GUY RAZ, host:
Around this time of year, hikers on the Appalachian Trail hit the midway point in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Now, the A.T., as it's known to hikers, stretches from Georgia all the way to Maine, along the Appalachian Mountain range. It's probably the best-known footpath in America, and so a recent headline about the trail possibly expanding into Morocco caught our eye. And we asked one of our producers, Brad Horn, who is an experienced hiker himself, to investigate. He's in the studio with me.
Brad, what did you find?
Mr. DICK ANDERSON: I know it sounds crazy, but if you think about it, it actually does make sense. Three hundred million years ago, we had this one giant continent called Pangaea, and that was when the Appalachian Mountains were formed.
HORN: Okay, that's this guy named Dick Anderson, and he's behind this idea to make the A.T. an international trail. And obviously, his thinking is that 300 million years ago, it was actually all connected anyway.
RAZ: When it was Pangaea, and then it broke apart.
HORN: Right, to form the Atlantic Ocean.
Mr. ANDERSON: And when it opened up, some of the Appalachian Mountains stuck to each big piece. And the big pieces were Africa, Europe and the United States.
RAZ: So he's saying that parts of the mountain range are still in Africa, Europe and obviously in the U.S.
RAZ: He's saying that he wants to restore what, you know, 200 million years ago would have been this supersized path.
HORN: Yeah, but obviously, he can't really restore Pangaea.
RAZ: No, he can't.
HORN: No. So he's trying to get all the countries that were once connected to designate certain paths as part of the International A.T.
RAZ: And is anybody taking it seriously?
HORN: Yeah, they are. There is already an 1,800-mile section of it in Canada. It starts at the end of the American leg of the trail.
RAZ: In Maine.
HORN: And it goes all the way up the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland.
RAZ: Wow. So has anybody hiked that entire length of the trail?
HORN: Uh-huh. Yeah. Dick Anderson told me a number of people have actually hiked the whole way and dozens of others have done about a thousand miles of it. And I actually met one of those hikers this past week when I went out to Harpers Ferry.
RAZ: Which, as I said earlier, is roughly the halfway point, right?
HORN: Yeah. So I met this guy named Mark Bailey out there, and a few years ago, he hiked most of that leg of the International A.T.
Mr. MARK BAILEY: Yeah, you see the icebergs going by and the moose. It's real simple, you know? Where am I going to eat? Where am I going to poop? And where am I going to sleep?
RAZ: So when he's talking about the icebergs and the moose, he's talking about, like, the Newfoundland section of the trail.
HORN: Yup, exactly.
RAZ: All right. So Canada is in, but I was reading that Dick Anderson wants to take this all the way to Morocco.
HORN: Yeah, he does. And he thinks the original Appalachian range went through what are now the countries of Greenland and Norway, Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and finally, Morocco.
RAZ: Hmm. So are any of those other countries on board? I mean, are any of them willing to do what he wants them to do, which is to designate trails in their country as part of the A.T.?
HORN: Yes, they are. Two weeks ago, Dick Anderson got some really good news. There's a trail in Scotland called the West Highland Way.
Mr. GORDON FORRESTER (Manager, West Highland Way): The West Highland Way trail has been in existence for 30 years. So it's fairly well-established.
HORN: So that's this guy, Gordon Forrester, and he manages the West Highland Way, which two weeks ago co-designated the trail as the International Appalachian Trail, all 96 miles of it.
Mr. FORRESTER: You do start off in the center of Glasgow, and you actually start to progress northwards, and actually you're heading more and more into the Highlands. So practically every half-hour, the scenery changes, which is why it's so successful.
RAZ: So right now, after you finish the American leg of the A.T., you can do the Canadian leg, get on a plane, fly to Scotland and do 96 more miles of it. That sounds amazing.
HORN: Yeah, I know. I would love to do it. And, you know, the thing about the trail and the A.T. in particular, is that the people who hike on it are committed really to this idea of achieving something incredible...
HORN: ...and really trying to learn about themselves.
I met this one hiker named Clay Hodges(ph) the other day, and like most A.T. hikers has this trail name, and his is Motorboat.
RAZ: So does everyone know him as Motorboat? I mean, do some people know him as Clay Hodges?
HORN: No. Actually, when I was there, a lot of people didn't even know his real real name.
Mr. CLAY HODGES: Well, I mean, there's a lot of soul-searching involved. I think everybody out here is on a personal journey but also just to get away from the rat race and what we're bred to expect life's all about, and it's really not about getting a job, going to work and being miserable.
HORN: And, you know, that's kind of the idea that binds everyone together that's out there. And everyone who hikes the trail forms a really tight bond. And I think everyone was just really pumped to think that the trail could someday connect three continents.
RAZ: I hope it does. It sounds amazing. That's Brad Horn. He's one of the producers on this program, and by the way, a pretty awesome photographer. You can see some of the photos he took of the A.T. hikers he met at our website, npr.org.
Brad, thanks so much.
HORN: Thank you.
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