The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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October 1, 2013

Beckley native, husband, complete hike of Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

BECKLEY — One couple has found out that achieving your dreams is possible if you are willing to put the time and work in.

Beckley native Mary Oldman and her husband Robin made the trip from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Mount Katahdin, Maine over six months in order to finish their hike of the Appalachian Trail. The couple came home Sept. 9.

Robin graduated from Morgantown High School in 2004, and Mary from WWHS in 2004. Both graduated from West Virginia University in 2008 and they were married June 11, 2011, at the Confluence Resort in Hico.

Mary says they only had to do minor prep work in order to hike the 2,185-mile length of the trail.

“We both were athletes throughout school,” Mary said. “We both played soccer and I ran track. Robin was into swimming, so we’re both very athletic. We both have ran half-marathons and fun runs. Robin was into backpacking growing up and he took me on a couple of weekend trips.”

“This past December of 2012, he asked me if I would be interested in going on a four-day hike of the first 40 miles of the Appalachian Trail. We tested out gear that he had bought see if we actually were interested in hiking the whole trail.  We figured that if we could make it December, we could make it in February.”

Robin says they expected a mild winter like last year, but found the exact opposite when they started on Feb. 25.

“For the first month, month-and-a-half we were hiking for two or three days where there wasn’t snow on the ground,” he said. “There’s only two ways to stay warm. The first was in your sleeping bag at night and the other was actually physically hiking to keep warm. If you weren’t doing either of those things you were freezing.

“At night we would sleep with our water and water filter. If our socks were wet, we would have to sleep with them so they wouldn’t freeze. In the morning, for breakfast, we would eat a Clif bar or some type of granola bar. We had to put them in our pockets and hike with them until they thawed enough to eat them. The cold was definitely a major hardship.”

One of the other hardships the couple faced was getting used to being outside of their comfort zone for such a long period of time. Mary says the discomfort helped them to become more comfortable in their regular lives and to appreciate what they have more.

“For bathing, we carried around little packets of wet wipes,” she said. “We also carried a type of organic soap called ‘Dr. Bronner’s’ that you can wash yourself and your clothes with. You can even brush your teeth with the soap. We would rinse off in creeks when it got warmer. Once we got to a town we would wash our clothes and ourselves as best as we could.

“We definitely maintained that pretty well, especially compared to a lot of other hikers. One of our friends was asked to leave a restaurant because he smelled so bad,” she added with a laugh. “We were lucky enough to find indoor-plumbing once a week.”

Robin says the couple eventually realized they could fit everything that they needed survive inside of their backpacks. The meals they lived on weren’t exactly four-course meals, though.

“Our main meals were things like Carnation Instant Breakfast or a dry whey protein powder for breakfast and for lunch we would eat tortillas with peanut butter or pepperoni and cheese,” he said. “For dinner we would eat dehydrated pasta or small rice meals. It was basically anything that didn’t have any water-weight and had a good calorie-to-weight ratio.

“People say you burn about 5,000 calories a day on the trail so you have to eat as much as you can without carrying too much weight.”

During their trip, Robin and Mary slept in a two-person tent and if it rained, they would try to make it to one of the three-walled shelters scattered around the trail. Once in awhile, the two would sleep in a hotel or hostel if they made it to a town in time.

Despite the rough patches, the couple says they had a great experience during their adventure.

“My favorite part was meeting a lot of other hikers throughout our journey,” Mary said. “Some of the people are going to be lifelong friends. We’re lucky that we had each other during our trail experience, but now we have friends who went through the same things that we went through. It’s always nice to have someone who we can talk to about the trail after the fact that we’ve come home. No one else kinds of understands what you’ve been through other than your hiking friends.”

“Also, neither of us had never been to New England, so that was a nice opportunity to see New England for a long time,” Robin added. “We were up there for a couple of months.”

Now that the journey is over and a dream is fulfilled, Robin says the whole thing is bittersweet.

“We’ve heard that hikers have a hard time adjusting back to society and the ‘real’ world,” he said. “Everything that we worked toward for the last six months was aimed toward this huge goal and it was all so black and white. Every day we had the same goal, to hike a specific place, and once we got there was a giant celebration. There are days where we miss it for sure and it probably hasn’t set in all the way because it has only been a couple of weeks. It’s definitely hard to adjust back to the regular world.”

For anyone who might want to take on the Appalachian Trail themselves, the couple says the best things to do are to overcome your own mental blocks, set goals and to be flexible in your plans.

“We never really thought about Maine until we actually got into the state,” Mary said. “Just having very small goals like hiking 100 miles makes you look forward to the next 100. As much as you plan and try to stick to your plan though, it never happens.

“One day we were supposed to hike 18 miles. We came across this great little town called Greenwood Lake, N.Y. It was just so cute and so quaint that we decided to stay there and enjoy the great little town. They had fireworks, hot dogs and barbecue and the people were just really sweet. We said, ‘Why go further when we can experience this?’

“We were very lucky that we didn’t have a deadline and that we were able to take in all of the adventures that came our way. People should enjoy the journey, even though you might ruin your plan. It might end up being worth the stop and the adventure.”

— E-mail: cneff@register-herald.com

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