Attorney Shares Life Lessons Learned Along 2,000-Mile Appalachian Trail
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Attorney Shares Life Lessons Learned Along 2,000-Mile Appalachian Trail

According to Melbourne attorney Greg Donoghue, 62, there was no one impetus that led to his desire to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. 

“There was no grand inspiration,” Donoghue said. “The fact of the matter is you do it because you want to see if you are tough enough to do it. I wanted to see if I could tough it out and do the whole thing within a year.” 

For those unfamiliar, a “thru hike” of the Appalachian Trail (or AT) is a continuous 2,194.3-mile hike through the Appalachian Mountains. In order to be considered a true thru hike, hikers must complete the trail in less than a year. Donoghue started his hike on Feb. 15, 2022, in Springer Mountain, Ga., with a goal of finishing in five or six months. He finished just over six months later, on Aug. 19, 2002, when he summited 5,269-foot Mt. Katahdin in north-central Maine. 

With his phone, Donoghue was able to keep in touch with his family back home and take photos and videos of his adventure. His daughter Mallory thru hiked the AT in 2021 at age 25. Father and daughter hiked about 300 miles of the trail together that year. Donoghue re-hiked that portion on his 2022 trip to have a true thru hike. 

“Not many people can say they’ve hiked over 300 miles with their dad. I’m so grateful for our time on the trail together,” Mallory said.

Donoghue’s trail name was “Agony.” The name was first given to him by Mallory during her thru hike when he was complaining after a particularly rough day. 

When asked about his daily routine, Donoghue said, “Most days it was, get up early and start walking before daylight. It was scrambling over rocks and roots and fallen trees all day, most every day. Quite honestly, the AT is like this for most of the way until it gets really hard in New Hampshire and Maine. If people are picturing a leisurely walk in the woods on the AT, they will be in for a reality check. But there were also many extremely beautiful spots that made it all worth it.”

Donoghue camped on the trail most nights, going into nearby towns for a night in a hostel and to get cleaned up, wash his one set of clothes, and restock his food supply about once a week. 

On the trail, he slept in a hammock under a tarp, using an over quilt and under quilt to keep warm. He often camped near shelters along the trail to socialize with other hikers, but sometimes “stealth camped” when he was ready to stop for the day.  

Donoghue kept his energy up with a diet he compared to a kindergartener’s  — lots of candy, beef jerky, ramen noodles, chips and mashed potatoes. Packets of tuna and spam provided extra protein. He carried a water filter and found water wherever he could along the trail. Water can be scarce in some places along the trail, and sources suspect, so a filter is a necessity.

Keeping the pack light was paramount. Donoghue’s pack weighed about 12 pounds before adding food and water. Anything not absolutely essential got left behind. In addition to his hammock, tarp and quilts, Dongohue carried a 2-ounce multi-tool, a puffy jacket to keep warm, and his cell phone. He used an app called Far Out for GPS navigation and a Garmin Inreach Mini so he could be located in case of emergency.

Over the course of the six months, Donoghue hiked an average of 16 to 20 miles a day. He battled a variety of weather conditions, from snow to rain to extreme heat. At one point, a septic blister on his foot had him sidelined for eight days. Through it all, he just kept putting one foot in front of the other. 

“My favorite part and my least favorite part was Maine,” Dononghue said. “In New Hampshire  and Maine, the scenery was just incredible. The White Mountains, the big alpine areas above the trees were gorgeous. You could see for miles. But those areas were also the hardest, sometimes all you could see for miles were rock piles. And you had to just get through it. It was hard to keep it together sometimes, especially when it was storming or hot, but you just have to keep going. You don’t have any other choice.” 

Reminiscing about his experience, Donoghue is unsure if he would recommend thru hiking to others. The length of the trail, the probability of physical injury, and the time away from family and friends make thru hiking very challenging. But despite both the physical and emotional hardships, he learned a lot about himself on the trail. 

“The thing I enjoyed the most was the people you meet in the hiking community,” Donoghue said. “There really are no socio-economic barriers out there. You are all out there with a common purpose and looking out for each other. You cross paths and become friends with people you would never have met in your everyday life.”  

As Donoghue puts it, “Always be kind to others on the trail, as you never know who you’ll have to depend on for help.”

Living out of a backpack for six months changed Donoghue’s mindset, as well. While he was happy to come home to everyday luxuries like a mattress, shower, and hot meals, living so simply made an impact. 

“It changed me in that it made me realize that less is more,” Donoghue said. “For six months of my life, I was focused on not having anything, making my pack as light as possible. It makes you a lot less tied to material possessions. I realized that having a bunch of stuff is not what is going to make you happy.”

Meet Greg

Gregory J. Donoghue is a graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law and founding partner at Donoghue & Associates, in Melbourne. The practice specializes in auto accidents, personal injury cases and  insurance disputes. He will be shifting to a full-time mediation practice in 2023 after 37 years as a litigator.




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