Tom Helbig is a go-big-or-go-home kind of guy.
When the founder of Tomfoolery Outdoors in Tipp City was asked in December by a friend to participate in the Buckeye TrailFest in the spring, he was initially apprehensive.
“I didn’t want to commit that far in advance and then I started thinking, ‘If I’m going to do this, let’s go big,’” Helbig said. “What if I hike the entire Buckeye Trail?”
While a 1,400-mile hike might have sounded overly ambitious to some, it was just the kind of thing Helbig would attempt and complete.
“This was definitely outside my comfort zone,” Helbig said. “I prefer to travel by bike or to paddle and if you look at the whole thing, it can definitely be intimidating but I wanted to do it.”
The longest backpacking trip Helbig had previously undertaken was a three-night trek. This hike would likely mean about 90 nights on the trail.
“So it would be like doing a three-night hike 30 times,” Helbig said, smiling. “In all seriousness, that’s how I thought of it.”
With the goal of not only completing the daunting hike but promoting the Buckeye Trail, Helbig set out on St. Patrick’s Day from Canal Fulton. He spent 88 nights on the trail – after a 24-day layoff in May, the result of a fractured elbow from a cycling mishap – completing his 1,400-mile adventure on July 15 in Milford. The Buckeye Trail loops around the state from Cincinnati to Cleveland and many points in between encompassing a wide variety of terrain.
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“I wanted to build awareness about the Buckeye Trail and get more people to think about it as a thru-hiking option,” Helbig said.
Thru-hiking – hiking a long-distance trail end-to-end within one hiking season – however, is not for everyone and the Buckeye Trail is also an ideal trail for section hiking, especially since it comes right through Dayton.
“The Buckeye Trail shares use with a lot of well-known trails – from bike trails in Downtown Dayton to many of the trails at Caesars Creek,” Helbig said. “Lots of people use it all the time and might not even know that it’s part of the Buckeye Trail.”
Helbig has some advice for fellow hiking rookies who want to take on all or part of the Buckeye Trail. Borrowing gear can be helpful for those just getting started and utilizing the resources that are available online is beneficial. Learning from others is also critical.
“Speak to people who have done it before, whether it’s a weekend or month-long hike,” Helbig.
Sharing his experiences is one of the things Helbig most enjoys.
“Many of my adventures have been sparked by a conversation with someone and those are moments I will never forget,” he said. “I will spend as much time as I have talking to someone if there is a chance I might spark something like that for someone else.”
Helbig’s Buckeye Trail accomplishments
- Hiked 1,400-plus miles, spent 88 nights on the trail.
- Became the 15th person to thru-hike the BT.
- Raised $2,600 for the Buckeye Trail.
- Had 83 people hike with him.
- Held four Buckeye Trail Association membership drives and generated 100 new members.
- Participated in a volunteer work day.
About the Buckeye Trail
- Covers more than 1,444 miles.
- First envisioned in the late 1950s as a trail from the Ohio River to Lake Erie, it evolved into a large loop, branching both north and east from Cincinnati.
- First 20 miles of trail were dedicated in Hocking County in 1959.
- Includes 26 sections, each named for a town or feature within the section.
- Identified by blue blazes (2 inches wide by 6 inches high) on trees or poles.
- Trail towns include Dayton, Loveland, Milford, Piqua, Troy, Xenia, Yellow Springs and Zoar.
For more information: visit www.buckeyetrail.org