NORFOLK, Va. -- In the year since he stepped down as commander of the Navy's Atlantic Fleet, Adm. Harry Train II has traded his four stars and gold braid for hiking boots and T-shirts.
Train, 55, retired last year from one of the Navy's top jobs that required him to wear three hats -- commander of the 265-ship Atlantic Fleet, the Supreme Allied Commander, and senior NATO commander in the United States.
There was no way that Train, known for constant activity during his 33-year Navy career, was going to retire to a sedate life. He spent part of his first year of retirement taking a 5-month walk -- along the 2,138-mile Appalachian Trail.
'People have asked me whether I was able to think deep thoughts or philosophize,' he said. 'The answer is no. You can't, because if you do, you get lost. You really have to concentrate. In fact, I have seldom been in a situation where I have had to concentrate as much for as long.'
The hike took him along the highest ridge of eastern America through 14 states from Georgia to Maine. About 1,300 other people, including Train's daughter Elizabeth, have walked the entire trail.
As commander of the Atlantic Fleet, Train spent four years watching over the ships and about 270,000 sailors, particularly in the Navy's Southern homeports of Norfolk, Charleston, S.C., and Mayport, Fla.
Foreign dignitaries, aides and other military officials sought his advice daily. He never went beyond the range of a telephone call from the Pentagon or the White House.
When he left the service last September, Train said he was not looking forward to retirement.
When he returned from his epic hike on the Appalachian Trail, he said he had learned to get along by himself.
He left on the hike from Springer Mountain in Georgia, the southern tip of the trail, on March 18. He walked the first three days with his son-in-law and the next 30 days alone.
The weather was miserable, starting with five weeks of snow, then 17 days of rain.
'About 20 people started, with some walking five or six days ahead and others five or six days behind,' he said. 'But none of those people passed anybody. We stayed in line because the weather was so bad.'
One eight-mile stretch was in three feet of snow. That ruined Train's first pair of boots.
Once a robust 195 pounds, Train dropped 30 pounds -- 25 in the first two weeks. He took up five notches in his belt.
'I wasn't as weak in the first two weeks as I was later because you have all that fat that your body is living off of,' he said. 'My daughter told me you have to be very careful to eat. I didn't appreciate that. I wasn't eating a lot, just single portions, and it took me some time to recognize it.'
Small towns along the trail allowed Train to write letters, resupply, do laundry or make telephone calls.
'I never thought there was a way I would get to know rural America,' he said.
He hiked for 159 days, until Aug. 23, to the trail's end at Mount Katahdin, Maine. He took off only 17 days for rest and one speech -- at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., where commissioning ceremonies were held for an officer-candidate class that included Elizabeth Train.