By Nance Ebert, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Recent Westborough High School graduates John O’Connell and Eamonn Mazur just returned from a four-and-a-half month-long hike, completing the 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail. On more than one occasion, they questioned if they would actually complete what they had set out to accomplish.
They began their trek March 6 in Springer Mountain, Ga., and completed the hike July 20 in Mt. Katahdin, Maine. The boys posted a daily account with photos on their Facebook page, titled, “Eamonn & John’s AT Thru-Hike Adventure.”
Friends since fifth grade, they both graduated from Westborough High School last year and decided to take a gap year to fulfill the goal that they had talked about sophomore year. They pursued internships and other things prior to the trip.
“I have hiked the White Mountains with my family and I have always known about the Appalachian Trail,” O’Connell said. “It was my idea for us to take on this challenge and Eamonn was on board even though he had never hiked before.”
For three weeks before the trip, the boys began to feverishly prepare for the trail. They bought a lot of dehydrated ingredients and non-perishable snack items to keep their caloric intake in check.
“We actually followed recipes from a book and put all of the ingredients in Ziplock bags for eight different meals for about 150 days. This took a couple of hours each day for a few weeks leading up to our departure,” said Mazur.
Some of the towns that cross the Appalachian Trail are known as “trail towns.” The residents of these communities are used to greeting hikers and are generally knows to be embracing and very friendly. These towns offered the boys a bit of respite from the trail where they were able to restock their supplies, snacks and get hot food. They would come upon one of these towns every three to seven days or so.
“There were two towns that were especially friendly. One being Franklin, N.C., and the other was Andover, Maine,” Mazur explained. “In North Carolina, there was antique shop where the owner came out of her shop and helped us find a place to eat. The diner, Motor Cove Diner, gave out free ice cream to all hikers. The Little Red Hen in Andover allowed hikers to nap out back, charge things and just relax. We spent a half a day there. I felt very connected to the town.”
There were some frustrating moments where the boys questioned whether or not this was a good idea. One morning, leaving Franklin, the temperature was 32 degrees and proceeded to drop rapidly. The snow was falling heavily and the boys were worried about frostbite. They soon set up their tent to stay dry and warm.
“I reflected in that moment that life would be so much easier if we were home,” O’Connell said, who noted that they also came across five bears during the trip.
The boys traveled by foot with packs weighing 30 to 40 pounds. In Damascus, Va., they switched out their boots for trail runners. They went through four pairs.
While the hike was physically and mentally exhausting, both boys agree that they are more confident and their experience has been life changing.
O’Connell will attend college at the University of San Diego to study biology and Mazur will attend the University of Arizona, Tucson.