What first led you to walk years ago? Are there certain people who inspired/mentored you?
How did running for Coach Tompkins in Fremont help lead you where you are today?
Will you see the world differently after this journey and how will you keep this experience alive in the years to come?
Getting into the long walk
In 1989 I read an article about the Appalachian Trail in Reader’s Digest. National Geographic had done a feature article on the trail. Never did see a copy of the full length piece.
My brother, David, happened to read the same article. In a conversation we found out we both had entertained thoughts of giving it a go.
In order to attempt a thru-hike, you have to have time, money, and health. I’d just graduated from Calvin College with a BA in English Studies in May of ’89, so I had time. My mother, Peg, died in September, so the estate sale of her belongings and property brought the required monetary funds. I was 23, 195 pounds, and had played basketball for the Knights for the previous four years. I had the health.
I can’t remember now what date we started on the trail the next spring. We were late in the pack, but still plenty of people around as the AT had its first boom in hiker population following the National Geographic article.
Early on in that first long walk, I found a peace in the hard work and simpleness of measuring a day by footsteps, by feeling time go by instead of constantly measuring it. It let my mind bury my mother and be okay with it.
This time around
In 2015 Michelle, Maggie, and I drove to California and walked 200 miles on the John Muir Trail through the Sierras. On one of the final days, we had to turn to climb Mt. Whitney where the JMT ends. The Pacific Crest Trail, which the JMT basically follows with a few small deviations, continued on south. I begged Michelle to keep going south. She and Maggie laughed and headed towards Whitney while I peered southbound and wept.
I knew then I had to go long again.
Twenty-one years in Walkerville Public Schools with the last six as the K-12 Principal/Superintendent had worn me out. I had to be done. I had the time.
Good financial choices along the way allowed me funds, as well as, the superintendent experience which should allow me to find employment when I return gave me the dollars needed.
My fiftieth birthday comes in two weeks, so I knew it was now or never for a shot at a thru-hike of Continental Divide Trail. I’m 25 days in and I hurt all over, but that’s to be expected. I’m hanging tough. If I take care and stay healthy, I should be able to get this done.
People in my head as I walk
First is always Michelle. My heart has a hole in it without her, but I’ve been able to talk to her daily lately and it’s helped. She has balanced my life. I’d have been lost without her. I say, “I love you, Michelle” a hundred times a day.
My mother has surfaced in my head a lot too. It’s been 28 years, but it still hurts that she’s not here. I think she would understand that I had to go for this. That I had to risk it.
Coach Tompkins has been in my thoughts too. He taught me about pain and discomfort in way that benefits me everyday. You push through. There might be ache sometimes, but you are not the pain. Your being is separate from the physical hurt. Put it aside and keep going.
That and ibuprofen now that I’m old. I only take it at night, so I can sleep. I need to listen to the pain during the day.
I needed this time to reset my brain. Wired too tight. I needed this shot to believe I still had the toughness to do it. That I was still an athlete enough to get it done.
Those things will transfer well no matter how this journey ends. I’ll have spent time sleeping the ground watching the stars. I’ll have walked the spine of United States of America. I’ll have felt the grace of God as I stand as tiny speck of matter on the passes and in the valleys.
I’ll be able to sit on my porch and share stories about “this one time on the CDT.”
Till maybe that wandering Jones hits me again. (But don’t tell Michelle yet.)
If it ever does happen again, she’s going. My heart couldn’t do this again without her.
11 thoughts on “Ask The Tree: Volume 4”
I love you every step of the way.
I am happy to have had the opportunity to work beside you, you have taught me a lot. Your progress is amazing and I hope I get to hear some of your stories when you return.
You can do it Mike, remember all those times you where at the dump on the cross course and had to find that next gear and keep going!
Nice article Mike! I’ve imagined myself doing what you’re doing many, many times, and without a doubt, the mental challenges would be much more difficult than the physical ones. Stay strong my friend. You’ll persevere I’m sure, and your body will get stronger as the hike continues.
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Your journey and story is amazing!! Your support system is more then you know. Stay strong
Great essay. Where are you now on the trail? Reason I ask is I’m headed from Ohio to Montana, near Yellowstone, to do a chunk (approx. 5 days). If you’re in the Centennials the first week of August, would love to share some trail mix with you. Peace!
I’m going to be very close to that area at that time. Should be in the park ha first week in August.
Enjoy the park. I’ll probably be a little further west, in Montana. Have you had much use for a GPS? (I’m bringing just a compass and Jonathan Ley map). I usually hike the AT, and hear the CDT can be difficult navigating.
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I carry a compass, Ley maps, and use Guthook’s app EXTENSIVELY on trail. The GPS feature in the app keeps me on trail. I do carry a standard GPS garmin/inreach device, so people at home can track me. I have it set to send a ping out every four hours, and I send a preset message home each night. Keeps everybody in the loop as to where I am and that I’m safe when I have no phone service. Best wishes on your walk!
i am with you Sir. stay strong Mr Sweet.
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