Life-changing experiences in the great outdoors

More and more I have been exposed to young men and women who have gone above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to involvement or personal experiences in the great outdoors. It gives us hope to see that the next generation of outdoorsmen and women really do have a passion for nature and the future really does have a brightness we can certainly be proud of. An excellent case in point is my nephew, 20-year-old Chad Calvert of Lynchburg, Va.

Sometime toward the end of July, if things go as planned, he will be making it through the southeastern section of New York state that makes up our portion of the Appalachian Trail – after he started in Georgia some two months ago. As of this writing he was sitting at 1,158 miles, more than halfway to his goal of hiking the entire trail from Georgia to Maine – more than 2,100 miles. It’s mind boggling to say the least and we are all proud of what he’s accomplished so far. What he is attempting to achieve is life changing for sure.

During the Fourth of July weekend, while his mom and dad – Tom and Kathy Calvert – were visiting for a family reunion of sorts in Lockport, several contacts were made along the way with the struggling trekker. One was when Tom (formerly of New York) and Kathy (formerly of Maine) shared a fishing trip on Lake Ontario out of Olcott with Capt. Bob Cinelli. The morning adventure included a 23 1/2-pound king salmon caught by “Uncle Joe” Calvert, which will be the subject of a future blog. Another was when he ran into some unforeseen problems along the way – like leaving his headlamp along the trail. A good headlamp is a must for AT hikers and he offered a reward of food (which translates into money for hikers on the trail) with the hopes that someone would find it and return it to its rightful owner. It didn’t happen.

Being close to Hamburg, Pa., though, means being close to Cabela’s, and the huge outdoor store offers free shuttle service for hikers. Chad was able to catch a ride to the store with some fellow hikers and make the headlamp purchase. While they were in town a quick stop at Pizza Hut was in order for a quick meal – something with calories. He’s been expending so much energy and he’s been losing so much weight he’s worried that he might start losing muscle as well. He also has had issues with foot sores because of the abuse he’s been putting his body through. Several times he’s had to purchase new shoes because of wear and take a day or two off to allow his feet to heal. That’s the result of hiking nearly 40 miles on some days.

Nothing has deterred him yet as he continues to follow his compass north, a dream of his for years. The engineering major at Liberty University has completed a year and a half at the school and took an online class in the spring to keep his enrollment active before he left. He will take another online class in the fall before he goes back to full time in the spring of 2016. In preparing for the trip he worked three jobs to earn enough money to supplement his hike craving – sometime up to 16 hours in a day, going from one job to another without a break.

“One thing about Chad,” his mom told me, “is when it comes to anything outdoors it seems that if he wants to, he can do it …and do it well!”

Hopefully, New York will be kind to him. It is rated a No. 6, challenging hikers with extended climbs that may last hours or shorter climbs with difficult footing. A total of 88.4 miles are in the Empire State, ranging in elevation from just 124 feet to 1,433 feet while he travels through Harriman-Bear Mountain State Park.

His journey so far has been a memorable one. He’s taken pictures with the wild horses at Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia, and scenic vistas too numerous to mention. The real treasures have been the people – the hikers and the community support of individuals along the AT. They have been sincere, unselfish and most generous. These random acts of kindness help to serve as fuel as he continues on his adventure … one step at a time.

It is at this point when Chad could use a little more help from his friends. Yes, he’s more than halfway home but he needs to stay focused. His body is exhausted and aching in places he didn’t know he has muscles in. Just like a long-distance Olympic runner nearing the finish line, he could use a little more support to help push him along. He has a blog at http://hikingthru-at.blogspot.com/html?m=1. Check it out and give him a shout out to let him know that we’re all behind him.

I can’t imagine hiking over 2,100 miles for a complete trip … on foot. Along the way he has made new friends and had an opportunity to see what the United States was and is all about, following a path filled with history and reverence. Yes, Chad – or should we say “Shades” as he’s been dubbed by fellow hikers following a tradition of a trail nickname – will be a different man from the one who left from Georgia on April 3. He will also be looked at differently – filled with respect and admiration. We wish him all the luck and good health that he needs as he completes his quest, complete with guardian angel. One thing that won’t change, though, will be that I will continue to beat him in bocce ball upon his return!

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