On New Year’s Day, Sam Hopkins went for a walk. He finished it last Sunday.

“It was pretty wild,” he said.

Hopkins, 23, hiked the Eastern Continental Trail, from Key West, Florida, to Mount Katahdin here in Maine. The trail actually goes all the way to Cape Gaspe, Quebec, but Hopkins, an Augusta native and still relative newcomer to this, thought 4,057 miles was enough.

Hopkins got into backpacking while studying at the University of South Carolina. The Appalachian Trail was something he had thought about hiking for a while, but as graduation approached in the spring 2017, Hopkins knew he’d have some time. Hiking the AT would be nice, but why not think bigger?

After graduating with a degree in psychology, Hopkins worked for six months, saving money for his trip. A few days after last Christmas, he boarded a bus in Augusta for the 58-hour ride to Key West.

“I spent New Year’s Eve in Key West, got three hours of sleep, got up, and started walking,” Hopkins said.

Florida.

The first 30 mies were all in a swamp. Hopkins gets asked, did he see alligators? Yes, but not there. The gators were later, usually sunning themselves next to a river as he hiked along the road. He saw water moccasins, too, coiled and content to open their mouth and flash their fangs as a warning to keep your distance.

Hopkins remembers a sign marking the highest point of elevation on the Florida leg of the trail, 271 feet. Florida does nothing to prepare hikers for what comes when they connect with the Appalachian Trail at Stone Mountain, Georgia.

“In good conscience, I couldn’t recommend the Florida Trail to anybody who has done other big trails,” Hopkins said.

Alabama. Georgia.

In Key West, Hopkins met Jeremy Knopp from Nashville, who also was hiking the Continental Trail. They walked the first 2,000 miles together, before Knopp, who was going all the way to Cape Gaspe and had to keep a brisker pace, pulled ahead. Often hiking alone, Hopkins averaged around 17.5 miles per day.

“I actually surprised myself,” he said. “I didn’t do a lot of planning.”

North Carolina. Tennessee. Virginia.

Hopkins went through five pairs of trail runners. The final pair, which got him from Gorham, N.H., to Katahdin, still have a few miles in them. Right now, Hopkins is content to stay off his feet. Until you walk so much, you don’t realize the pounding the feet take. Much of the trail in Florida and Alabama was on roads. Walking in rain beats up your feet. Walking on rocks beats up your feet. Band aids and tape kept Hopkins’ feet together.

West Virgina. Maryland.

Hopkins did not carry a stove, or the bulky gas canisters and pot it would take to use it. For the most part, he lived off tortillas and tuna, cured meats like pepperoni and salami that didn’t need refrigeration. Hopkins would pour oatmeal into an empty peanut butter jar, mixed with water, and eat it cold. Protein bars, candy, Nutella. Hopkins listened to podcasts as he hiked, but if the subject of food came up, he’d have to turn it off.

The go-to meal when he checked in to civilization was a burger and a beer. Hopkins hasn’t been a soda drinker in years, but when he’d go off trail to resupply in a town, he’d chug a few Cokes on instinct. His body needed energy and did not care from where the calories came.

“You can’t even help it. Your body is just craving the sugar,” Hopkins said.

A former football and lacrosse player at Cony High School, Hopkins began the hike at 194 pounds, the heaviest he’s ever been. When he ended last Sunday, he was 169.

Pennsylvania. New Jersey. New York.

Before this adventure, Hopkins’ longest hike was a three-day, 38-mile trek through Grafton Notch State Park. One does a lot of thinking when walking alone for days on end.

“I didn’t go out there with the cliche of trying to find myself,” Hopkins said, “but you do realize you don’t need a lot of things to be happy. Priorities change when you’re out there. Just being able to talk to people where there’s no cell signal, it simplifies things.”

Connecticut. Massachusetts. Vermont.

Thru-hikers on the AT are usually given trail names by other hikers. Some stick as catchy nicknames. Hopkins’ did not. He didn’t get his trail name until he was about halfway through. It was 2D, and involves a comment he made when discussing snorers in the huts along the trail. Many use earplugs to get a good night sleep. Hopkins said his ear plugs went two deep. Anyway …

“Most people called me Sam,” he said.

New Hampshire. Maine.

In Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness, there’s a stunning view of Katahdin, a preview of what’s to come. When he got to that section, Hopkins turned to his left, and there it was, a long way from Key West and towering over everything.

“There is it. I can see it,” Hopkins said. “I basically cried for three miles.”

When he arrived at Baxter State Park last Saturday, Hopkins was joined by friends and family for the ascent of Katahdin. Maybe he built it up in his head too much, but to Hopkins, the climb up Katahdin felt like just another day hike. At the peak, Hopkins kissed the sign. He stood there for a while, just looking at it. Hopkins and his party loitered at the peak for an hour.

“It just felt like another day,” Hopkins said. “I was so happy to have all my friends and family there… It was a beautiful day.”

Now, Hopkins will look for a job. His long walk gave Hopkins a new appreciation for Maine.

“If you had asked me before the trip if I thought I would end up in Maine, I almost definitely would have said no,” Hopkins said. “But after hiking throughout the AT in Maine and seeing the beauty that we have here, I have a new appreciation for this state of ours. It may sound counterintuitive, but I think walking 4,057 miles made me proud to call this place home.”

Home.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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