Boyd and a group of friends aim to traverse the entire trail, from Georgia to Maine, in a 22-year span. The group tries to travel about 100 miles of the trail each year, hiking twice per year, once in the spring and again in the fall.
The group of friends started hiking the trail in 2015, but Boyd said he got the itch to make the journey in 1996 when he was a freshman in college.
“I met a young man with a beard, and I mean it was a long, gnarly looking beard,” Boyd said. “He told me the summer after high school he hiked the trail, and he told the story like an odyssey, living out of a backpack, drinking out of a stream. He fell in love, and out of love, and back in love again.”
The story drew Boyd in, and he wanted to experience what the mountain trails had to offer.
“When he got to Maine, he stood on the top of a mountain, where the sunlight first hits the continental United States,” Boyd said. “I was so fascinated, so drawn in. He said it was the simple pleasures sometimes – he had been in the woods for days, and kind of smelled, and he walked into a Shoney’s and just drank sweet tea for four hours.”
Boyd couldn’t pursue the goal immediately, because as a freshman in college he signed an agreement with the U.S. Army. Eventually he would marry, and his wife did not share the interest in hiking the Appalachian Trail.
“It constantly called me,” Boyd said. “A lot of people will spend their entire lives saving up for their retirement. When they get old enough to do what they want, they can’t get around anymore.”
Boyd is a diabetic, and he said his condition might take a few years off his life. His diagnosis was his first experience with mortality.
“It occurred to me that I needed to do something now,” Boyd said.
Boyd and his friend, Derek Truelove, started riding bicycles together, and at some point, Truelove told Boyd that he planned to hike the Appalachian Trail with a few friends from church.
“I was shameless and said, ‘Can I go with you guys?’” Boyd said. “I just sort of invited myself.”
Each member of the group received a “trail name,” that Boyd said developed organically during their time together. Boyd is MacGyver for his ingenuity in a pinch, Truelove is D-Rex because “anyone who knows anything about dinosaurs can tell you a T-Rex is known for being grouchy and having short arms,” Boyd said.
The other two members of the group were given the names Hardees and Bellwether respectively.
The characters they came across on the trail were also given trail names. One of the first people they met, at the first shelter they came across in Georgia when they started the hike, was Sling Blade.
“If you’ve seen the movie, ‘Sling Blade,’ he was just like that,” Boyd said. “I swear to you as I live and breathe he had a lawnmower blade he ground into a machete, chopping wood.”
When they approached Sling Blade for the first time, they noticed a fire inside the shelter, which Boyd said he didn’t think was allowed. When asked, Sling Blade claimed the fire was already there when he arrived.
“We talked to him and learned more about him, and he was really an interesting guy,” Boyd said. “He told us about how he rode a Moped from Atlanta, and he sold it for supplies, and he was eating potted meat … when we were getting ready to leave, he tells us as we leave, ‘I lied to y’all about the fire. I found a piece of metal and drug it up here and built a fire.’”
In his first hiking trip through the beginning of the trail, Boyd said he learned the hard way about the amount of gear a hiker should carry. His bag was about 50 pounds.
“I sat down on a log and fell over backwards,” he said. “I couldn’t get up, because I had 50 pounds on my back, so they had to unfasten me.”
During that first trip, the group set out to go 50 miles, but only ended up going 20 miles. Now, they average about 12 miles per day, and on each trip, they go for about five days.
In a later hike, the group came across a young man they called Scout, who was on the trail with no gear.
“The people you meet are the coolest people,” Boyd said. “This young man was like 21 years old, from Florida, and he was freezing to death. We gave him some gear and found out he lived a really interesting life. He lived in a commune at one point. He went to college, and now he was going into the Army.”
Among the other interesting characters met on the trail was a British man the group dubbed as 007. The camaraderie of the group, as well as interactions with strangers, made for the best memories, Boyd said.
“It’s just interesting,” Boyd said. “We’re constantly joking around, having a good time, arguing with one another. The whole thing’s a lot of fun with those guys.”
The two trips per year have come to be a respite for Boyd, he said.
“There’s nothing that recharges my batteries like going on the Appalachian Trail,” he said. “It’s amazing where you can get a cell signal now, and you see young kids walking the trail up at the top of a hill taking a picture to post to Instagram. I don’t want any of that. I want nothing but the great outdoors.”
Boyd is an 11-year veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve, where he made the rank of captain before he was medically discharged in 2007 after developing Type 1 diabetes.
Boyd lives in Lebanon with his wife, Jada, and their two children, Wilson and Blair Ellen. He is a past president of the Lebanon Noon Rotary Club and has served in the club since 2005.