An Ambitious Hiker Conquers the Appalachian Trail Despite the Fact That He’s Older Than the Trail Itself
The Appalachian Trail is known among hikers as one of America’s most difficult paths. It is considered a tremendous hiking challenge that very few could actually complete.
82-year-old Dale Sanders attempted to face the trail head-on. He didn’t let age limit his ambition. But as he was trying to complete the full length of the journey, he started to bleed internally. Read on and find out what happened to him.
The Longest Trail In The World
The difficulty of the trail was on par with his fearless determination. Those who are weak of mind, heart, and body are no match to the physical and emotional challenge it requires to start and complete such an arduous journey.
The Appalachian Trail is the longest in the world and remains unmatched up to this day. It stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers approximately 2,200 miles of hiking paths. Not quite a regular walk in the country, that’s for sure!
The Trail Is Littered With Hiking Hazards
Other than the extreme physical challenge the trail requires of hikers, hazards also abound. For one, there exists a slew of animals throughout the route. A few are even dangerous and will attack humans on sight.
Many of them live within the trail’s vicinity. Having them see an outsider encroach on their property can bring about a dangerous gamble for naive hikers who might want to catch a cool selfie but who will ultimately end up mauled. These deadly animals include snakes, black bears, and even wild boars.
There Are Also Diseases Abound
The terrain of the Appalachian Trail is harsh and unforgiving. The physical exhaustion hikers can expect on the trail is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Hikers should also expect to travel in hundred-degree heat.
Proper hydration is, therefore, a necessity. Lyme disease is also abundant thanks to a proliferation of ticks that carry bacteria. Many of these ticks can be found in areas where deers mostly roam. Once a hiker gets sick, it would be almost impossible to finish the trail.
Sanders: Doing The Yo-Yo
Despite his age, Sanders made it his goal to be one of the more than 2,000 hikers who could complete the entire trail all at once. Also known as thru-hikers, some of these dedicated people even attempt to go to the trail’s end and back.
Such a feat is also referred to as “the yo-yo.” Due to the difficulty of such an endeavor, it is not for the faint at heart. It takes tons of stamina and willpower to make it to the end.
Breaking A Record At 82 Years Old
Dale Sanders wanted to be the oldest person ever to complete the Appalachian Trail. It is rare to have the title of the oldest man to finish such a grueling journey, but Sanders wants to have the bragging rights for it.
It was not the first time a senior citizen attempted to finish the trail. Back in 2004, 81-year-old Lee Barry was able to reach the finish line. Since then, no one within that age group has attempted such an undertaking due to health reasons. Would Sanders break Barry’s record?
Making Friends Along The Way
Sanders was only partially alone during the whole hike. There were people and fellow hikers who heard of his attempt to complete the Appalachian Trail, and so they all called out to him as he passed by. Some of them even referred to him as Gray Beard.
The name was based on the long white beard Sanders wore throughout the journey. His age and beard made him stand out from the rest of the hikers, most of whom were far younger than him.
Into The Wilderness
Sanders was doing well along the trail despite his advanced age. He even made it all the way toward Maine. However, it was during his trek through the Hundred-Mile Wilderness that he encountered difficulties—just a little pain at first.
As he walked through the trail’s wildest section, he sensed something was wrong. The Hundred-Mile Wilderness is often considered the most difficult part of the trail to navigate. Worse still, Sanders was bleeding internally. He didn’t know how it started, but he knew it was serious.
Cutting The Hike Short
Due to these unforeseen circumstances, Sanders had to halt his hike abruptly. He had no choice but to return to Tennessee. It would be of no use to continue hiking if his health were at serious risk.
Sanders had a ruptured hemorrhoid that would require at least ten days of treatment. During this time, his confidence was shaken. He realized he had to take his time before he returned to hike. He also knew he would need to be physically up for the challenge ahead.
The Self-doubt Creeps In
Having to stop the trek was difficult for Sanders. It made him doubt himself. He wondered if the entire trek had been a mistake. Had he been foolish to come out here? Was he in over his head?
Considering that Sanders had never hiked longer than two weeks before his Appalachian Trail adventure, it was fair for him to assess that he may have over-exerted himself. Thanks to his friend’s encouragement, Sanders decided to give the trial one more chance.
It took Sanders a relatively long time before he decided to get back on his feet. The decision was not easy. Besides his health issues, he also had a few mental challenges to contend with—and they were just as serious as the physical ones.
It is never easy to go through a challenging physical journey alone. Sanders experienced hopelessness during the long moments he spent walking along the trail. Fortunately, he felt he had a few “trail angels” watching his back and keeping him company during the lonely hike.
Heaven-Sent Strangers Gave Him Uplifting Words
The trail angels Sanders was referring to were the fellow hikers he encountered during his journey. In an interview with The Washington Post, Sanders recounted the most memorable comment he received.
According to Sanders, one of them said, “I want to be like you when I’m your age.” Being a lot older, he had more challenges to deal with than his fellow hikers. But that comment alone was more than enough to keep him going. It kept him going and also made him feel less alone.
Not The First Setback
Being an octogenarian, Sanders had more daunting experiences than the other hikers. Whenever older people get injured, their recovery time is a lot longer. This is what exactly happened when Sanders took an accidental tumble on Kinsman Mountain in New Hampshire.
Fortunately, the fall was not too bad, but Sanders needed two months’ worth of recovery time. Though he reportedly suffered from a hundred falls all throughout his journeys, he didn’t let minor injuries stop him from achieving his goal.
He Believed In Working Smarter, Not Harder
Sanders made sure he took wise precautions during his hike. He knew the journey wouldn’t be easy—it could even be dangerous. He decided to use a tracker for his family and friends to see where he was and how far he had reached the trail.
But the tracker wasn’t only for his family and friends. The tracker also counted the number of steps he had done. All through the seven months of the trek, he took a total of 4,625,256 steps.
Proving Naysayers Wrong
Sanders’s decision to take on this impossible task was prompted by an argument he had with someone. It seemed a person claimed that older people would not be able to complete the Appalachian Trail. Sanders disagreed.
The person he was arguing with insisted that unless an older adult had already hiked the trail before, they would be unable to do so now. Sanders wanted to prove him wrong. As a result, he made it his goal to challenge what others thought was possible.
He Was Not Alone Out There
Though Sanders started the trek on his lonesome, he was not alone. He was able to finish the trail with family and friends. During the last mile of the hike, Sanders or Grey Beard was accompanied by people who wanted to see him succeed.
He was also accompanied by other hikers he met along the way. This beautiful reminder of the power of human connection gave Sanders the drive to continue. Everyone’s cheer lifted his spirits and helped him feel strong enough to complete the journey.
Achieving The Improbable
Attempting such a feat was more than enough to make him feel euphoric. After all, it was not every day that an 80-year-old could finish hiking the Appalachian Trail. Despite the difficulties the trail had thrown at him, he could not believe how far he had already come.
It’s hard to imagine anyone else would take on such a difficult talk over the age of 82, and so it seems that Sander’s record would remain intact for a long time to come.
Hiker Is Older Than The Trail
This final fact about Sanders is a little ironic. It has been revealed that the Appalachian Trail is a lot younger than the oldest man who conquered it. Official information shows that the trail was built in 1937. Prior to 1937, it had yet to exist.
Technically, Sanders was two years older than the trail he hiked. Using a flip-flop hiking sequence, he first traversed Georgia north and headed to West Virginia’s Harpers Ferry. He then went to Maine and returned south towards Harpers Ferry.
A List Of Accomplishments
Though hiking through the Appalachian Trail was a first for Sanders, it was not his first time attempting such a physically challenging adventure. Previously, he had been involved in a slew of dangerous feats.
Sanders has paddled down the stretch of the lengthy Mississippi River. Plus, back in 1965, he won an award for spearfishing. His past accomplishments seemed to have mentally and physically prepared him to do all it takes to get things done no matter what anyone says.
He Was Always Looking For The Spotlight
When she heard the news, his sister was not at all taken aback by Sanders’ ambitious decision to tackle such a daunting challenge. In fact, she was pretty familiar with his love for athletics and his tendency to seek the spotlight.
She claimed that Sanders has been into extraordinary feats since he was a kid. He always had a deep desire to stand out from the rest. It was no surprise for her and the rest of the family to see him attempt something as awe-inspiring as the Appalachian Trail.