Lunenburg man completes Appalachian Trail - and he didn't stop there
August 26, 2015
By Jon Bishop, Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise
LUNENBURG -- The Appalachian Trail is some 2,220 miles, snaking up the East Coast from Georgia to Maine. To cross it, you must pass through woods and mountains, and you must hitchhike through parts, for there are roads and towns along the way.
It sounds like a daunting task, and it is.
But Lunenburg resident Matthew Charpentier, 22, managed it. And then some.
Charpentier has always been interested in the outdoors and in hiking -- in part, because of his pepere, Lawrence Lincourt, who is a hunter and a fisher. This journey, this trip, though, was a reward.
"Well, I graduated a year early (with a degree in environmental protection) from Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and I had a year to myself, so I kept thinking, 'Do I get a job right away? Or do I kind of treat myself and go out and do something I really want to do?'" Charpentier said.
"And that's what I eventually decided I was going to do. And the Appalachian Trail -- I mean, it just worked out that I would be able to do it at the right time of the year, get started. I wasn't planning on leaving in February. I was planning on leaving in March."
But because of the snow the region had, he wanted to get out of New England.
And he didn't train. You can't, really, for something like this, he said.
"I just kind of went out there," he said.
He started in Georgia, at Springer Mountain. He drove down with his dad, Peter.
"I was just really excited the entire time," he said. "I just wanted to get out on that trail."
On Feb. 28 -- the first day of the hike -- he had his father drive him to the beginning of the trail at 6:30 a.m.
He said goodbye, and then he took off, "like a dog that wanted to play fetch or something."
He took it all in. He kept saying to himself: Wow, it's really happening.
It's one thing to think about it and another to get out there, he said.
Because he started so early, he "didn't really see anybody until halfway through the day."
Then he met all sorts of people.
There was a father and his 11-year-old son. There was someone who was 76.
There were those who were out there to find themselves. For others, it was their first hiking experience.
"So that was kind of like -- wow, there's going to be a diverse assemblage of people out here," he said.
And there were things that brought them together -- sometimes literally. His second week on the trail, there was an ice storm, he said.
"In the morning, oh, it must have been low teens," he said. "We knew there was an ice storm coming."
When they woke up, everything was covered in ice, and it was so beautiful -- and so cold, he said.
Traveling with others -- hiking the trail is not an isolating experience -- is part of the game, he said. Along the way, he met a guy whose trail name was Romeo because he was always on the phone with his girlfriend.
(Charpentier's trail name was Mowgli because of his interest in and knowledge of the outdoors.)
"I hiked with him for one week," he said.
There was another group he hiked with for nearly 1,000 miles, he said.
And what they saw was breathtaking.
"A lot of areas were picturesque," said Charpentier, who is the great-grandnephew of the late Louis Charpentier, known as "Mr. Christmas" in Leominster, who died earlier this year.
One area he likes to talk about, Virginia's Grayson Highlands State Park, had feral ponies, which were introduced to maintain the tops of the mountains because they had no trees, he said.
They also walked past, or perhaps even through, a Superfund site in Pennsylvania, he said.
Nearby, there was a metallica spring, and it's a place from which you should never, ever drink, he said, because it contains heavy metals.
Eating habits on the trail were unorthodox, he said. They'd eat ramen noodles, peanut butter -- really anything energy-dense. They'd also pick mushrooms.
Whenever he needed items like boots, he'd contact his mother, Sandra, and she'd send them to a post office.
There were several high points, he said, like when he and the 1,000-mile group hiked 52 miles to get to a hotel for a breakfast buffet.
But another was probably when he met two French Canadians whose trail names were Chicken and Ashuap and who were both around his age.
"They were just full of energy," he said.
They didn't take "zeroes," or slang for days off, he said. They made it about 1,500 miles without resting.
They rubbed off on him. Unlike most, he didn't stop at Mount Katahdin in Maine, which is the terminus of the trail.
With his new friends, he went on to the international extension, officially called the International Appalachian Trail, which travels into Canada.
In total, he hiked about 2,700 miles, finishing on Aug. 14. The trip cost him about $4,500.
His journey taught him a lot, he said, including that there are a lot of people who are willing to help others.
Along the way, unsurprisingly, hikers made tight bonds and acted as their own entertainment. They'd sing on the trail. They'd dance while hiking, he said.
And he never went a day without seeing another person.
Now that he's back, he said he'd like to go to graduate school, preferably to UMass Amherst, for plant biology.
"I think I might like to be a teacher someday," he said.
But he doesn't want to stop hiking. Next on his list are the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, which, along with the Appalachian Trail, make up the "Triple Crown of Hiking."
He'll do them someday, he said, whether in 20 years or in 50 years.
"Maybe I'll be that 76-year-old man hiking through California -- hopefully, not in drought conditions," he said.