Dan Britton. A man not afraid to tackle the big hikes.
By, JOHN TORSIELLO
When Dan Britton was in middle school his father, Robert, took him and his sister on a backpacking trip to Zealand Falls in New Hampshire.
After that initial excursion, more trips followed, most throughout New England and a few to the western portion of the United States.
The young man was hooked on hiking.
This year, the 33-year-old, 2000 graduate of Torrington High School (where he played tennis) completed what is considered by some one of the most difficult hikes in country along the iconic Appalachian Trail that took him from Georgia to Maine.
“Having hiked sections of the Trail before it had long been something I thought about doing. During a year-long bicycle tour around the U.S. and Canada (2013-14), I met a number of others that had hiked or were hiking the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and/or the Pacific Crest Trail. They provided sufficient inspiration to get me out on the trail in 2015.”
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, generally known as the Appalachian Trail, extends between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. The Trail is approximately 2,200 miles long, and passes through 14 states.
The majority of the trail is in forest or wild lands, although some portions traverse towns, roads and farms. The Trail Conservancy claims that the Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only trail in the world. The Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail form what is known as the “Triple Crown” of long--distance hiking in the United States.
The Trail was conceived by Benton MacKaye, a forester who wrote an original plan for it in 1921. On Oct. 7, 1923, the first section of the Trail, from Bear Mountain west through Harriman State Park to Arden, N.Y. was opened. In August 1937, the Trail was completed to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine.
It took Britton 125 days to complete his trek. “We pushed at times and took our time at other times. I enjoy pushing myself physically and the feeling of making progress toward a goal, but wondered if the experience would be more enjoyable going slower. On the other hand, I wondered how fast I could do it if I pushed hard every day. There is a lot of discussion about pace lately as two speed records were broken this year.”
Britton began his trip alone and intended to finish it that way but, as often is the case, fate intervened.
“As it turned out, I met my now girlfriend, Effie, and her dog, Luna, my first night on the trail at the Hawk Mountain Shelter. We hiked together on and off for a week or so, and then hiked together the rest of the way. The Trail is highly social and we hiked with a number of others off and on. There are so many people on the Trail it actually takes some effort to be alone at times.” Britton says the physical part of the journey was not unexpected. But he was surprised by how it challenged him in other ways.
“There are a number of challenging aspects, which I suspect are experienced differently depending on timing and the individual. Physically, a thru-hike on the Trail is very demanding, but I largely knew what to expect since most of my hiking experience was in New England, the hardest part of the trail, often with a much heavier pack than I carried on my thru-hike.” He said they heat and bugs from Virginia through Connecticut were probably the most challenging physical elements. “Socially, hiking with a partner, whom I met on the trail, was tougher than I imagined because I hadn't prepared to hike with a partner and being with the same person for 24-7 for four months is a challenge no matter what.”
Britton attended the University of Connecticut and graduated with a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and an M.S. in Conservation Biology and Biodiversity. He worked at UConn as a part-time sustainability coordinator in the Office of Environmental Policy for about a year, and then worked for Sunlight Solar Energy, a Connecticut solar installation contractor, for five years in various roles.
“Before deciding to take time off from work to do bike touring and hiking, I was living and working in New Haven. Now, when I am in Connecticut I’m in New Hartford with family.”
Prior to his Appalachian Trail excursion Britton did a handful of three- to seven-day hiking trips in New England, Arizona, Colorado, and Alaska. “In 2013 into 2014 I did the epic 15,200-mile bike tour around the U.S. and Canada. I also rode my bike down to Georgia to start the hike of the Appalachian Trail and then rode back to Connecticut from Maine when I finished.”
As for what’s next, Britton says his schedule is full. “I’d like to hike the Pacific Coast Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the rest of the Long Trail, and New Zealand's Te Araroa. As for biking, it’s the rest of the world.”
Britton has a website, www.uncledansbikeride.com. His last Appalachian Trail trip post can be found at http://uncledansbikeride.com/category/appalachian-trail-bike-hike/.