CROFTON, Md. (AP) — The scene opens in a conference room in Charlotte, North Carolina:
“What are you most proud of?” a banker asks.
Jason Feild of Crofton hesitates. He’s 33, wearing a new pinstripe suit. A job with Bank of America hangs on his reply.
What are you most proud of?
A year would pass before Feild found his answer. Some 2,185 miles would pass on the Appalachian Trail, where three in four hikers quit, broken by long, dull days walking on rocks from Georgia to Maine.
Six months, one week, six days, Feild walked. He walked and walked. Because life was supposed to be a movie and this, he decided, would be his adventure.
Feild didn’t have an answer for the banker. And he didn’t get the job with Bank of America. He was divorced and without children and took in a tenant to afford his mortgage.
The trail offered a script he could control: Keep walking.
So, on the foggy, wet morning of March 28, Feild stepped from his father’s car at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia, where the land is so rugged settlers left it.
“My worst fear was that some wild animal was going to attack him,” said Sheree Walsh of Bowie, his mother.
“His sense of direction, sometimes, is not the greatest,” said John Feild of Philadelphia, his father.
Jason Feild entered the scene with a tent, a sleeping bag and 10 pounds of food: M&Ms, ramen, Spam.
“Are you sure about this?” his father asked.
“Yeah, I’m good,” he said.
Then he walked off into the fog.
“Dad, I’m coming home.”
The scene opens at mile 1,143, central Pennsylvania. It’s July.
Three months, Feild has walked. He’s walked and walked.
He’s walked since his first night in Georgia, when he undercooked dinner and ate crunchy rice; since he charged his cellphone in a Tennessee town to learn by text that his nephew had been born; since he was waylaid hours in Virginia with dehydration; since he reached the Shenandoah Valley — that Disneyland of the American outdoors — where the trail is soft and slopes are gentle, where black bears snub you and barn owls study you and small-town stores sell beer along the way. (“The way hiking should be,” Feild would say.).
Campmates entered his movie with trail names.
Kyle the Mayor presided over their campsites. Laser wore a curious hat with cats and laser beams. Powerhouse was fastest up Blood Mountain, the trail’s highest peak in Georgia, despite smoking Camel Blues. She said she’d hike a mile for a cigarette.
Feild was DSOH — “dry sense of humor.”
Somewhere along the trail, he realized this ain’t no movie, guy.
It was supposed to be a magical journey through nature, birds landing on his shoulders, all that jazz.
Instead, it was a grind.
“Just as bad as going to the office every day,” he said.
His feet hurt and his back ached. Boredom wore at them all. So they played recorded books on their cellphones — outrageous books: comic horror novels, erotica.
Feild craved fresh fruit, but his best meals were at McDonald’s or cheap Chinese restaurants in rural towns.
Duncannon, Pennsylvania, marked the halfway point.
Dad, I’m coming home.
Few hikers finish all 2,185 miles.
Only 59 completions were recorded in the first three decades of the trail, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a nonprofit that manages the route. The trail was completed in the late 1930s by a network of East Coast hikers intent on offering a retreat from working life in cities.
Today, 14,485 completions are recognized by the conservancy.
Feild was ready to quit.
In Duncannon, his father was about an hour away by car.
They met for lunch.
“I had become convinced he could do it,” his father said. “I told him, `You’re not going to get to do something like that too often.’ I didn’t want him to give up.”
Feild resumed his walk.
Quitting? What sort of ending was that, anyway?
The scene opens at mile 2,185, a rocky ridge, Mount Katahdin, Maine.
It’s Oct. 10. Feild has walked and walked. He has grown a beard and lost 40 pounds.
Now, he climbs.
Mount Katahdin rises more than 3,700 feet, Maine’s highest peak, the end of the trail.
Hikers are warned of sudden storms.
DSOH, Powerhouse, Kyle the Mayor and the others climb toward the summit.
That morning, Feild met his father at the mountain base. There were small things Feild requested for his final ascent. Afterward, his father would drive him home. Eventually, he would find a part-time job in a hotel.
The hikers reach a rock field dusted with frost. Feild climbs another rise and finally — after six months, one week, six days — he sees the summit sign:
“Katahdin: Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail.”
What are you most proud of?
Feild finds his answer more than 3,700 feet atop a Maine mountain.
“The point is to prove to yourself that you can, that you’re not a quitter, even if something is hard and boring,” he would say. “Everybody expects life to be like a movie, these high points. But there are lots of boring parts if you want to accomplish something amazing.”
He takes out the items from his father: construction paper, a marker, the pinstripe suit.
Feild dresses in the suit. His hair is mussed; his beard, wet and icy.
His movie ended, he stands atop the mountain and holds his sign:
(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)