|Kluesener near White Top, Va.|
Some people train for years to hike the Appalachian Trail. Others choose to tackle a certain portion of it. Some simply take short hikes on the trail when they have time on vacation.
Tom Kluesener’s plan was to hike the whole thing in one trip. The Reynoldsburg resident started a training program when he was 59 and hit the trail in the spring when he was 60.
He began his adventure April 1 in Springer Mountain, Ga., at the trail’s southern terminus. He hiked 620 miles of the 2,176-mile trail before foot problems stopped him in his tracks. His adventure came to a temporary end in May when the pain of plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the bottom of the foot and the tendons that connect the heel bone, became unbearable.
On May 25, he wrote in his online journal, "I know I’ve disappointed some, but it is what it is, and my thoughts of the thrill and achievement of thru-hiking have changed to looking at sections over the next near-future years. Thanks to my new friends on the trail, to all family and friends who encouraged my attempt. I got in 620 miles in eight weeks.
Less than some, but more than most."
At the start of his training, Kluesener bought a pair of hiking boots and a backpack. He loaded the backpack with 40 pounds of sheets, towels and bricks, then headed for the gym. With the pack on his back, he walked 60 to 90 minutes per session on a treadmill set at a slope for resistance. He said he regrets he did not also use a stair-stepper, as it would have helped with endurance in his knees and legs.
Kluesener continuously practiced packing his gear. He took on "Repack" as his trail name, because he was always leaving something out, which led to much re-packing.
As part of his training last year, he did a test hike of 80 miles with three other hikers.
They did Newfound Gap in three segments.
Larry "Five Way" Reichard, a seasoned hiker/backpacker from Columbus, served as Kluesener’s hiking mentor and coach. (He became "Five Way" after he had a quintuple heart bypass.)
The hike begins; friends are made
When it came time to start the big hike this year, Kluesener flew to Atlanta where a friend picked him up and drove him to Springer Mountain. His friend hiked in a couple of miles with him, took a few photos, and left him to begin.
Though he was hiking alone, Kluesener had no trouble finding kindred spirits on the trail.
He regularly came across other people with whom he ended up camping and hiking.
He said hikers are great about helping one another if someone has a problem or runs low on supplies. Kluesener continues to keep in touch with the friends he made over the course of 620 miles.
While the fellowship is welcome, Kluesener does have one piece of advice when it comes to connecting with other on the trail: "Hike your own hike. Go at your own pace, and if you hook up with someone, it’s best if you are compatible in speed."
People weren’t the only company Kluesener kept. He also came face to face with interesting wildlife. With the help of peanut butter crackers, he made friends with a wild pony. He also saw a herd of donkeys, wild boars and African Ankole Watusi cattle, which are similar to the Texas longhorn. He managed to avoid a bear encounter; others weren’t so lucky.
Kluesener met other hikers whose packs were destroyed by bears that took off with food, supplies and personal hygiene items. The bears go for anything that has a scent, he said.
"(One hiker) did find his wallet, but his pack and everything in it were destroyed, even cooking utensils. The guy had to go into town and reinvest in everything," Kluesener said.
On April 3, Kluesener experienced his first "trail magic." That is when people leave goodies for hikers. Two grandmothers had spread all sorts of treats, drinks, lunch meats and fruit on a table.
Kluesener accepted a sugared soda and banana and ate the rest of his meal from his pack.
He noted that using one’s own food helps eliminate weight temporarily until it is time to re-supply.
Later on, he came upon a cooler with sodas, fruit juices and water left with a note from members of a church. He also found a cooler with two beers buried in ice. Grinning, he admitted, "There is nothing like an ice cold beer after several miles of hiking."
Keeping a journal
Every day he was on the Appalachian Trail, Kluesener made a journal entry on his Blackjack 2. He sent the entries to his daughter, who posted them online.
To read Kluesener’s journal, log on to www.trailjournals.com and enter "Repack" in the search box. He encourages visitors to sign in and leave a message on his guest book.
Ready for more
While he was not able to tackle the challenge in one fell swoop, Kluesener is still determined to cover the Appalachian Trail’s entire length.
When his feet are ready, he will go back and start where he left off in Virginia. He looks forward to racking up many more miles of adventure. His goal is to eventually reach the trail’s northern terminus in Mt. Katahdin, Maine.