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He Lived the Hiking Dream. The Real Story Was Sadder

'Outside' explores the fascinating life of Appalachian Trail thru-hiker 'Baltimore Jack'
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 10, 2019 12:11 PM CDT
Updated Sep 14, 2019 3:30 PM CDT
Stock photo.   (Getty/Betty4240)

(Newser) – Some people hope to hike the Appalachian Trail once in their lifetime. Adam Tarlin—better known by his trail name of "Baltimore Jack"—did it seven times. His hiking secret? Tarlin essentially lived on the trail year-round, from 1995 until his death in 2016 at age 57, explains Outside magazine. If that sounds like a romantic adventure story too good to be true, that's because it is, writes Dan Koeppel. Take the name "Baltimore Jack," for instance. The origin is the famous Bruce Springsteen lyric: "Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack / I went out for a ride, and I never went back." Tarlin didn't quite do that in real life, but something similar happened. After his brief marriage in the 1980s ended—they had a daughter—Tarlin's life seems to have gone off track a bit. It's not exactly clear what Tarlin did over the next decade, but he showed up on the AT in 1995.

There, he christened himself Baltimore Jack and eventually became a legend as a "trail angel" by helping (and entertaining) other thru-hikers. He carried a notoriously heavy pack, crammed with books and bottles of Jim Beam. By 2003, his legs could no longer take thru-hiking, though Tarlin remained on the trail. His health went into a slow decline as his drinking worsened and his weight ballooned. The story details the epic stories of his life on the trail, as well as the conflicting personas—those who knew him only as Tarlin saw a life lived irresponsibly, while those who knew him as Baltimore Jack saw him as a hero. "We all dream of living on the trail, out in the wild, with no responsibilities," writes Koeppel. "Adam Tarlin showed that that was possible. Baltimore Jack showed that the reality isn't as magical as it might seem." Read the full story. (Read more Appalachian Trail stories.)

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