Why We’ve Never Followed an Appalachian Trail Thru Hiker…Until Now

Outdoor Adventure (Unique lifestyle/travel/personal experience)

The Appalachian Trail. It’s arguably the most popular bucket list item for anyone who’s ever dragged himself or herself back to work after a weekend of peak bagging or adventurous wandering. It’s an idea that’s wistfully discussed around campfires and on car rides home by hikers of all ages that rarely gets passed the Wouldn’t it be awesome… phase.

Of the millions of dreamers who have the notion of completing all 2,168.1 miles of the Appalachian Trail, each March/April only a few thousand make the journey to Springer Mountain Georgia or Mount Katahdin in Maine to start the journey.  According to the Appalachian Mountain Club, 80% of aspiring thru hikers don’t complete the hike that can take anywhere from 5-7 months to finish. 

The odds of completing the Appalachian Trail are bad but that’s never stopped my marketing colleagues and me from dreaming about partnering up with a thru hiker and having that person send us updates from the trail. Every fall we have meetings with experienced hikers as well as aspiring filmmakers, writers and photographers. All of them are experienced, passionate and talented but it’s tough to take a 5-7 month leap of faith with people you’ve known less than an hour and a limited chance of success. As the leaves begin to fall and the hectic holiday season begins, the We should totally do this phase always falls to the long list of technical challenges and logistical uncertainties. Like the millions of aspiring Appalachian Trail thru hikers whose dreams get smacked by the realities of insufficient time or funds, my colleagues and I find ourselves at the Maybe next year phase.

So when Chris Vachon, long-time manager of our Peterborough, NH store told me that I should “really talk to James Willette about his plans to thru hike the AT,” I was pretty skeptical. I’d chatted with James plenty of times. He’s a super nice guy, but our stores are filled with super nice people who are experienced hikers and BIG dreamers. “Just check out his Instagram,” Chris implored me. “I think you’ll be impressed.”

Turns out that “Oldjamesy” isn’t just a nice guy who hikes a lot, he’s a nice guy with the perfect combination of hiking experience and photographic talent to capture moments like this.


My skepticism turned to enthusiasm I hadn’t allowed myself to feel for years. And it was contagious. As an EMS employee, James was pretty well set for gear but our pack design guys jumped at the chance to have him test a proto-type. In addition to providing me with updates about his experiences on the trail, James will also be sending feedback about the fit and function of the next generation of our Cirque pack. Since we’ll be communicating via his smart phone, James was understandably concerned about keeping his battery charged. Enter our friends at GoalZero who came through with the Guide 10 Adventure Kit that will enable him to charge his phone three times before its batteries need to be powered up by the sun.

In addition to gear hook-ups, our whole company has served as a sounding board for James to help him refine his packing list and yes, our fans have also contributed in the form of 85 comments on our Facebook page.

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Tomorrow is James’ final shift in our Peterborough store.

After a few days off to make his final preparations, he’ll begin the trip to Georgia on Tuesday, April 8. I’ll be updating his progress here on the blog as well as on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram under the hashtag #JamesOnTheAT. Feel free to post questions for James as well as any words of advice or inspiration you’d like to share with him. I’ll be sure they get to him and that he responds to as many questions as he can throughout his 2,000+ mile journey. It’s going to be a fantastic summer for James and it’s going to be pretty fun for us, too.

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Jim Darroch

Jim's love for the outdoors began with family camping trips in "Brady Bunch" style canvas tents and progressed to backpacking adventures with the Boy Scouts. In 2007, he fulfilled his teenage dream by joining Eastern Mountain Sports as Brand Communications Manager. When he's not in the office, you'll find Jim kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking around the Monadnock Region and throughout New England with his wife Brenda and his dog Brewski. Follow Jim Darroch on !


  1. Ken
    April 7, 2014, 1:09 pm

    Awesome. I’m looking forward to following along. Related, but on the opposite coast, a friend of mine who is also an incredible photographer will be starting his thru of the PCT this weekend. His instagram is http://instagram.com/brandonexplores

  2. Jamie Wade
    April 1, 2014, 11:32 pm

    Awesome James, I am so proud! And I am so happy to call you a friend. May god bless you…and am happy to know your photography is part of our family…thank you for chasing your dreams! Makes life worth living! xo

  3. Chris Vachon
    April 1, 2014, 9:58 pm

    Way to go James and thanks for making this happen Jim! Can’t wait to follow James all summer long!

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