Trekker Laurent Empereur

Many people fantasize about quitting their job to leave on some amazing, life-changing journey, but few actually do. Laurent Empereur though is one of those rare people who didn’t just imagine making an epic journey, he actually did it. Last Spring, fed up with the daily grind, Emperuer quit his job in the restaurant industry, giving up his Greenpoint apartment of eight years and setting off to trek the Appalachian Trail from Northern Georgia over many mountains to Maine. At over 2, 200 miles, the Appalachian Trail is not only the longest hiking trail in the world, but it is also such a mental and physical challenge that only about a quarter of the hikers who set off reach the end of the trail.

Empereur, 41, decided on the trek after celebrating his 40th birthday. After 18 years of working in the grueling world of New York restaurants, Empereur, a French immigrant, was burned out and longed for a chance to reconnect with nature and himself.

Saving his money for a year, he prepared for the trip. Part of Emperuer’s plan was to eat well on his journey. He dehydrated many delicious dishes, which friends mailed to him at P.O. boxes along the route. Whereas other trekkers carried only a few ounces in cooking tools, Empereur shocked other trekkers by bringing over four pounds of serious cooking equipment. Many hikers who ate poorly on the trek were amazed by Empereur’s gourmet dishes, served deep in the woods. Once, he slow cooked a pork shoulder with bacon that was so delicious that it became the envy of all the other hikers on the trail. Although other trekkers have finished the trail faster, few on the trail have equaled Empereur’s culinary feats Although he ate well, the demanding daily routine of hours of hiking still helped him shed twenty-five pounds.

Courtesy of Laurent Empereur

The French Greenpointer set off from Northern Georgia on his journey on April 27th. Although Empereur had prepared well for the culinary aspects of the hike, he had done little to prepare his feet and legs for the grueling multi-month marathon, a mistake he would pay for. By the time he reached Southern Virginia on June 7th, he was suffering from a toe infection called paronychia and from shin splints. Each step became such agony that he considered abandoning his journey. Fortunately though, a fellow hiker was able to treat his paronychia and after a short rest, Empereur was back on the trail.

Although finishing was the goal, discovering the beauty and tranquility of the mountains was equally as important. Empereur discovered multiple beauty spots as well as inner peace and tranquility. He fondly recalled Virginia’s Grayson Highlands, New Hampshire’s White Mountains and almost all of Maine as places of particular beauty.

Courtesy of Laurent Empereur

As the months of trekking went by, Empereur’s body became stronger and more inured to the physical demands of the trail. Trekking also allowed him to appreciate the beauty of the most basic elements in nature: the sun, weather and the forest. Along the way, he also met a number of interesting fellow travelers and he forged some enduring friendships, built by the shared ordeal of the trek.

Finally, in the middle of a blizzard with howling winds, and after nearly six months on the trail, he reached its end, the 5,267 foot high Mt. Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park. Reflecting on his journey, Empereur believes that it was one of the greatest achievements in his life. The trip deepened his sense of self-awareness and self-confidence. He also discovered an ability to persevere in very strenuous circumstances and found an inner determination he never knew he had. The experience was in fact so life-altering that he wants to repeat it someday, as well as tackling the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide trails. One thing is sure; Empereur is happy he decided to take this long, but rewarding journey.

Courtesy of Laurent Empereur

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