Like many before him, Jim Carlson almost gave up on the Appalachian Trail.
He almost gave up after tumbling down a freezing 7-foot waterfall in New Hampshire. He almost gave up on Father’s Day, when poor cellphone reception kept him from calling his daughter.
But on Oct. 6, nearly six months after he began, the Eagan man emerged at the end of the 2,200-mile trail. He felt different — he was 80 pounds lighter, for one thing. But there was also a less tangible change, something he can’t quite explain.
Carlson spent most of his life dreaming about the trail. At 14, he was on a hike with a group of kids, complaining about how far they had to walk. To get them to stop, their guide told them about the Appalachian Trail and the people who hike it for fun.
“At first I was like, ‘Yeah, they are crazy if they want to do that,’ ” Carlson said. “But it stuck in my head.”
The 39-year-old carpenter took to the trail without any training. In the beginning, he hiked between 8 and 9 miles per day. By the end, he was up to more than 20.
More than 14,000 people have completed the entire trail since the 1930s. Only about 25 percent of those who start make it through to the end.
The trail was crowded, Carlson said, though people fell away after being injured or deciding they simply didn’t want to continue. Some formed groups, though Carlson preferred being on his own. To pass the long days, he’d listen to music or make up games.
He was awed by the landscape around him, including 11 states he’d never seen. Perhaps most memorable, though, was the summer solstice, known on the trail as “Hike Naked Day.”
Returning to daily life has been a challenge. Carlson is already dreaming of completing the Triple Crown — the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide trails. Because even after walking from Georgia to Maine, there’s more to do.
“I thought I’d have it all figured out by the end, what I would do next,” he said. “There’s kind of more questions than I started with.”