Union resident Greg Behrens decided when he was in middle school that some day, he’d walk the entire Appalachian Trail.
“My family was on vacation, traveling on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and I saw the sign for the trail overhead,” he said. “I asked my parents what that trail was, then did some research, and thought, ‘Wow – to walk all the way from Georgia to Maine, how amazing.’”
He decided then that, someday, he’d walk that trail. At 58, he just completed his long trek early this month.
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Behrens retired last year as assistant principal at Northmont High School and knew that one of the first things he would do was walk the 2,190.9-mile trail.
“I’d been preparing since 2010, and really used Dayton Metro Parks like crazy,” he said.
But he discovered it was difficult to prepare for exactly what one faces on the trail.
“The weather fluctuated and each area had its difficulties,” he said. “In Georgia, North and South Carolina it was weather. (There were) two nor’easters and record rain in Virginia. In Pennsylvania, it was rocks that put some hikers out due to injuries.
“In New Jersey and New York, there were swarms of bugs, and record heat in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Finally, I ended on a good note – there was great weather from Vermont to Maine.”
That doesn’t mean he finished unscathed.
“My feet are still numb and swell during the day, and I have no toenails. I’ve heard it takes almost the same time spent on the trail for your feet to get back to normal.”
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Although he traveled alone, he met fellow hikers along the way and spent time walking with a few as they averaged 15 miles a day.
“I met a fellow 100 miles into the hike and we walked together until he got off with stress injuries from the rocks,” Behrens said. “Later, he got back on, but fell and broke ribs in New Hampshire, which put him off for good.
“Those types of injuries aren’t unusual. I fell 25-to-30 times, but luckily didn’t break anything.”
Behrens didn’t shave along the way, and his wife Joanie demanded he get rid of his beard before he returned.
“She was always supportive of my trip, but not the beard,” he said. “I’ve always had a mustache and goatee, but not a beard, so, as a present for her, I paid a barber $5 in our last town in Maine to get rid of it.”
Behrens kept a journal that he posted, primarily for his wife, that included hostels, shelters and hammocks along the trails where he slept. He was surprised to discover that many friends were following him.
“And, there was also a Clayton man that hiked the trail as well,” he said. “His video was on YouTube, and I wrote on Trailjournals.com. We never met on trail but knew of each other’s hike. It is unusual to have to people from the same community hiking the trail the same year.”
He left March 14, started the hike on the March 15 and flew home on Sept. 2, but he admits he was a bit disoriented. In addition to the physical issues of his feet, “I also have ‘trail depression,’ which I discovered is common, since you spend so much time away from real life.
“But, it was more beautiful than I thought, more diverse from state to state, and it’s also more physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting than I could have imagined. It was the biggest challenge of my life, the toughest thing I’ve ever accomplished. They have a saying on the trail, ‘the easiest day was yesterday,’ which often proved to be true.”
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