He would walk 2,180 miles

Paul Longchamps, a light bulb changer for SU, will begin the 2,180-mile trek of the Appalachian Trail in February.

Three out of four people who attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail in its entirety do not succeed. Somewhere along that trek — a 2,180-mile footpath that stretches through 14 states, an epic trail the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest 16 times — they falter. Injury, illness, family, funds and a broken-down psyche may lead the hikers off course.

Photo: Keegan Barber

“The biggest challenge is not physical, but mental,” said Laurie Potteiger, an information services manager for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy who’s accomplished the feat. “In the beginning, there is excitement. But once you’ve got pain, itches, discomfort from not showering, things change. You’ve got your trail legs, but day after day you’re filthy and stinky and miss home.”

Fewer than one percent of the 2 to 3 million people who hike along the Appalachian Trail annually attempt a complete “thru-hike.” One man on campus is attempting this challenge.

He has tested his mettle walking 1,000 miles in 90 days. And he has also calculated expansion formulas for recipes as Syracuse University Food Services’ head baker, flipped city-owned, derelict apartment buildings as a young landlord; and worked three jobs, including a 114-hour week, to provide for his wife and children.

Paul Longchamps is a 49-year-old light bulb changer at SU. That is, until Feb. 14. After that, his last day of work for some time, he will travel to Georgia.

Also known as Orange Lightening, Longchamps will begin a northbound solo thru-hike at Springer Mountain on Feb. 29. In a perfect storm, he’ll make the trek to Katahdin, Maine, in six months. That means hiking 85 miles per week.

A journey years in the making
Longchamps' dream is at least 35 years in the making. It was born when he was a Boy Scout growing up in Webster, a suburb of Rochester, N.Y. He planned to hike the Trail, and in 1976, he bought a backpack for the trip.

Late this fall, in the dark, carpeted basement of the Hoople Special Education Building, at 805 S. Crouse Ave., Longchamps hangs his work jacket and changes his shoes. He puts on hiking boots. The backpack he bought 35 years ago is the same one he’s packing now.

His locker, a dented gray metal cabinet with two doors that open like an armoire, is painted with his logo. It is round and clear, with a bolt of electric orange lightning bursting through a wire heating element.

By the time he turned 16, his father had set fire to his family’s home. “He had a lot of problems,” Longchamps said. “I’ve been on my own ever since. That’s one of the reasons this hike didn’t materialize for me back in those early days.”

He leans back in his favorite chair, an old office seat on wheels, like he’s in a recliner, with his legs outstretched, feet crossed at the ankles and hands behind his head. When he sits up to emphasize his words, the chair squeaks.

“Many people have told me through the years that my young life was such a horrible tragedy, but really it’s not,” Longchamps said. “I never fall victim to anything like that again, for the rest of my life. And one of the things I can decide to do is live my life in such a way that I can do the things I want to do even if it means waiting 35 years."

More doing, less waiting
“My wife was saying this morning how I look like a 2-year-old getting all bundled up for the bus,” Longchamps said.

Karen Longchamps met her husband in a restaurant; she was his boss. She will meet along the trail in Virginia, sometime around June 1, so they can celebrate their 27th anniversary.

Their daughter Jolie, a 26-year-old Syracuse graduate, and son Carl, a 22-year-old SUNY ESF student, also plan to meet him there. Perhaps they can help him beat what Potteiger describes as the Virginia Blues—a 550-mile, remote stretch of the Trail.

“I can always depend on Paul,” she said, which she learned on one of their first outdoor trips together. They’d hiked all day from somewhere near Old Forge and camped overnight. Paul woke up early and made a fire, because, she said, “he wanted me to be comfortable.”

When she stepped out of the tent, she saw it was snowing. “I said, ‘This is enough. We are going to a hotel,” she said. Hiking trips might not be her cup of tea, but Karen Longchamps supports her husband’s passion.

She and their daughter are both a bit worried about him hiking alone. She is somewhat reassured, however, when she thinks of how “totally prepared” and “very meticulous” he is.

From buying a cell phone—a waterproof Casio Commando that meets military specs—to drying fruit—apples and cantaloupes from Central New York markets, he isn’t missing a beat. “My preparedness is huge,” Longchamps said.

His pack currently weighs between 30 and 40 pounds. It contains cold weather gear for the Smoky Mountains—a sleeping bag rated for below zero, two fleeces, two Merino sweaters, long johns, hiking pants and shirt, cooking stove, oatmeal, noodles, dehydrated fruits, a solar panel charger and cell phone.

His wife will send packages along the way and Longchamps will hike into whatever town is nearby every six days. He hopes to get the pack down to 30 pounds come spring, because the lighter it is, the faster he can hike.

He is already fit. Longchamps walks over 10 miles daily—just at work. “I’m cranking up these freaking huge miles!” he said. “And now (my coworkers) joke about me being a professional walker, getting paid to walk all these miles.”

Longchamps also walks daily to work. It is 5 miles from Longchamps’ front door in Salina to the clock he punches everyday at SU. Recently, Longchamps took a 6 a.m. assignment. The bus didn’t run that early, he said, so “I just woke up at 3 a.m., (and) walked from 4:30 to 5:30.”

To increase his weekly milage, he would augment his walks to, from and around campus with hikes on Monday and Friday. One local hike: from the Hopple Special Education Building to South Campus, through South Campus to the Stone Quarry, underneath Highway 481, through Jamesville, to Clarks Reservation, then back to campus. And then home.

Longchamps walked a few 87.5-mile weeks. That aerobic base will help him climb 4,661-foot peaks in Georgia and 6,643-foot peaks in North Carolina.

Longchamps also hikes with “a regular company of gentlemen. One of them, Keith Berger of Cazenovia, he met at dining services while Berger was still a student. The two have hiked together for about nine years. “If anyone is prepared for it, he is,” Berger said. “He seems to be doing the trip more for the journey than the distance.”

Longchamps recalls his seventh grade guidance counselor’s plaque: “She had all of these people marching to a different drummer, and I remember hearing that drum through my entire life.”

There is one thing he is glad he has lived long enough to learn. “We are the drummer,” he says. “We are the ones beating the drum, we are the ones taking those steps.”

FOLLOW: Paul Longchamps' journey on his blog

SUPPORT: Orange Lightening T-shirts, $10, available at the SU Schine Student Center Bookstore and online at http://tinyurl.com/TrailTee. Proceeds benefit the Syracuse University Outing Club.

MORE SUPPORT: Longchamps' going away/hike of a lifetime kick-off party will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 21 at Faegan's Cafe and Pub, 734 South Crouse Ave. The party will feature $1 off draft beer and mixed drinks for anyone wearing Orange Lightening t-shirt.

God be with you I hiked the

God be with you I hiked the green mtn. trail many years ago tha was tough   but you can do it


Have a Great time on your

Have a Great time on your hike, Wish i could go with you, You will be in my prayers. Best wishs old friend : )

Orange Lightning Thru Hiker

Go Paul! Hope you have the hike of a lifetime. Will be following Longchamps on the long trail on your blog. I wish you fair weather, good health, friendly fellow hikers and frequent care packages.

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