a geologically correct Appalachian Trail.
“Thinking beyond borders is our basic philosophy,’’ Anderson says. “We’re not trying to sell anything, we’re just proposing the idea.’’ They’ve had positive responses from Spain, and will be talking to the Norwegians about trekking on the Svalbard archipelago next month. “We’re waiting for somebody from Morocco to call us,’’ Anderson says.
Anderson and his crew say they aren’t exactly “extending’’ the AT, which has federally protected status and is co-managed by the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Brian King, associate director of the Harpers Ferry, W.Va.-based ATC, wrote in an e-mail that “we do not support any of the talked-about extensions of our responsibilities (there is a proposal from Alabamans) for a number of reasons, not least of which being we and our volunteers have all we can handle right now in present and planned programs.’’
Winchester recently attended an International Appalachian Trail gathering in Maine, and reports that “they are the most wonderful enthusiasts. Most of them are geologists or scientists, and who is going to complain about the idea of walking, anyway? One can envision the Northern Irish walking community working with the Republic of Ireland on a trail from the North Antrim coast to County Cork. It would be another way to bring peace and harmony between Northern and Southern Ireland.’’
What about the many bodies of water that have interposed themselves among the Appalachian mountains during the past 200 million years? “That is a bit of a problem,’’ Winchester allows. “Hiking the whole thing would require a logistical sleight of hand, and several short-hop airplane rides. But it’s doable, and someone will do it. Maybe Bill Bryson [author of the mega-selling AT book, “A Walk in the Woods’’] will do it and be eaten by a camel.’’
I hope not!