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March 01, 2024

Father, son will start hike up the Appalachian Trail

FOLLOWING IN HIS FOOTSTEPS — Father and son team Robert Duncan (above right) and Gavin Duncan (left) will start forth on a 2,200 mile journey up the Appalachian Trail this weekend. They will begin Sunday, February 24, 2019, at the trail’s southernmost point at Springer Mountain, Georgia. Robert is a retired math teacher who taught at Alexander Central High School and will homeschool Gavin on the trip. The canine is the family dog, Joy.


If a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, then a two thousand mile hike begins the same way. That’s something that two people from Taylorsville will soon set out to do: walk the 2,198 mile Appalachian Trail.

Retired high school math teacher Robert Duncan, 52, and his son, Gavin, 13, will start hiking the “AT” this coming weekend. Rob’s wife, Beth, who is an English teacher at Alexander Central High School, and their younger son, Griffin, 11, will remain in Taylorsville.

Rob, an Eagle Scout, said his first taste of the AT came when, as a Boy Scout in the late 1970s, he traveled with his father, Bob, and Dr. Walter Long up to the Roan Highlands area where the trail runs along the Tennessee/North Carolina border.

Rob stayed active with Boy Scouting as an adult, and he now serves as Scoutmaster of Troop 275 in Bethlehem.

A fascination with the out-of-doors has been passed along to son Gavin, who is also a Scout.

The father/son duo will start their long walk on Sunday, February 24, at the trail’s southern terminus at Springer Mtn., Georgia. Beth and Griffin will travel with them to drop Rob and Gavin off and all four Duncans will do a short hike on Saturday, on an 8.8 mile approach trail at Amicalola Lodge where a picturesque waterfall will greet the family. Then, come Sunday, Rob and Gavin will don their packs and set out for Maine where the AT’s northern end awaits.

The trip is not without worry for the family. Rob suffered a heart attack in March 2017, but was able to access medical care quickly and there was no damage to his heart, doctors told him. And the threats of unpredictable weather, wild animals, and the odd hiker escaping from society for legal reasons might be lurking around the bend. But the benefits of becoming more in tune with nature, more physically fit, and bonding between father and son will hopefully outweigh any misgivings they have about the journey.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity for them, but I do have some worries, sending my hus-band and my firstborn out into the wilderness,” Beth related.

Rob and Gavin have done their homework, too. They have taken practice hikes and backpacking trips in the South Mountains State Park, Shining Rock Wilderness in Pisgah, and up to Cataloochee in the Great Smokies. “It got down to 20 degrees and we were able to test our sleeping bags,” Gavin said.

Ticks are a main concern, and Rob and Gavin will use DEET repellent to ward off the blood-sucking creatures.

The family has been amassing equipment over the last couple of years, Rob said. A few days ago, he said “we’re down to the nitty gritty items now.” They needed to obtain some bandanas, shoes for Gavin, and a few other odds and ends.

Rob said he’s spoken with some AT through-hikers, too. They told him that once you get going on the trail, you wind up burning 3,000 to 5,000 calories a day (or more) and you get “hiker hunger” — you just eat everything. To pile in the calories, the duo will eat lightweight, nutrient dense foods, like oatmeal and Carnation Instant Breakfast drink, along with coffee (Rob) and hot cocoa (Gavin). They will take along meal bars, protein bars, rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, salami, chicken, tuna, nuts, and, yes, SPAM.

Some hikers plan out replenishment along the trail with “mail drops,” or deliveries of provisions mailed by family or friends to hikers at strategic points, such as post offices or hostels along the trail.

“We probably won’t do than many trail drops. We expect to be able to get off the trail to hostels and towns every 3-4 days,” Rob said.

Rob has read “a ton” of books to prepare for the big hike. he has also followed online as the 2018 set of AT thru-hikers detailed their own success and adventures. He avidly read their blogs and watched their YouTube videos to learn more about the trail.

“People who have done this say it’s 90 percent mental. You start out small, with early stops, just 6 to 11 miles apart. Then, it will just be a question of getting up every day and hiking.”

The duo will take along some technology to stay connected with family, when possible. To keep weight down, their cellphones will double as camera, communication devices, GPS, and trail guides. A 10,000 mAh battery will provide backup power when the phones run down. Rob also plans to write a trail blog periodically, which he hopes to share with readers of The Times on a regular basis in upcoming issues. For the latest updates, readers may visit his blog site,

Beth related that Jay McCarriher, an Assistant Principal at ACHS last year, had heard Beth and Rob talking about the AT trip and he had later prayed about it. He suggested that Rob home-school Gavin and take Gavin with him.

“Having been in public education my whole life, it’s not something I would take on without purpose,” Rob related.

“We need to pray about this,” Beth told Rob. And they did. Both increasingly felt it was right thing to do.

“A 2,000 mile trip will leave you with an incredible sense of self-confidence. I want to experience nature. I want Gavin to experience nature. I think it will be a very spiritual experience for us,” Rob added.

“Faith is a huge part of our lives and I feel a lot of good will come through this adventure,” Beth noted.

“I’m excited about it, about bonding with my dad,” Gavin explained. “I feel like I’m a whole different person in nature. In society, I’m kind of indifferent about things, not as social. In nature, I’m more attentive, more engaging, to come across people on a trail will be more encouraging and positive.”

Gavin has written an AT Prayer, which is as follows: “Dear Lord, thank you for this opportunity between my dad and I to bond. I really am excited. Thank you so much for making this trip possible and for helping us to get ready for it. We could really use your help on the trail. We hope to have your wisdom with us on the trail. Please guide us, help us not to take very many missed trials and please just be with us along our journey. This truly is the opportunity of a life-time. Lord, please just be with our family; help them not to be sad and miss us. Please let us be able to figure out if we have the right gear or not. Please let us to be successful in our hike. Please lead us to be successful in life and not take your creations for granted. In your holy and precious name we pray, Amen.”

The AT is known as a very social trail. At last check, some 18 hikers are registered to start on the day Rob and Gavin begin their trek, even though many do not start until March or April. Hikers make friends and develop a “Tramily,” or Trail family.

“I look forward to all the views and the animals. I find God in nature,” Rob stated. “And we’re blessed to have the support of our family and our friends.”



  1. Debbie Forehand on February 22, 2019 at 5:08 pm

    I wish you and your son the best of luck and I applaud you and your son to get this that so many father and sons need. That my friend makes you and your family very special and committed to each other. I hope you get what you are seeking on this journey and I believe you have the knowledge and determination to see this through. With this being said, I wish nothing but the best for you and your family, may God be with y’all on your journey and take care and enjoy god’s beauty that he has given you.

  2. Tim Eberstadt on February 22, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    Mr Duncan! This is great! God bless your journey and may he keep y’all safe! Literal lay, happy trails!

  3. Tim Eberstadt on February 22, 2019 at 6:29 pm

    Mr Duncan,
    God bless y’all on your hike. May God keep y’all safe and bless your journey! Literally, (the last one autocorrected) happy and safe trails!

  4. Larry Greene on February 22, 2019 at 10:02 pm

    May God be with you on your endeavor.

    Smart and Safe

  5. Susan Perron on February 23, 2019 at 4:22 am

    I believe that this trip is absolutely awesome! Every father/son couple should have this opportunity. I will be praying for you both and your families. May God be with you and the two of you find a new relationship through our Lord. Also, Beth, I will also keep you in prayer. This will be difficult for you but I know there will be a lot of prayers for you and Griffin, too.

    Sue Perron

  6. Jim Conn on February 23, 2019 at 6:13 am

    Good luck, and Godspeed!

  7. Lisa Jenkins on February 23, 2019 at 7:40 am

    We’d love to have Rob and Gavin stay with us after they finish Shenandoah National Park. We are a scouting family, too, and my husband hiked the trail SoBo in 2012, half if it with our adult son who had to get off the trail to start his PhD, but hopes to finish hiking the southern half someday. We now run Mountain Home B&B and Cabbin on Route 522 near Front Royal, VA, which is in the hiking guides. We bought and restored this historic place inspired by the thru-hike and wanting to continue to be involved in the trail community. Could you please pass this message along to them?

    Lisa and Scott

  8. Rachel Frey on February 23, 2019 at 7:49 am

    Hey! Have a wonderful time. This was the most life-changing thing we ever did. GA to ME, 6 months in 2000.

  9. Hugh Williams on February 23, 2019 at 8:31 am

    I live in Hiawassee, GA, near the AT, roughly 4-5 days of hiking north of Springer Mountain. If you need it, I’ll be glad to give you guys a ride to/from Hiawassee and the AT crossings at either Unicoi Gap (Hwy 17/75), or Dick’s Creek Gap at US 76. If you’ll send me an email before you get on the trail, I’ll send you my cell # so you can call me in case you need a ride. Remember that you will not have cell service in many areas along the trail. Not sure if you’re planning to bring the dog, but a piece of friendly advice from a seasoned hiker and a lifelong lover of dogs is that bringing your dog on any long distance hike will greatly complicate the hike in virtually every respect. Thru hiking the AT is not a walk in the park. Believe me, your endeavor will be difficult enough without the added burden of caring for the dog. Do yourself and the dog a favor by leaving it at home with your family. Let me know if you need help along the GA section. Good luck!!!

  10. Thomasl L Yerbey on February 23, 2019 at 8:34 am

    I would like to know if you make any videos of the trip and I hope you have a wonderful safe travels 🇺🇸

  11. Robert Stephens on February 23, 2019 at 9:12 am

    I look forward to following your adventure. Take care and God Bless!

  12. Anna Matherly on February 23, 2019 at 9:19 am

    Wishing you, Gavin and Joy a safe and blessed journey. Enjoy the outdoors. You will see many wonderful things. My husband and I have walked parts of the trail but not all. We are hoping to finish one day. When you get to the top of Mt Kathadin, it will be worth it. God bless.

  13. Theresa and Bob on February 23, 2019 at 9:30 am

    Prayers for safe travels. Be blessed and be a blessing!
    We’ll be following your trip!

  14. Veronica on February 23, 2019 at 9:53 am

    Dear Bob, my son Michael will start his Apalechian trail adventure on March 15th of this year. He is 22 years old, he will be traveling alone with his cat Rico. I’m a little concerned about pets in the Apalechian trail as some state parks don’t allow pets. We will check on your blog for any tips you may have to offer. This sounds like such a wonderful experience for you and your son.

    • Verónica on February 24, 2019 at 7:16 am

      Hi Bob, change in plans! Since we read your story, my husband Andrés I have decided to join our son on the AT. We plan to leave in mid June. We Will follow your blog!

  15. Karen Sherry Brackett on February 23, 2019 at 9:56 am

    Proverbs 3:4-6 King James Version (KJV)
    4 So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.

    5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

    6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

    King James Version (KJV)

  16. Barb Cummins on February 23, 2019 at 11:03 am

    Hi “Aftermath” & “Little Bear” ,
    I followed my good friend “OB” in 2013 and was there at Springer Mountain when he began his hike. He has gone on to hike the PCT and will be beginning the CDT this year.I look forward to reading of adventures you and your son have on this long distance hike🏔⛺️.

  17. Ron Knapp on February 23, 2019 at 11:39 am

    Congratulations on your success and awesome adventure that you both had.
    It is something I hope I will be able t o do ,good lord willing.

  18. Samantha Kelly on February 23, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    So very very awesome!!! I am extremely excited for you guys and wish you nothing but peace and joy out there!! This is a trip of a life time 🙂

    Bring gummies, lots and lots of fruit gummies! They will make the best treats!

  19. Tom Sweet on February 23, 2019 at 6:35 pm

    I am a retired math teacher and former scoutmaster, who didn’t retire soon enough to do the entire PCT. However, we covered lots of it in the South and high sierra’s.
    One suggestion to consider ….cover one or two subjects at a time, finishing sooner. You are both going to talk much more than write.
    Lots of history to see!
    Good luck!
    Tom Sweet
    Troop 135
    San Diego

  20. Cheryl Chase on February 23, 2019 at 7:22 pm

    Good luck with your journey! My 31 year old son thru- hiked the trail last year in 97 days & wrote a blog called “Fit For Miles” if you are interested in reading it. He started in GA in late March & encountered cold temps & snow for a few weeks. You will have some cold weather for a while. It is an amazing undertaking! He climbed Mt. Katahdin 6/30/18 to finish at home (he grew up in Maine). His trail name was “Moxie” – choose great ones!

  21. Cathy on February 24, 2019 at 3:47 am

    I am praying for a safe and wonderful adventure for you. May God bless you now and always.

  22. John Simonetti on February 24, 2019 at 6:20 am

    Good luck guys. An incredible journey of seIf disvovery awaits you. I will be eager to check on your progress as you head north.

  23. Myrna Iagatta on February 24, 2019 at 8:35 am

    I wish you both well. Be careful and have a safe trip.

  24. Longsleeves (Trail Name) on February 24, 2019 at 11:09 pm

    Greetings from Eufaula, AL. I’m also in education (school principal) and loved this story – especially Gavin’s prayer.
    Plan on hiking the AT for a week the end of April. Will definitely be following your blog and praying for your safety.

  25. John Swift on February 26, 2019 at 6:49 pm

    I wish you well. Would love to do what you are doing!!

  26. Tim Moose on February 27, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    We all wish you the best of luck – stay safe and God speed… Be careful and return home safe…

  27. Johnathon B on March 3, 2019 at 10:16 pm

    Good luck guys Hi I a’m part of your church family

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