Don Havener is a man on a mission. The seventy five-year-old Garrettsville native plans to hike the Appalachian Trail — roughly 2,180 miles long — from March through August of this year. And while he will begin this epic hike on March 23, his 76th birthday, he’s making the trek to honor his younger brother, Bob, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease.
“Through it all, I want to be a blessing to those who suffer from the havoc of Parkinson’s by walking the over 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail,” Havener shared. “It’s my goal to try and raise $100 per mile for the Ohio Parkinson Foundation, an organization that has been such a blessing to my brother during his five year struggle with the disease,” he concluded.
For nearly 20 years, the organization has provided Parkinson’s patients and their families with information on symptoms, medication management, coping strategies and supportive services. The idea of the hike, however, started nearly 40 years ago, when Havener, a biology teacher, would spend a week or two each summer hiking portions of the trail with his wife and two sons. But even at 100 miles a trip, Havener and his family only managed to hike through five of the fourteen states that make up the trail. Now, after retiring from full-time work, the devoted husband, father, and grandfather is ready to take on the journey, which he estimates will take roughly six months.
The Appalachian Trail is one of the longest continuously marked footpaths in the world, measuring roughly 2,180 miles in length. Known as the AT, the trail goes through the fourteen states covered by the Appalachian mountain range, stretching from the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia, to the trail’s northern terminus at Katahdin, Maine. An estimated 2-3 million people visit the trail every year, and 1,800–2,000 people attempt to “thru-hike” the trail annually.
Havener was reminded of the AT last March when he and his wife Kathy attended a talk given by a local young man who had recently completed the trail. After the presentation, Havener told his wife, “I have to do this.” She agreed to help him, and will be driving the couple’s mobile home along the route he follows, camping at National Park campgrounds, meeting up with her husband every five days to provide food and supplies. The couple will celebrate their 55th anniversary on June 18th — a monumental achievement during an equally monumental trek. Havener shared, “We’ve done a lot of weird things together.”
They share a love of activities like hiking, spelunking, and long-distance biking to places like the Outer Banks. “I couldn’t think of doing this without her,” Havener beamed. Since deciding to make the journey last March, the two have been training together, hiking 60 – 90 minutes (3-6 miles) every morning at the Hiram Field Station. In addition, they’ve sought out more mountainous regions in New York and PA to get acclimated to the terrain they’ll soon see.
Virginia contains the most miles of the AT (about 550 miles), while West Virginia is home to the least (about 4). The Trail also traverses through GA (for 81 miles), NC (300), TN (280), MD (40), PA (235), NJ (60), NY (98), CT (38), MA (86), VT (141), NH (146), and ME (276). According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Maryland and West Virginia are the easiest states to hike, while New Hampshire and Maine are the hardest, due to rocky terrain and elevation gains. In fact, the total elevation gain of hiking the entire A.T. is equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest 16 times.
According to Havener, “There are lots of trail conditions I haven’t experienced yet.” New Hampshire and Vermont are quite mountainous, with steel ladder rungs mounted to the steep, rocky trail. In Maine, the Kennebec River offers canoe ferrying, if the river is too swift to attempt a crossing on foot. “I’m looking forward to all the challenges and adventures I’ll experience,” marveled Havener.
Currently, Havener works part-time at Ace Hardware in Garrettsville. Recently, a friend who heard of his upcoming journey came in, pulled a crisp $100 bill from his wallet, and paid for the first mile of the epic trip. Havener is also accepting donations at his website, www.gen524.com, which will also house his trip blog and video uploads from the trail. He hopes to raise $100 per mile – or $2,180 for the Ohio Parkinson’s Foundation.
His web address is named for Genesis 5:24 from the Bible, which is one of the rare verses to feature Havener’s personal scripture hero, Enoch. Enoch was the father of Methuselah, and the great-grandfather of Noah. Much like today, the people of Enoch’s time were focused on worldly materialism. Enoch was given a son by God at the age of 65, then spend the next 300 years of his life meditating and walking with God, in praise of God’s grace to him. Havener shared, “If we live our lives led by scripture, as Enoch did, we lose the desire for the material trappings and pitfalls.” Instead of dying at the end of his days, according to Genesis 5:24, “And Enoch walked with God, and he was no longer, for God had taken him.” During this long journey, and the vast expanse of alone time it will allow, he hopes to find another dimension to his spiritual life.
Unfortunately, during to the trip, Havener will miss his youngest grandson’s high school graduation. He knows that his grandson understands the importance of his mission. “He’s okay with what I’m doing. My grandsons appreciate how strange I am,” he joked. His wife, Kathy, will take a break from the trip to attend the festivities.
During his six months of the thru-hike, Havener plans to cover 15 miles per day. He’ll be primarily hiking alone, but will be joined briefly by his son Mark, a firefighter from Oregon, will join him for a week or two during the summer months. “I definitely feel like I’m going to be a different person at the end of my journey,” he added.
Havener will be blogging and posting videos from the trail. For more information on his journey, or to make a donation to benefit the Northeast Ohio Parkinson’s Foundation, visit www.gen524.com.