Leonard Adam Tarlin, best known as “Baltimore Jack,” passed away unexpectedly in the A.T. Community of Franklin, North Carolina on May 4, 2016. Considered an A.T. icon, he was famed for his eight Trail completions, seven of them northbound thru-hikes completed every year from 1997 to 2003.
No other A.T. hiker has reported as many annual thru-hikes in successive years, and few hikers have spent as many years completely consumed with the Appalachian Trail.
After worn-out knees prevented him from hiking long distances, he devoted much time and energy to “giving back” to the Trail he loved so much. While there are some hours recorded in ATC's volunteer database, most of the ways in which he contributed were uniquely Jack’s.
Helping novice thru-hikers succeed and supporting the individuals and institutions within the Trail community became his mission. Each year for the rest of his too-short life, he would start his pilgrimage afresh, working a few weeks at various outfitters or hostels along the Trail, beginning each time in Georgia and wending his way north to New England, spending his winters in Hanover, New Hampshire.
In his free time, he spent countless hours advising hikers through the popular online A.T. discussion forum, WhiteBlaze.net. He wrote the site’s most popular article, a streamlined guide to resupply options that enabled hikers to free themselves of elaborate pre-planned maildrops and easily negotiate the maze of options along the Trail. This simplified the logistics of long-distance hiking for untold numbers of hikers.
Jack's participation in the innovative and impactful Damascus “Hardcore” trail crew was part of the chemistry that made it so successful. The allure of his famous lasagna dinners, as well as his celebrity, charm, and wit, were an important draw of this groundbreaking volunteer effort.
During his annual stint in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, he volunteered at the ATC Headquarters. If we asked him to move boxes, he’d jump to the task as if it was the most important thing in the world. Off the top of his head he could provide information that might otherwise take staff hours to research. He loved helping to process 2,000-miler applications, in part because he knew many of the hundreds of hikers each year who submitted trail completion reports.
Jack was a brilliant speaker. He knew exactly what to say and how to say it to move people, make them care, and make them laugh. Those who judged him by first impressions might have dismissed him. In appearance, he was ragtag, even by thru-hiker standards. But when Jack spoke, people listened. He commanded respect. Whether it was at a trailhead, a campfire, or a lecture on thru-hiking, a crowd would gather. Laughter was guaranteed to follow, but he always had an important message to convey.
A gifted writer and storyteller, Jack recently penned two memorable articles for ATJourneys: a story about Steve "The Ferryman" Longley, and an article about Bob Peoples and the Hardcore Trail Crew. He was an exquisite wordsmith and contributed content and ideas to ATC publications and documents and that are in use today.
Many ATC staff members developed a real fondness for Jack and a deep appreciation for his role in the A.T. community. In the words of Andrew Downs, who summited Katahdin with Jack on his ’02 thru-hike, “Jack was a lot of fun, and someone who cared deeply about the A.T.” Brian King called Jack “a walking grapevine.” Jack was often the first to notify ATC of new trends, challenges, and opportunities. ATC’s executive director Ron Tipton gave high praise to Jack, calling him “a passionate advocate for the A.T.”
The 35th annual ALDHA “Gathering” in Williamstown, Massachusetts October 7-9, 2016, will be dedicated to “Baltimore Jack.”
The family suggests that those who wish to make a gift in his memory choose among the following ways to honor L.A. “Baltimore Jack” Tarlin:
A memorial donation to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy
A Memorial Brick in Damascus, Virginia, as part of the Community Pathway Project
A donation to the Appalachian Trail Museum
A donation to the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association