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Going the Distance

Newbury, Vt., Teen Treks AT — Quickly

Shown in a portrait in Bradford, Vt., on August 8, 2013, Panos Charuhas, of Newbury, Vt., hiked the Appalachian Trail in 115 days. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Shown in a portrait in Bradford, Vt., on August 8, 2013, Panos Charuhas, of Newbury, Vt., hiked the Appalachian Trail in 115 days. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

Bradford, Vt. — In 1999, Will Charuhas and his family moved to the area from Delaware in part so he could be closer to the Lebanon-based trucking company he works for.

His son, Panos, simply used his own two legs to barrel through the countryside.

Panos Charuhas, 18, recently completed the Appalachian Trail in just 115 days — an average of more than 19 miles per day along the 2,186-mile hike from Georgia to Maine.

Having taken six “zero” mileage days in order to rest — as well as to spend time with family when he passed through Norwich and Hanover in late June — the Newbury, Vt., resident actually averaged more than 20 miles per day on the days he hiked.

Charuhas, who was home-schooled and received his diploma before booking a flight to Georgia at the end of March, began contemplating the journey last year. Before he even started saving and doing research for the journey, Charuhas naturally made sure it was OK with mother, Patty Cashman.

“We’re really close, so I wanted to make sure she was OK with it,” he said in an interview Thursday at Bradford, Vt.’s Bandstand Park. “She said she trusted me to go, so after that it was just a matter of saving up and finding out about what to expect.”

Charuhas got a part-time job washing dishes at a Bradford diner and began scouring the web for tips, advice and cautions. While he’d grown up doing plenty of day trips to both the White Mountains and Green Mountains with his dad and younger brother, Leo, taking on the AT was going to require a whole new level of focus and stamina. A massive undertaking that involves true abandonment of the comforts of home life, only about one in four attempts at completing a through hike of the trail are successful, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

“I did a lot of research about things like what stove to bring, how to treat your water, clothing and things like that,” Charuhas said. “There are a couple good websites, and I’m fortunate enough to know two through-hikers, Emily Marsh (of Bradford, Vt.), who did it in 2003 and (Groton, Vt. resident) Russell Tinkham, who did it in the late ‘90s. They were both a huge help in terms of what gear to bring and general advice.”

Leaving the south terminus at northern Georgia’s Springer Mountain on March 28, Charuhas marched eight miles on the first day as he acclimated to the trail. He doubled that distance on the second day, and got up to 18.8 on the third.

By the end of the third week, Charuhas had finally gotten his “trail legs” and began to pick up the tempo, big-time.

“After about two weeks, I really started getting in good shape and getting used to (the trail’s demands), muscle-wise and cardio-wise,” he noted. “I was actually pretty methodical about it. I’d measure my miles and divide it by the number of days out to get my (miles per day average).

“It was pretty motivating, trying to get that average up. I went from 12 to 13 and then steadily watched it go up from there. After a month I was doing days in the high 20s. I did my first 30-mile day in North Carolina. It was a lot of fun.”

Well, not all of it was fun. While coursing through Tennessee in mid-April, he came down with an apparent virus that rendered him sick to his stomach. “That was when I took my first zero day,” he recalled. “I remember I was in a shelter, and I was dreaming about being sick. I woke up, and I was sick. That was mile 330.”

Charuhas didn’t take another zero day until mile 1,018, when he experienced some burnout while coming into Harper’s Ferry, W.Va. He’d just trekked 200 hilly miles over the last eight days.

“I had to recuperate and chill out at that point,” he said. “I stayed in a hostel, got some non-trail food. It was good for me.”

Having received the trail name “LongGone” from a friend he’d met on the trail in Georgia, Charuhas was exactly that following his respite in West Virginia. Over long, flat stretches of Maryland and Pennsylvania, Charuhas covered 96 miles over three days. In the Keystone State for his 18th birthday on June 1, Charuhas celebrated with a fellow hiker at a restaurant and pub, near the end of a 26-mile day. It was then on to the notoriously rocky section of the AT in northern Pennsylvania, where paths strewn with knobby stones deter momentum.

“You’re walking on rocks for hours. It can get pretty tedious,” Charuhas said. “You hear a lot of trail lure along the way, and I definitely heard about that stretch. It’s just super rocky all the way until you get to New York.”

Entering New England, Charuhas was motivated by the idea of reaching the Upper Valley and reuniting with his family before the final stretch through New Hampshire and Maine. He endured rain and muddy trails through much of Massachusetts and Vermont, relying on his mp3 player to help stay focused.

“When it’s raining and you have five hours of walking in front of you, your iPod is a huge help,” Charuhas said. “I had a lot of modern rock, metal, pop music. … A lot of pump-up music that helped when it was rainy and cold.”

On the 90th day of hiking, Charuhas arrived on U.S. Route 5 in Norwich — where the Appalachian Trail coincides with the road — to a fantastic feeling of accomplishment.

“It was so amazing, coming out onto the road, the only place on the whole hike where I had been to before,” he said. “It was surreal to realize I’d walked all that way to get there.”

After a one-day break with family, Charuhas continued to what is widely considered the most challenging portion of the AT — the Presidential Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

“It’s another piece of ‘trail lure’ that you hear about, how tough the Whites are, and it’s true,” he said. “I was back down to 10-15 miles per day for a little while, just because of the steepness of the mountains. It’s slower going up mountains (than on more moderate terrain), and it’s slower coming down, too, because you’re scrambling over rocks.”

More dramatic elevation peppers the trail in western Maine before the infamous “100 miles of wilderness” near the northern terminus, from Monson, Maine to Abol Bridge campground in Millinocket.

“That was the buggiest stretch you could imagine. The trail was so wet, and it goes by a lot of lakes and bogs,” Charuhas said. “Bug spray kept them off me, but not from flying around my head.”

Charuhas boogied 33 miles on his penultimate hiking day on July 19, and he wasn’t just scampering from the bugs. “My iPod’s battery was running low, and I needed it to take pictures,” he said. “I had to get to the store at Abol Bridge in time to be able to charge it.”

Charuhas made it in time, allowing him to document the final 15-mile stretch up Mount Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak at 5,268 feet.

He got a ride home from his proud mother on July 20. Having had time to reflect on his journey, an Appalachian Trail hike is something Charuhas doesn’t hesitate to recommend to friends.

“It’s just something that if you’re thinking about it, you should pull the trigger on it,” he said. “You meet a lot of great people along the way.”

One of the friends he met on the trail, who goes by the trail name “Tarzan,” and Charuhas are already starting to plan for their next long-distance hiking excursion — the Pacific Crest Trail. At the 2,663 miles, the PCT traverses through California, Oregon and Washington and is part of the “Triple Crown” network of long-distance trails. The third is the Continental Divide Trail, through the Southwest, Rocky Mountains and Montana.

“I already can’t wait to get back out there,” he said.”

Godspeed.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.