A chance gift from a friend, a book about the Appalachian Trail, launched Sarasota CPA Ken Honick on a trek that in 11 years has taken him by foot about 3,500 miles-the length of the Trail and halfway back again-and led him to a volunteer role as treasurer of the national Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Last summer, in five weeks, Honick polished off the 480-mile segment between the trailhead at Springer Mountain, Ga. to Damascus, Va. Honick journeyed alone (otherwise, he believes, "it's usually a good way to lose a friend"), carrying a small radio, a book of poetry and a good translation of the Bible.
A 1972 New College graduate who studied natural sciences, Honick is hard-pressed to name a favorite place. "It's all beautiful," he says. "You have an illusion of wilderness." The high point of last summer's trip, he says, was in North Carolina around Roan Mountain, with its high grassy balds where rare salamanders and Fraser firs can be found. The low point: two weeks of rain, mostly the aftermath of Tropical Storm Cindy, the crowds of visitors in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the masses of cell phones and Blackberries they brought.
Honick became involved with the national Appalachian Trail Conservancy, based in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., in 1997. "I had made a private pledge: I would give a dollar for every mile I hiked," he says. That brought him to the attention of their development director, who asked him to review a planned giving booklet, then invited him to join the organization's finance committee, then to join the board. He is its first member from a non-trail state.
Honick prepares for his grueling summer treks by running and working out at the YMCA. "I try to stay in shape all year long," he says. "The only time I fall back is during tax season."
In his early days, he used to carry a 40- to 45-pound backpack; now with lighter materials being developed, he carries 26 pounds of equipment. "You realize what you don't need," he says. "It's a big lesson in life: the less you carry, the happier you are."