'Exploring the world at 3 mph': Falmouth hiker documents his 'Appalachian Odyssey'

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FALMOUTH — For Jeffrey Ryan, hiking the Appalachian Trail essentially started as an accident.

Ryan has always loved hiking and being outdoors. He and college friends even hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile trek from Mexico to Canada, in 1982, a trip that took 6 1/2 months to complete.

Ryan was working for L.L Bean at the time, and had the opportunity to test the equipment sold by the outdoor outfitter, and came back to work in 1983. Two years later, he and a friend hiked Mount Katahdin.

“Little did we know this was the first section of the Appalachian Trail,” Ryan said at his home on Foreside Road last week.

Ryan and Wayne Cyr kept in touch and kept hiking. After Katahdin, they did Long Trail in Vermont, which was another section of the Appalachian Trail. The two then realized they were section hiking the 2,200-mile trail.

Ryan remembers thinking that at the rate the men were going, it would take 30 years to complete the trail. And he was almost right: when they finished their last section of the trail in October of 2013, it had taken them 28 years.

Now, Ryan is set to release a book about his experiences on the trail that took nearly three decades for him to complete. “Appalachian Odyssey: A 28 Year Hike on America’s Trail” is Ryan’s first book and will be published July 1 by Down East Books.

Ryan said the book includes profiles of trails and mountains, so readers can understand the terrain; there are stories about each section; stories of what the hikers ate and the equipment they used; and descriptions of the challenges they faced in completing the trail. It’s also a story about friendship, a love for hiking, and overcoming obstacles.

“I hope to resonate with anybody who wants to know what it’s like to do a trail or anyone who wants to start poking away a big goal they have,” Ryan said.

Ryan will also be doing a speaking and book-signing tour, driving his 1985 Volkswagen Vanagon around the country, beginning in Washington, D.C., in July. He plans to stop at more than 30 L.L. Bean stores, as well as other locations along the way. Not surprisingly, he has scheduled his tour so that he is never far from a trail, and will be blogging about his trip as he drives and camps.

Ryan, who was born and raised in Falmouth, said his love for the outdoors came from growing up in Maine and being able to explore.

“I had a real sense of comfort in being outdoors,” he said last week. “I’ve always had this innate love of being outdoors.”

He said the ultimate relaxation for him is to be able to be out in the woods and explore new places.

“There’s always stuff to see,” he said.

Ryan, who said he is “looking at 60 pretty soon,” has no intentions of slowing down. He said he’s already “working on his next adventure,” and is collecting material for a new trail he discovered between Alabama and New York. When he discovers one, Ryan said, it’s like being “a kid in the candy store.”

“I love exploring the world at three miles per hour,” he said, adding much more of the world can be seen while walking than by driving from one place to another. “It’s a gift to be able to slow down.”

As for “Appalachian Odyssey,” Ryan, who has hiked more than 8,000 miles of trails, doesn’t intend to be a one-hit wonder.

“I intend to keep writing after this book,” he said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Falmouth resident Jeffrey Ryan outside his home on Foreside Road with his first book, “Appalachian Odyssey,” which documents his experiences while completing the trail over 28 years.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.