The WCBI is comprised of two guys who go by the trail names of Madhatter and Doc Livingston. The Hatter and Doc have very different backpacking styles, philosophies, and experiences as you’ll see below.
Hi, Doc here! I’m 60 years old and have been backpacking since I was 11 when I took my first trip with my dad on the 70 mile stretch of the A.T. through Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Most of my backpacking experience is in the southern Appalachians and Florida but I’ve also backpacked to the summit of Mt. Rainier and Mt. St Helens in the Pacific Northwest, down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. I’m a geologist and backpacking trips often get me into great places to study geology.
After three knee surgeries (including a partial knee replacement) and 45 years, my days of covering 20 miles in mountainous terrain with a 50 pound pack, are in the past. To compensate for the wear and tear of the years, I’ve cut back on daily mileage and completely embraced the ultra-light backpacking philosophy. Everything I do in preparing for a trip is geared to reducing pack weight. My usual weight for a four day, three night trip is about 24 pounds including food. I could reduce the weight even further but that would start to compromise my margin of safety and ability to be relatively comfortable. My typical distance in moderately difficult terrain is now about 10 to 15 miles.
I've always been a bit of a gypsy, never wanting to stay in one place for too long. Constantly fighting the urge to wander and ramble or roam and desiring the carefree feeling that comes with getting lost! I spent countless hours as a kid doing just that, wondering aimlessly through the woods on my grandparent’s farm. Following cattle trails and streambeds for miles was how I spent my summers. So 15 years ago when my father suggested me and my brothers section hike the A.T. I was all in! I spent months researching the best gear, reading books and blogs, magazine articles (bought my first Backpacker magazine) and played twenty questions with a few self proclaimed gear gurus. I did actually luck out and meet a guy who gave me solid beta on the trail and some essential gear. He sold me my first pack - a Gregory Forester, my first sleeping bag - a Marmot 30 Degree, and my stove - an MSR Pocket Rocket. All of which I still own.
It took two years before we actually got on the trail, and only one of my brothers ended up going. From the moment I stepped foot on the trail I was hooked. My stride was smooth and easy in spite of the fact that I drastically over packed. I was literally carrying everything but the kitchen sink - my first pack weighed in at 42 pounds. We did forty some miles that trip hiking from Woody gap to Amicalola falls. On the way home I started making a mental list of all the things I could do without. When I got home I unpacked my bag and made three piles, the first was things I had to have, the second was things I didn’t use and the third was things I didn’t use but was sure that I would need eventually. As time went on the piles got smaller and smaller. Admittedly, I still carry way more then I need but the pack weight has come down significantly since that first trip. I average less than 30 pounds now for a three-day trip, which is more than comfortable for me.
Hiking the A.T. with my dad and brother would only last for three trips. My dad hurt his knee at the end of our first trip and it was obvious from the beginning that neither he nor my brother shared my fervor for backpacking. One thing that did come from my time with them on the A.T. was my trail name “Madhatter” which was given to me by my brother after our second trip. This was the trip that I sort of came into my own. I discovered that I was a rather fast hiker. It was instinctive. I didn’t set out to be fast and I didn’t view it as a race. Merely as a challenge - man versus mountain and I was going to win. The climbs were where I would pull away from hikers behind me and catch and pass those in front of me. I did eight miles heading north to the Blood Mountain shelter in about 3 hours. It was after this that my brother informed me that I was hence forth to be referred to as the Madhatter. He then went on to explain that what he actually meant was that I was like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, always in a hurry. He liked Madhatter because he said I was insane so he stuck with it.
The fall after my third and last trip to the A.T. was when I met “Doc” aka the fireman. We had kids in the same elementary school class. Our wives became friends and through them we were introduced. After a lengthy conversation we both agreed to take a trip to the Ocala section of the Florida Trail. It started raining ten minutes in to our trip and rained for about the next three hours. That night by the fire we both confessed how important it was that the other never complain no matter how bad conditions might become. Our friendship was born and after a couple years and probably a dozen trips I joked about us being the Wesley Chapel Backpacking Club. Doc said “no we’re not a club, we’re so good at this that we're an Institute!” and just like that the WCBI was born!