He braced himself and pushed himself from the southern terminus in Springer Mountain, Georgia on March 1, consistently chronicling his travels on social media.
“I was considered ‘NOBO’ (northbound) because I was going north,” he said. “Sometimes you hike alone, but you meet people and hike with them for a while. And you usually see people in the shelters.”
The Appalachian Trail is the most famous of the three “Triple Crown” trails in North America. There are shelters approximately every 15 miles. On fast days, Schellenbach noted, he put up to 30 miles behind him. On slower days it would be 15 miles.
“I was out for a while, maybe a quarter of the way, and I got really bad shin splints,” he recalled. “I was able to work my way through it. You come to an animal shelter, you log and make an entry, and then you move on.”
For example, drive through deep snow in the Smoky Mountains in March and through knee-deep water in Pennsylvania in the spring.
“There are so many good people on the trail who want to help you,” he said. “It really brings back your faith in humanity. It gives you a really good sense of the community of people. I have never had bad experiences.”
Schellenbach had been a combat engineer in the National Guard for nine years, so he knew what he needed for the trek. His backpack weighed about 30 pounds. He would drink more than two gallons of water a day to stay hydrated. He was given food for four days at a time, and then found his way to nearby towns to resupply.
“During the hike, I ate trail mix, protein bars, chicken packets, and ramen noodles,” he said. “If I went to a town every four or five days, I would eat unimaginable amounts of food.”
Of course, Schellenbach had several what he called “eye-opening” experiences.
One day he took a step and was about to take another step when he noticed a rattlesnake quickly curled up by the side of the path, ready to strike. “I was able to get away from it quickly,” he said. “I didn’t have time to be scared.”
“You hear a rustling in the brush all the time,” he added. “If you looked into the bushes every time you heard a rustling, you would do that all day. You would never get anywhere.”
Luckily, he looked up at the rustling one day on Mount Greylock in Massachusetts – and saw two bears charging towards him about 30 meters away.
“It happened so fast I froze,” he said. “But luckily they fell to the ground and started fighting with each other. That gave me time to slam my bars together and yell at them. My heart was beating really fast. They jumped up and ran.”
One day, as he was making his way through those Pennsylvania floods and taking another nine miles to get to a shelter, the path led across a beaver dam — from which Schellenbach slid into the water over his head.
“I was able to climb the dam again – but I knew I had to move because the temperature was in the low 40s and I had to change clothes and put on a sleeping bag before hypothermia set in,” he recalls. “As night fell, I finally made it to the shelter. It was one of those days that I will never forget in my life.”
On the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, which was still snow-capped in June, Schellenbach marveled that he could see for miles.
“That was very cool,” he said. “The highest wind speeds in the world were measured up there. It’s almost like a Mars landscape, it’s so windy. But it’s a beautiful place – you can see forever. I’m going back there one day.”
In fact, this is a constant theme of Appalachian Trail conversations with Schellenbach, who played for Badins State Championship Football Team in 1990 – back.
Its migration from Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine, lasted 121 days from March 1 to June 29.
“I had a lot of fun with that,” said Schellenbach. “You miss hot showers and cold drinks. Never again can a hot shower be taken for granted.
“I think everyone should get out and go for a long hike,” he added. “I feel very successful. I’m so glad I did.”