Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, September 20, 2018
Deer Isle native completes 2,200 mile hike
Seven-month Appalachian Trail journey
Jason Weed is overcome with emotions after peaking Mount Katahdin, the final leg on his journey through the Appalachian Trail.
by Monique Labbe
Deer Isle native Jason Weed just completed a seven-month marathon hike, completing the Appalachian Trail during the first week of September.
An avid hiker around the Portland area, the place he now resides, Weed and his dog Shelby were hiking buddies, often taking three, some times four-mile adventures together to get away from the bustle of the city.
Shelby died last year leaving Weed heartbroken and cursing himself for not taking her on an adventure with the magnitude of the Appalachian Trail. A friend of his then said “well, why don’t you do it?”
“I was completely flummoxed by that question,” said Weed. “It was such a simple question, and yet I didn’t even know how to begin processing it.”
Weed had a home and full-time job, but he decided to take the plunge; he quit his job, sold his home, and decided to take on the 2,200 mile hike.
“It was the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” said Weed of the preparation to get himself in a position to take the trip. “I thought it was going to be difficult, but it really wasn’t.”
Weed did not want to just be another hiker on the Appalachian Trail; he wanted his hike to serve a purpose, and he wanted that purpose to relate directly to his best friend Shelby.
Weed partnered with Almost Home Rescue in South Portland, to raise money for rescue dogs. He started a Gofundme campaign online, and, in March, set off on his trek, with nothing but a 30-pound pack on his back and Shelby’s ashes.
Having his pup on the trail in spirit with him gave him early energy, but after a few days, Weed hit weather that would have made even the strongest of men turn around.
“I think it took about two weeks for it to get above freezing,” said Weed. “There was just so much snow, and it was so cold. There were nights that it was below zero, so I just kept hiking through the night. There was a section I hiked for 23 hours straight.”
Powering through the cold may have kept Weed’s pace going; however, it caused him to have multiple issues with his feet, including stress fractures. He kept going, resting one day and continuing on; however, the pain was too much, and he eventually had to give in and take days off to heal his feet.
“I did nothing but rest and heal my feet, and then I kept right on going,” he said.
Weed encountered another problem around New York, when he realized the iron levels in his blood were so high that it was making him sick. The condition, called hemochromatosis, requires Weed to give blood every couple of months. Because he had not been able to do so before leaving for his trip, it was going on almost five or six.
“I got to New York, and I was just feeling really sick. We ran into this woman and we got to talking about what she did in the real world, and she said she was a nurse. I thought about it, then asked her if she could take my blood. Without hesitation, she said yes,” said Weed.
The pair got off trail, went to a local Rite Aid to get the needed supplies, then went to a hotel, where the nurse took Weed’s blood in the hotel bathroom. The experience, said Weed, was the “craziest thing I’ve ever done.”
For the rest of the trip, Weed suffered from Lyme disease, several bouts of weakness, fatigue and, some days, delirium. He never faltered, though, and, on September 4, he reached the peak of Mount Katahdin, seven months after beginning his journey.
“I can’t explain how that moment felt,” said Weed. “Dread, because it was over, relief, because it was over. It was a mix of everything.”
Weed said that he thought about Shelby throughout his hike, and about how she would have loved so many parts of the trip. It was in the moments he thought about her the most that he took time to scatter some of her ashes along the trail.
“I don’t think I realized the healing I needed to do, and the work I needed to do as a human being,” said Weed. “Not just because of Shelby’s death but also because of just life. It was exactly what I needed.”
Being back in “the matrix” (trail talk for “the real world”) has been difficult for Weed.
“People don’t really understand the freedom you have on the trail. I did a lot of night hiking, and I felt so connected to the nature, the food chain, the cycle of it all. I was completely a part of it, I could do whatever I want,” he said. I growled at bears, I chased down deer and a wild boar. Coming back, you have to deal with idiot drivers, waiting in lines everywhere. It sounds like such small things, but those are the things that are so hard to deal with.”
Despite the difficulties, the sickness and poor weather conditions, Weed said there is not a single part of the hike he regrets.
“I know I will never do something like this again,” he said. “But I also know that everything that happened to me out there, happened to me for a reason. It was a crazy, beautiful experience.”