FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- At 83, Edward B. Garvey still walks the nearby Washington and Old Dominion Trail three miles a day. The spirit is willing, the flesh is, too, but the knees are weak.
The storied hiker is sustained by his wife Mary, by his children and their families, by Mass at 6: 30 a.m., and by breakfast on Irish stories with the old boys at McDonald's. He also thrives on chores at the Spanish-style home he built in 1949. And he delights in knowing that an old dream is coming true.
The 2,158-mile Appalachian Trail is only 30 or so miles short of being entirely in public hands. The trail is the key to Garvey, who carved "AT" into the tree trunk of America's outdoor consciousness.
He did it with the 1971 publication of "Appalachian Hiker," his book on hiking the length of the trail the previous year. It gave walkers what they needed to know about America's best-known long-distance trail -- not elegiac musings of a latter-day Henry David Thoreau -- but crucial stuff, such as how many miles to the next water or the next lean-to.
He updated the book in 1978 and rewrote it last year. Veterans of the Appalachian Trail Conference say no one has influenced more backpackers to try the trail than Ed Garvey.
Joann Langston, of Rockville, a senior civilian U.S. Army executive, and her grown children are Garvey admirers. In 1972, she picked up his book and couldn't stop reading it for two hours in a mall parking lot. That night she announced to her four girls and boy, aged 9 to 16, that they were doing the Appalachian Trail that summer. Her nonhiking husband drove them to Georgia.
There were moments on their 1,000-mile walk, ending Labor Day Front Royal, Va., when the children may have resented Garvey, she suggests, but they liked and came to see the value of the walk.
"He spurred us to love the outdoors. It gave us a sense of independence. We didn't need hair dryers and makeup, just water, shelter and a first-aid kit. It especially helped the four girls realize what they could accomplish. Ed Garvey is wonderful."
Hundreds of today's hikers, unborn when Garvey walked the trail, don't know their debt to him.
David Hannibal, 25, of Jacksonville in Baltimore County, completed the trail last year in six months and eight days. His trail name was "Shaman, the Medicine Man," referring to the medications he took as an epileptic and asthmatic. Many trail books were available to him but he'd never heard of Garvey.
"I liked 'The Data Book' best," he says, "because it lists only useful facts, the mileage between lean-tos, details about the basic trail."
What Hannibal didn't know was that "The Data Book" was the updated core of Garvey's original volume. According to Brian King, information officer of the Appalachian Trail Conference, "[The Data Book] is the one indispensable book for 'thru-hikers.' Last December we printed the 20th edition, 68 pages."
The Appalachian Trail was completed in 1937 over public and private lands. But it was moderately traveled in 1970 when Garvey became only the 54th to travel its length, the 28th thru-hiker to do it at one time.
His book helped spur new pilgrims to the trail. More than 4,300 backpackers have now done it, half of them in the past nine years. Three out of four complete the distance in a single hike.
Garvey's book was the first to tell trail users the exact mileage between mountain gaps, creeks, highways, landmarks, mountains and shelters. He livened his account with upbeat impressions of his walk from Georgia to Maine, having kept notes along the way. He finished the walk Oct. 7, 1970, and finished the last sentence of the book less than eight months later -- "at 5 p.m., May 31, 1971."
"The first book on the market always sells," Garvey says. "But there's been no money in it. I got the satisfaction that I changed people's way of life."
Today Garvey sometimes refers to notes when he talks about the trail. His short-term memory was harmed by quadruple-bypass heart surgery and a valve replacement about
six years ago.
His last big walk on the Appalachian Trail was in 1990, when he was 75 and preparing his third and favorite edition, called "The New Appalachian Trail" (Menasha Ridge Press, 1997). His daughter, Sharon H. Garvey, a free-lance artist from Harpers Ferry, W. Va., illustrated and helped him write it.
Garvey was trying to duplicate his 1970 adventure to celebrate the acquisition of the last piece of the trail still in private hands. Beginning at the trail's southern end in Springer Mountain, Ga., he walked more than 1,000 miles to Pennsylvania carrying a 40-pound pack.
His daughter accompanied him on some stretches and drove him to Maine, where they climbed Katahdin, the mountain that is the trail's northern terminus. Garvey continued west through the thick wilds of Maine, with Ms. Garvey and other family members joining him for short stretches.
"It was a bit overwhelming how many hikers knew him," says Sharon Garvey. "A young hiker he last passed going north was delighted to see him coming [from the opposite direction]. Dad loves the natural side of the woods, but also the camaraderie."
The old man reached Gorham in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He had come 1,400 miles, two-thirds of the way, sometimes in pain.
"I stopped for two or three days and cogitated," he says. "I decided to end the walk. It was beyond my physical capacity. My knee hurt. It was no longer fun."
The final land acquisition he'd set out to celebrate was not completed, either.
As he has for 35 years, he went home and poured his passion down the political path, stepping up his letter-writing campaign to complete the acquisition by 2000, the year set by President Clinton. Thirty-three miles, 11,000 acres and 300 tracts remain to be purchased, according to a chart he shows visitors.
Garvey now hikes with buddies who call themselves "the Old Pros." They wear T-shirts saying, "Often Wrong, Never in Doubt." He has known other celebrities such as Benton MacKaye (1879-1975), the outdoorsman who dreamed up the trail and who called Garvey's book "a masterpiece."
Garvey attends meetings of the Appalachian Trail Conference, the collection of more than 30 hiking clubs that maintain the trail, including the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, where he also is member.
Garvey retired in 1975 after 34 years as a finance officer in both the Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation. He and Mrs. Garvey have five children and seven grandchildren. Mrs. Garvey drove during the family's tours of Europe. He considers himself a better hiker than a driver.
Garvey dislikes violations of trail etiquette by litterbugs, people wearing "disreputable" attire and hikers who expect preferred treatment because they are traveling the length of the trail. One marcher wearing a 12-pound pack refused to share the secret of his light load with others. "Very selfish," Garvey says.
He exults over the achievements of others. "Did you hear about Earl Shaffer?" Garvey asks. "He's doing it again."
Shaffer in 1948 became the first to hike the trail at one time. Fifty years later, at 79, the Idaville, Pa., bachelor is speeding north again at 17 miles a day -- due, at last report, to pass through Maryland in July.
"He's on a trail that's in excellent shape, better than when I hiked it," says Garvey. "Cleaner, less litter, 100 miles longer. Thirty-one clubs maintain it. All volunteers. It's got everything I need. The shelters, the scenery, the trees, the people.
"I still got the enthusiasm," he says, "but I can't quite knock off the miles."
Pub Date: 6/23/98