In a recent post about Jennifer Pharr Davis, I mentioned how we both had Warren Doyle in common as someone partially responsible for our maiden voyage on the Appalachian Trail as a thru-hiker. Jennifer did her first in 2005 and has down two others since, both in record-setting performances. My first begins in 3 weeks.
Jennifer went to Doyle’s Appalachian Trail Institute before her first hike. I decided I wanted to hike the AT in 1974 after listening to Doyle talk about his recent, record-setting thru-hike.
So who is Warren Doyle?
From his own website:
He has been called a ‘living legend’, the ‘Yoda’ and ‘Abbie Hoffman’ of the Appalachian Trail, compared to both Jimi Hendrix and Ethan Allen, and also has been called a plethora of bad names from a small, but vocal, group of cyberbullies.
In 2011, Backpacker magazine titled its feature article on Doyle as “Madman Walking” and wrote “Doyle has been a controversial figure on the trail since 1973, when he set the AT’s first speed record.”
Doyle has reportedly hiked the AT more than any other person – 17 times, far more than any other person (9 thru-hikes and 8 section hikes). He helped found the Appalachian long Distance Hiking Association, speaks regularly on the Trail and long distance hiking, and runs a 5-day camp (the Appalachian Trail Institute) numerous times a year to help people get ready for a thru-hike. In addition to Davis, Bill Irwin (who completed a thru-hike when blind also prepare by attending Doyle’s institute). Despite his status as an AT icon, he may be just as or more passionate about contra dancing, which his website describes as “a form of community dance that is about cooperation and bringing people together with live traditional music.”
Rarely is there a Trail days (the largest annual gathering of AT hikers, which is held in Damascus , Virginia) without Doyle being in attendance and speaking about his adventures and his advice. Never one to eschew controversy, as recently as 2017 at a Trail Days seminar, Doyle questioned whether thru-hikers needed to filter their water.
Perhaps his own description, which seems to contain Doyle’s personal mission statement, is most appropriate:
Dr. Doyle is known for being a dynamic, opinionated but knowledgeable, unapologetic but caring, social change educator who is devoted to helping people fulfill their long-distance hiking goals and to experience the joy of moving to the music that they collectively hear. He loves assisting travelers on the way to becoming since there is only the road ahead.
I’m grateful the stars aligned so I was able to listen to Doyle’s slideshow presentation at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy during the summer of 1974. It planted a seed that has stayed with me for over 43 years – sometimes that “seed” was dormant and others time it broke through and reminded me of the dream. Next month, that seed should be in full bloom, despite the winter temperatures.
If I am fortunate enough to complete my thru-hike, I’ll be eager to embellish my journey by sitting down with Dr. Doyle.
Last modified: February 1, 2018