CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gary Kerastury didn't expect to hike the 2,180-mile long Appalachian Trail alone.
He wasn't even the one who planned the trip in the first place.
The retired West Virginia State Police trooper has already made it nearly 2,000 miles since March 17, though, walking through snow on some mountaintops and enduring one of the warmest summers ever recorded while carrying about 45 pounds on his back.
Last weekend, Kerastury took a break from his trek and spent the night in a hotel room near the trail in North Woodstock, N.H.
"The rains fell with high wind and it got pretty cold up there," he said in a telephone conversation about his decision to come down from a mountain and spend the night in a bed.
While trying to get rested at the $70 hotel room, Kerastury sounded tired as he thought about the time he has remaining in the wilderness.
"Finding a hotel is going to be something difficult from here on in," he said, "because I don't think I go through any more towns."
Kerastury, 57, of Eleanor, retired from the State Police in 2000. He quit his job at a mattress store to prepare to hike the trail, which spans 14 states.
About two years ago, a friend spoke of a lifelong dream to make the trek -- something Kerastury had never really thought about doing.
Kerastury and his friend started preparing in January. They had decided there was no better time to become "true hikers" than this year, the 75th anniversary of the trail.
"I watched a couple of videotapes the other guy provided and I jogged three miles a day every other day from January to March," Kerastury said. "I was fairly prepared to go."
Equipped with a three-person tent for extra room and the "A.T. Guide" (the Appalachian Trail handbook), Kerastury and his friend started their hike at the beginning of the trail in Georgia.
"It was rough. I realized there really was nothing I could've done to prepare for the trip," Kerastury said, reflecting on the first few days climbing Springer Mountain.
While Kerastury was trying to come to grips with grueling 17-mile-a-day walks, his friend had a change of heart.
"I just said, 'Mark, if you could hang on until the first town up here . . . we could have a better sense of what's going on,'" Kerastury said.
"He said, 'No, I'm going to leave right now.' So he went three days and just decided to hang it up, and I decided, well, I'm going to keep going."
Only one out of every four people who attempt to hike the trail all the way through successfully complete the journey, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's website.
After his friend left, Kerastury traded in his three-person tent for "Big Agnes," a lighter tent made for one person.
"At night, I've had things snorting around outside my tent," he said. "So you're on edge, wondering what's going on and what it is."
Six months later, the soggy pages of the "A.T. Guide" book are barely holding together. Kerastury has lost about 20 pounds and the usually clean-shaven former state trooper has a full white beard.