How a Marion man hiked the whole East Coast

Mar 31, 2021

MARION — Making it from Maine to the Florida Keys takes long enough by car, but nowhere near as long as Marion resident Charlie Duane’s completion of the feat by foot.

While it wasn’t all in one shot, Duane has been on enough long distance hikes to cover the entire East Coast.

Before he tackled the coast, Duane finished shorter hikes with his sons when they were scouts, and also completed two hikes in Italy, touring places Leonardo DaVinci frequented.

“I literally walked around the city with a pedometer and walked the exact same steps he walked,” Duane said.

At the time, Duane didn’t see the hikes as a challenge.

“I was just doing it,” he said.

But in 2000, around when Duane turned 50, he decided to do the Long Trail in Vermont.

“I wanted to keep my vitality for the rest of my life and I felt like I was running out of time,” he said.

He hiked the 273 mile trail northbound, from southern Vermont to the Canadian border.

In 2001, Duane went bigger, hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, from Maine to Georgia, in 97 days.

“The reason I was able to do longer distances was not at all that I was faster, but that I could do it for 12 or 13 hours a day routinely,” Duane said.

On the Appalachian Trail, Duane averaged over 22 miles per day to cover the length of the 2,190 mile trail.

In order to complete the trail, Duane hiked during the offseason of his job hand-lettering boats.

He covered the trail using a method of ultralight hiking, with a backpack that only added 20 pounds when it was completely full.

Duane would often go two or three days without seeing anyone, and said there were very few other southbound hikers by the time he reached Harper’s Ferry, just past the midpoint of the Appalachian Trail.

“By the time I got there, there were only two people ahead of me,” he said.

He said a lot of the challenge of the trek was “how comfortable you are with yourself and your limited social life.”

While he was on the trail, Duane said he was able to call his family around once a week, from stations set up every few miles.

He added that many people who completed the trail have relocated near it, and act as a resource for hikers.

When he finished the Appalachian Trail, Duane said he “wasn’t prepared for the dramatic weight gain that occurred afterwards.”

He said he gained around 20 pounds following the hike, and when he first attempted to hike from Maine to Quebec in 2002, he had to stop after one day.

When he came to the Knife Edge in Maine, a steep climb which Duane said is “almost like hiking up a mile of staircases,” the weight he gained and the weight of his supplies caught up to him.

“I was actually carrying 40 extra pounds for what some would say was a normal day hike,” Duane said.

But he returned just a few weeks later and hiked the full distance from Maine to Quebec in 31 days.

Then, Duane took a few years off from hiking. But the idea of hiking from Georgia to the Florida Keys, completing the entire coast, tempted him.

“I was trying to talk myself out of doing that section,” Duane said.

Ultimately, he set out for the final 34-day hike to complete the East Coast, covering the distance mostly by walking alongside roads, with cars swerving toward him and police thinking he was a vagrant.

Duane said he learned to “just keep moving, even if I was uncomfortable” on that final stretch.

He also said he gained new appreciation for the well-organized Appalachian Trail as he dodged traffic on his way to the southernmost point of the U.S.

Now, Duane walks about three miles per day, and has been doing so for long enough to cover the circumference of the globe.

He said it’s easier to get out for walks a few hours a day than a few weeks a month.

In all, Duane said he’s been able to maintain his health “pretty well.”

“I’ve lost a step or two, I guess, on the tennis court,” he said.

Duane said that he enjoys being able to share his experience on the trails and on the roads, which he did in a talk with the Sippican Historical Society in March.

He likened his time hiking to getting a college education, with the caveat that he didn’t get to choose his courses — they chose him.

“It’s like the trail picks out an education for you to learn from.”