My cousin is hiking the Appalachian Trail. He started early in March in Georgia and plans to keep going until he reaches Mount Katahdin in Maine.

My cousin is hiking the Appalachian Trail. He started early in March in Georgia and plans to keep going until he reaches Mount Katahdin in Maine.

If you think only a few people set out to walk 2,175 miles, you're wrong. Most of the rest of the world is out there, too, according to my cousin, who describes shelters crammed with hikers and hostels so crowded that he had to get up at 6:30 a.m. just to find an available washer and dryer.

That description makes the AT sound like the New York Thru-way with better food options. But while I'd sooner hike 2,200 miles than drive the New York Thruway, I'm grateful not to be doing it.

I should explain that this cousin isn't the offspring of my mother's much younger sister; this is the older child of my mother's older sister. He turned 69 on the trail, and the fact that someone 69 years old wants to sleep outdoors every night just to hike all day carrying the equivalent of a lumpy toddler on his back is a kind of miracle to me.

Not that I just sit around. I run what even I consider to be an insane number of miles each week, and that's on top of parking far away from a store's entrance and not taking the elevator unless I need to know a security code at the top of the stairs, which by the way is the case in more than a few stairwells.

But a willingness to move isn't what we're talking about here, is it? A person who hopes to thru-hike the AT needs another quality above all others: desire. The desire to hike and the desire to finish. Only those dual motives will keep a person out there, day after day, week after week, month after month.

Because holy-moly! Even with occasional escapes into nearby towns to shower, buy lightweight, high-calorie food and sleep in a real bed, a life reduced to walking, fueling and keeping your socks dry would be a challenge for most of us.

I've been interested in the AT ever since I interviewed a college student who hiked it. He recited what I've since realized is an AT hiker's litany: He went through this many pairs of shoes, this many socks, and this many blisters. He carried this much weight. He hiked this many miles a day.

I love fact bites like that, and I listened to him for a solid hour, asking questions like a monkey pushing the lever for more peanuts.

He finally had to leave so that he could graduate from college on time, but my interest in the AT continued to percolate. In fact, hiking the Appalachian Trail is my favorite thing I'll never do. Because although I know I might have the physical ability to climb up and down mountains for six months, I don't want to be that rumpled; I don't want to be that dirty; I don't want to forget about niceties like shaving my legs and I definitely don't want to get up every morning and go for a hike without coffee. Without coffee! The mind reels.

The other day I was introduced to a couple who have explored pretty much every out-of-the-way inch of the world. They've climbed to an Everest base camp in Nepal; they've snorkeled in the Galapagos; they've paddled down obscure foreign rivers with guides who use them for English practice.

But at day's end, they don't find a spot between tree roots and snakes to sleep. They stay in hotels and they drink coffee before setting out on the morning's trek.

Now that's my idea of adventure travel. Call me a wuss, but without a shower and a good breakfast that includes caffeine, my enthusiasm for hiking would run out in about six hours.

Apparently, however, thousands of others feel differently about it, and they all swarmed to Georgia or Maine at the earliest possible moment to begin walking north (if in Georgia) or south (if in Maine).

My cousin is doing fine so far. His days were short at first and his mileage such that he was on track to reach Maine sometime early in 2014, but as his shoulders adjusted to his 35-pound pack and his mind adjusted to life on the trail, his numbers went up. Lately, he's been putting in 11-hour days and hiking 15 miles and change.

I know all this because he's mailing me handwritten journal entries, which I in turn post on the hikers' site www.trailjournals.com. (His wife - no friend of technology - gladly accepted my offer to take on this job.)

Here is what I've learned so far: The AT is as crowded as Cedar Point on a warm Sunday in July; hikers love Ramen Chicken-Flavored Noodles; in at least one shelter privy, hornets have built a nest under the seat, the opening of which is the hornets' front door.

And finally, my cousin is my hero. He's wanted to hike the AT since his father, my uncle, told him about the trail that passes through 14 states some 60 years ago, and the fact that he's in his 70th year didn't stop him.

Whether he finishes or not doesn't matter. What matters is this: He started.