They are words to live by – or hike by – for the soon-to-be 69-year-old grandmother of four who recently completed a section hike of the 350-mile Pinhoti Trail. After completing the Florida Trail in December 2021, the Fairborn hiker completed the 343-mile Sheltowee Trace, a national recreation trail that stretches from Kentucky to Tennessee, before setting out on the first leg of the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama.
The hiker who didn’t slip on a pair of hiking boots until she was 60 has made up for lost time and shares her experience.
Q: How long did it take you to complete the Pinhoti Trail?
A: I am a section hiker, which means I do long or short stretches of trail at a time and return to the end point of the previous trip. Section hiking gives me the flexibility of squeezing in life in between trips. I drove to Alabama or Georgia on five separate occasions beginning in March 2022 and ending in April 2023.
Q: What was the most enjoyable part of this journey?
A: The Pinhoti is a beautiful trail. There are mountains to climb, streams to cross, waterfalls to reach out and touch, cool breezes at night, plus woods, wildlife – everything nature has to offer. I love the way the trail winds around the mountainside, as if beckoning me on. The most enjoyable part of any backpacking trip for me is the total liberation I feel from the routine of daily life. When I backpack, everything I need, I carry on my back. I live minimally, comfortably, and happily on trail. The only thing I absolutely need to do in a day is to make it to camp at night.
Q: What was the most challenging part?
A: Certainly, the most memorable event was the day I took a spill and broke my collar bone. A broken bone is a genuine showstopper for any hiker. It was not a dramatic fall off a narrow trail or a tumble down the side of a steep mountain – boy, would that have been a good story. No, I tripped on a protruding rock on a very friendly part of the trail. The hardest part after an injury is facing the fear of getting back on trail. But I did as soon as I was healed.
Q: Are these milestones proof that you’re never too old for an adventure?
A: Actually, I think the secret to my success as a backpacker is my age. I don’t wait until I’m in better physical shape. I don’t wait for great hiking weather. I definitely am not waiting until I’m older. I don’t even wait to find a hiking partner. If I can’t find one, I just go. In fact, when the wanderlust hits me, I just go. My kids stopped worrying about me on the trail a few years ago. They also stopped giving me advice on what I should or shouldn’t be doing at my age. I appreciate their confidence in me.
Q: What’s next?
A: All my future travels involve hiking or backpacking. I am still a southbound hiker on the Appalachian Trail. I enjoy solo hiking on the AT because the trail is very social and the community of hikers is very welcoming.
Trek the Pinhoti Trail
Ready to tackle the Pinhoti?
Dayton Hikers founder Andy Niekamp completed a thru hike of the Pinhoti in May 2022 and is a big fan of the less traveled trail.
“This is a great trail for people who wish to hike in the Appalachian Mountains without the steepness and long climbs of the Appalachian Trail,” Niekamp said. “It’s a gentler trail and not as strenuous or physically demanding as the Appalachian Trail.”
It’s also a bit of a hidden gem for hikers.
“It’s a wonderful trail for people who want more solitude while backpacking or hiking,” Niekamp said. “The Pinhoti Trail is much less popular and isn’t over-used like many places on the Appalachian Trail, and is relatively unknown and undiscovered.”
Its more manageable length also means it can be tackled in about a month, rather than a five to six-month Appalachian Trail commitment.
Sound tempting? Niekamp will offer two free programs this fall for those who want to learn more or plan a Pinhoti Trail hiking trip.
The Pinhoti Trail - A Thru Hike of the Southernmost Appalachian Mountains
What: Take a 350-mile journey on the Pinhoti Trail from the southernmost peak of the Appalachian Mountains in Alabama to the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Georgia with photos and narration by Andy “Captain Blue” Niekamp.
When: September 12, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Beavercreek Community Library, 3618 Dayton Xenia Road
Registration: Free and open to the public but registration is required at https://greenelibrary.info/
Appalachian Trail Hike Planning Workshop + Other Long Trails
What: Is there a long-distance hike on the Appalachian Trail or other long trail in your future but you’re not sure where to start? This free program, presented by Niekamp, will give you the knowledge and confidence to plan a long-distance hike.
When: November 16, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Springboro Public Library, 125 Park Lane
More: Free and open to the public.