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Robert Trigaux

Among unemployed, Tampa hikers take to Appalachian Trail for a break and cheap living




Intriguing story in today's Wall Street Journal about the spike in the number of hikers this year on the Appalachian Trail, an increase driven in part by the high number of unemployed workers and the allure of living cheaply while hiking and camping the trail, which extends from Georgia to Maine. Here's the full story.

Typically, the Journal says,about 1,000 hikers leave Georgia each spring in hopes of completing the trail in one all-out trek. This year close to 1,400 hikers were in the first wave, with hundreds more following behind through early summer. (Photo: On the Appalachian Trail near the White Mountains of New Hampshire, by Robert F. Bukaty, AP.)

Plenty of Floridians are apparently hitting the trail, looking for a break from the stress of unemployment or simply fed up with looking for work that just isn''t there. Here's on notable excerpt from the Journal story:

"Hikers say they budget $1 a mile for food and the rare motel stay, making life on the trail cheaper than life in town -- and much more socially acceptable. 'If you do this on the trail, you're a hiker,' says The Druid (a trail nickname), a 48-year-old south-bounder from Tennessee. 'If you do this off the trail, you're a bum.' "


One part of the story focuses on New England organic farmer Joseph De Sena, who operates Amee Farm ( see photo) in Pittsfield, Vt. He looks to hikers to supplement his work staff, assuming that hikers tackling the trail would have a strong work ethic. Instead, he says, he found "athletic hippies" for the most part. Hiring similar labor locally, if he could find it, would cost $50 to $75 a day, the story says. He barters with hikers who stay at the farm in exchange for their labor. No money is exchanged.

Enter a duo from Tampa. According to the Journal, De Sena "lucked out" when he met Wes Foster and Stacy Burdett, two through-hikers from Tampa who recently completed their journey. The couple decided to winter at Amee Farm, swapping their labor for room and board and the chance to learn organic farming.

Says Burdett, who has a degree in massage therapy and worked in theater production before hiking the trail: "I'd love to have a farm like this one day." (Here's a photo of Foster and Burdett.)

Hey, I've done parts of that terrific trail myself. I have to admit, I'm a little jealous.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:26am]


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