GROTON -- Every family has one. An adventurer. A wandering spirit, seeking new heights to climb, new depths to swim, new journeys to experience.
In my family, it's not me. It's my older brother, Ryan.
In about four weeks, Ryan, 27, a Groton native, will be heading down to Georgia to begin the roughly 2,200-mile hike through the mountain's wilderness that is the Appalachian Trail, ending in Katahdin, Maine.
Although he's an avid outdoorsman, hiking, camping, white water rafting, rock climbing, this will be his most ambitious adventure to date. Ryan has been talking about making the journey for the last three years, but this year, his self-inflicted deadline in encroaching.
"I decided that if I don't do it this year, I am probably never going to do it," he told me.
This year, he has the added benefit of having found a friend, Jeff Haropolous, willing to make the trek with him, along with another friend, Tyler Jayne.
"Up until then, I didn't have anyone to do it with," Ryan said.
Ryan and Jeff will be hopping a bus to New York, then a train to Philadelphia, where Tyler will be picking them up and driving them down to the start of the trail.
They plan to leave around March 16, which is considered amongst hikers to be early in the year to begin the trail. However, Ryan hopes to make it to Maine by late July for his annual gig as a tour guide and trip leader for a boys wilderness camp.
Even so, the timeline is ambitious; the average hiker takes six to seven months to complete the trail. To meet the goal, Ryan will be hiking (or trying to hike) 18 miles every day. Even so, if he doesn't complete the trail in time, he will take the time as the tour guide and get back on the trail to complete it after the camp session is over.
But, he said, "I'm going to try my hardest to finish before camp."
Although Ryan will be starting out the trail with Jeff and Tyler, there's no guarantee that they will end up together.
"It's a very personal experience so while I'll be starting off with Jeff and Tyler, we may go our separate ways if we want to walk at different paces," Ryan said.
Ryan and Jeff have the first two weeks of the itinerary planned. The biggest part of planning now is getting all the gear they will need. Though it may sound simple, it takes a decent amount of research; the guys are doing their best to get their packs below 25 pounds. That means a brand new lightweight tent, lightweight clothing and rain jacket, lightweight stove and food with high calorie content per ounce. They'll be eating a lot of nuts and jerky.
It also means no camera, no books with the exception of the Appalachian trail guide my fiancé bought him for Christmas, nothing considered superfluous.
"Ounces add up on the trail, so I'm going to be doing things like cutting the end off my toothbrush. Even that weight adds up," said Ryan.
Ryan will, however, be bringing a cell phone. Although he will be keeping it turned off most of the time to maintain its charge, he will be turning it on once a week, per my request, to update me on his excursion so I can chronicle his experiences through the paper. This is what I told him, anyway, although I do have an ulterior motive. Ever the over-bearing, nervous sibling, I'll appreciate the reassurance that he's quite alright.
When asking him about his preparations, Ryan had mentioned that a co-worker of our mother's had advised him to bring a gun in case of incident. Ryan said he's not worried about it, though.
"The hiking culture is very friendly," he told me. "In the past 10 years, there have only ever been three violent crimes on the trail. I'm more concerned about wildlife."
(As if that was supposed to be reassuring.)
But Ryan has other concerns.
"I'm really afraid that when I get out there and hike for a couple of days, I'll say 'Wow, this really sucks.' I've never hiked 18 miles in a day before. The most I've done is 10. It's going to be really hard work. The point is hope I am mentally resilient enough to make it all way, regardless of thick or thin," he said. "I've talked to people who have done the hike before and spent entire weeks straight crying on the trail."
Ryan told me that usually, 2,000 people start off on the trail each year, and only 25 percent finish.
He has a simple method to deal with these concerns, however: Taking it one day at a time. He'll also be stopping into the nearby towns once every couple of weeks for more supplies and to recharge his phone.
Right now, though, the only thing he's feeling is excitement.
"I'm pretty much mentally checked out of real life. All I can think about is getting going on the trail," he said.
In true Walden-esque fashion, Ryan said he is most looking forward to disconnecting from society and getting back to nature for a while.
"There's a stress free aspect when all you really have to worry about is hiking to the next campsite," he said.
And, of course, to feed his adventurous spirit.
"Adventures don't usually come calling," he said. "This one's pretty hard to avoid actually."