By MICAH HENRY
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, robduncan.net.
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.”