Like so many others, it started with the Appalachian Trail. Or, actually, with a 1970s National Geographic article about the trail. After reading it, Doug Mathews decided on three goals: to walk the trail, to bike across America, and to paddle down the Mississippi River. The former information-technology specialist wanted to see several "cross sections of America," each from a different perspective. He completed the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail over 169 days in 2002, did the 2,600-mile bike ride over 39 days in 2003, and then, a short time later, hopped in a canoe and made his first attempt at the Mississippi. He gave up two weeks into the trip. "I hadn't been back from the bike ride for long, and I missed being home," says Mathews, 61. But after meeting Californians Bud Prunty and John Depue in 2003, the three went on a bike trip in 2004 from Sacramento, California, to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Mathews decided to give the Mississippi another try - with his two new traveling companions along for the adventure.
The trio put their kayaks into the 2,300-mile-long Mississippi in July 2005 and finished in August. Of all his adventures, Mathews says, "the kayaking trip was the hardest. It's more desolate. You really are not seeing as many people on the river as you are hiking or biking." Thousands of people attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail each year (about 500 complete it); just five or so set out to paddle the Mississippi.
Now that he's finished his trio of goals, Mathews has turned hiseye to trips that he and his wife can do together. Any day now, hemight start trying to sell her on visiting the Mount Washington,New Hampshire, weather station in the dead of winter. "Being aSouthern boy," he says, it might be interesting to spend some timein the place where the highest wind speed was ever recorded.
No matter the reasons these intrepid trekkers took theirfirst long-distance steps (or first turn around the United Stateson a bike), the people they meet along the way and the chance tolive by their own rules are what draw them back to the road ortrail time and again. Says Mathews: "It's really the freedom to dowhat you want to do."
Walk On >
As the Trails Information Specialist for the American HikingSociety, Ed Talone finds that his mind is out hoofing it even whenhe's firmly planted behind his desk. Though his road storiestempted us to chuck it all and head out on the road permanently, weasked him to recommend some time-limited hikes to get us going.Here's what he had to say.
Have just a week? Try the 205-mile Superior Hiking Trailabove Lake Superior in northeast Minnesota. For more information,visit the Superior Hiking Trail Association at www.shta.org.
Going for a month? Consider a Long Trail trek in Vermont.With 270 miles of footpaths and 175 miles of side trails along theGreen Mountains, there's plenty to explore. For more information,check in with the Green Mountain Club at www.greenmountainclub.org.