Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Keeping up with the neighbors

From The Grand Rapids Press, Friday, November 25, 2005

75-year old takes on the Appalachian Trail
By Howard Meyerson (Press Outdoors Editor)

At 74 years old, Paul Foguth is like a lot of guys who hope to shoot their age playing 18 holes of golf. But that is where the comparisons end.

Foguth, who achieved his goal this last year, plans to celebrate his 75th birthday in Perrysburg, Va., next April, attempting another goal -- walking the entire 2,172 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

"I always wanted to do it one year," said Foguth, who has walked its length once already -- in segments spread out over 12 years. He finished the trail in 2001 after many trips to the 14 states along its length.

Foguth plans to depart Feb. 14, 2006, for the southern trailhead at Springer Mountain, Ga. It will be his eighth visit to its scenic vistas.

Seven times he returned there with the idea of walking the whole trail. Seven times he abandoned the idea after a week, or two, or maybe a month -- pulled home to his wife Barbara because of loneliness, a family emergency, personal tragedy or medical problems.

After seven tries, Foguth opted to start the next year where he left off. It is a common practice for many who enjoy the trail and it would take five more years for the Grandville hiker to complete it.

"I was exhilarated when I finished it in 2001," said Foguth, a retired supervisor with the City of Grand Rapids water department whose trail name is: The Bull.

"I said: 'Thank God I got it done. No more of that. That's hard work."

But the mystique of the trail has way of lingering. Foguth found himself often thinking back about his trail experience -- and often of trying once again to do a thru-hike.

Thru-hiking, the term for walking the trail's entire length in one season, is attempted by 2,000 hikers on any given year. It is a five to six month endeavor. Typically only 200 hikers finish on the peak of Mt. Katahdin in Maine, the northern end of the trail.

Going south to north is the most popular approach. Starting in Georgia in February or March means a hiker can take advantage of milder weather and cover ground while much of the northern trail is still ice and snowbound.

Even so, Foguth knows he has to be prepared for snow and ice in the Smokey Mountains. He has to be ready for the cold, rainy days, the mud on the trail and the slippery rocks, along with fog.

"I'm going to have to pace myself," said Foguth, who wrestled with prostate cancer four years ago and had serious reconstructive foot surgery two years ago.

"I may have to change my style of hiking, but the foot problem is something I think I can work around, " he said.

Foguth trains by walking 9 miles a day with a 38-pound pack. He trains on a Bow-flex as well as stair-stepper. He knows its not very mountainous here, but plans to step up his routine by adding hills over the next few months along with more weight.

"When I put a pack on 14 years ago, my legs felt like rubber," he said. "That's not the case now. I'm in better shape than then. What feels really good is that I am out training."

Twelve years on the trail taught Foguth a lot: about practical matters like food and gear, how to plan for an extended trip and how to deal with those quiet, isolated moments.

"Just when you think you've hit a hard spot, someone will show up along the trail," Foguth said. "I only missed going to mass one time in 12 years of hiking that trail.

"I'd run into someone who said, meet me here next week, or someone who would take me.

"I never carried a cell-phone before. But I will this time. I'll be 75 years old. I feel better than I ever have before, but I worry that this old body won't hold up."

Foguth's strategy is to lighten up. He's got ultra-light titanium cook ware and a lightweight multi-fuel stove. He will carry a one-person tent and a sleeping bag warm down to 0 degrees. He will camp wherever it's convenient. There are also trail shelters along the route as well as towns where a hot shower and soft bed can be had.

But the biggest change will be internal, said Foguth - a man who can be unblinkingly honest about his foibles; a man who lists himself as the primary obstacle he dealt with the first time around.

"I am a very impulsive person," said Foguth. I think that was the problem. I'd get up in the morning and feel good and then about 11 am I'd say: 'What the hell am I doing this for?' It just gets tiring and its not much fun.

"But I realize all of what goes into it now. I'm mature enough and I think I can do it.'
We frequently see him hiking around the neighborhood. Now he has his full kit on (back pack, hiking poles...) when he goes out. This is not my work. It is just too good to hide from Google.

Note that as long as MLive keeps the article up, you can access the original by clicking on the link at the top of this entry.

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