Four months of enduring bug bites and blisters, of savoring fresh blueberries and the blush of setting suns can leave a lasting imprint on one's soul. "One of the things that it did was awaken something in me: my connection with nature, the community spirit," says Keeble. "It did magnify to me how much I really need people in my life."
Keeble has felt AT euphoria once. Doyle is addicted. The trail is in his blood. He keeps returning to it to get rejuvenated. He aches for his two children this summer, but the trail beckons. As always, he draws strength from his sore-footed friends and rejoices at seeing the are of a rainbow and hearing a loon's wail. He will blubber like a new Miss America when at last he stands again atop misty Mount Katahdin. And, as always, nothing on the AT is exactly the same. "Every time I go out there I learn more," says Doyle, "because I'm different every time I go."
He and his wife have split now. He is a little older and creakier. His red trail beard shows streaks of gray. No question, the Warren Doyle treading the Appalachian Trail this summer is a changed man. This time he even packed three pairs of socks.