Health & Fitness

For international lawyer, on the Appalachian Trail and off the grid is perfect therapy

Among his friends and family, Peter Quinter is known for taking calls and replying to emails at all hours of the day. As an international lawyer, his clients are often halfway around the world and a few time zones away.

But Friday, when he laces up his hiking boots, pulls his 40-pound backpack over his shoulders and takes his first step onto the Appalachian Trail, Quinter and his posse will go off the grid. He will disconnect from his 24/7 pace.

“It’s a very simple life,” says the 51-year-old, who chairs GrayRobinson’s Customs & International Trade Law Group. “There are no bathrooms, no air-conditioning, no good food. You don’t usually get good cellphone reception, either, and you can’t just quit and go somewhere comfortable.”

So why would a Type A personality spend eight days out in the wilderness, far from both his downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale offices and away from his wife and two children?

“Therapy,” he replies simply. “You see the stars. You see the sun go up, the sun go down. And when you walk, you see things you’ve never seen before. It’s very quiet out there.”

Quinter will begin his hike at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia — a historic Civil War site — and head north to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. One hundred and twenty-five miles over eight full days — his longest trek yet. He will be accompanied by his sister, who is new to the trail, and two friends, both of whom have hiked before. He is looking forward to the company, particularly time with a sibling who is as busy as he is.

“We’ve always been close, even as children,” he says of his sister, Sheryl Chiogiji, 18 months his senior. “But it’s been a while since we’ve had time to really talk. I’m looking forward to long conversations.”

The Appalachian Trail, about 2,200 miles long, runs through the eastern United States, between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine, the state’s highest peak. It passes through forest, woods and wild lands, as well as some towns and farms, through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Thousands of devotees spend from one day to six months hiking the scenic trail.

This will be Quinter’s fifth year on the trail. He got the bug about six years ago during a visit to a former law partner. Marvin Pastel, who had moved to Atlanta, took Quinter to Amicalola Falls State Park, which has an eight-mile trail that winds past the falls and leads to Springer Mountain, the southernmost point of the trail.

“When he saw that, he told me, ‘I’ve wanted to hike that trail all my life,’” recalls Pastel. “He went on about it, but I thought that would be the end of it. Then the following year, he did it with his son.”

Since then, Pastel has joined Quinter’s hiking party every summer. This will be his fourth go-around. And like Quinter, the attraction for nature and bugs and climbing is best explained in his own words:

“It’s forced meditation. When you get into that mode, a lot of the monumental stress falls away. It loses its power over you.”

Quinter and his trailmates have been preparing for weeks. Chiogiji recently took a six-mile hike with her backpack along Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland, near her home. She’s a runner and soccer and tennis player. But what will keep her moving along the trail is something beyond physical endurance.

“Both of us have always liked being outside,” Chiogiji says, “and this is like a continuation of what it was like when we were kids. It’ll be real nice to have time to catch up.”

Quinter is a triathlete. Earlier this year, he and his wife, Sandy, ran the Boston Marathon. He does yoga, too, so he doesn’t worry about the physical demands of hiking and climbing. But for the past few days, he’s been wearing his boots and wool socks instead of his dress shoes. (“If you’re not used to your shoes, forget it.”) He’s also meticulous about what he packs: toilet paper, insect repellant, two changes of clothing, raincoat, walking sticks, camp shoes, head lamp, stove and tent. And water, water, water.

Oh, one more thing. Ibuprofen. “It’s very demanding on you physically. At the end of the day, every part of your body aches.”

But, he adds quickly, he sleeps soundly — better than he usually does. He sleeps on the ground in a tent. “You have no problem falling asleep, that’s for sure. It doesn’t matter where you’re sleeping, either.”

Wife Sandy, who admits that such a hiking trip “is not my comfort level,” says Quinter returns a changed man from his days communing with nature. “It’s truly his most relaxing time,” she says. “Everywhere else we go, even on vacation, he’ll be on the phone or looking through his email.”

These hiking trips are even more special because 20 years ago, Quinter was in a major car accident. He was unable to walk, let alone hike, without pain. For 10 years, he couldn’t even exercise, and camping out in the woods, which he had so enjoyed as a Boy Scout, was out of the question.

No longer. For Quinter, the journey is the reason. “Nothing makes me feel better than, at the end of the day, setting up my tent, cooking my dinner, sharing stories about the trail. It’s a very basic, fundamental way of life. It’s rejuvenating. When I come back, I’m prepared to go all out again.”

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