When I was a teenager, National Geographic published a big splashy spread about the Appalachian Trail, which, it explained, stretched more than 2,000 miles along the Appalachian mountains from Georgia to Maine.
What a magnificent accomplishment it would be to hike it, I thought, promising myself that one day I'd do that.
Well, I never did and, no longer young, I likely never will.
But I now know somebody who has accomplished what a youthful fancy once urged me to do. Dr. David Yaniglos, the optometrist who resides in Twin Lakes and practices out of offices in Tallmadge, this summer completed the 2,170- mile trek. He hiked it in batches over a period of 10 years, starting in 2003, sometimes utilizing two-week vacations, other times long weekends, determined, he said, to hike the entire Trail before reaching the age of 60.
He began his journey in Amicalola Falls State Park, where an eight-mile trail leads to the top of Georgia's Springer Mountain, 3,870 feet above sea level, where hikers register. Ten years later, he arrived at the Trail's northern terminus, Katahdin Mountain, a peak 5,270 feet above sea level in Maine.
In the interim, Yaniglos wore out hiking shoes and clothing, crossed currents that raged during rain storms, climbed over challenging rock formations, chased away rattlesnakes and encountered black bears and other animals in the wild. He also witnessed breathtakingly beautiful scenery and encountered friendly hikers just as passionate as he is about the out of doors. During intervals, he enjoyed the hiking companionship of his sons, Dan and Tom, both, like their father, accomplished outdoorsmen.
Technology changed as Yaniglos progressed. When he started in 2003, battery-powered digital cameras were not as reliable so Yaniglos used film cameras to capture much of what he was seeing. Somewhere into the journey, he began snapping photographs with his digital telephone, e-mailing the images home to his wife, Stacy, who is also an optometrist, as well as other family members and friends.
What possessed the doctor to undertake such an adventure? Yaniglos mentioned hiking as a Boy Scout while growing up in Youngstown, especially a 108-mile hike in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley that, as a youngster from the Buckeye State, seemed absolutely spectacular. Much of that hike was on the Appalachian Trail so Yaniglos, during his 10-year odyssey as a grown man in his 50s, covered some of the same territory. Having seen so much of the outdoors during his years of backpacking as an adult, he found the Shenandoah Valley not quite as spectacular as it once seemed, but still beautiful nevertheless.
His career in eye care requires the doctor to spend hours on end with patients in a dark setting so he can properly examine their eyes. Spending several days every year hiking in the out of doors, especially when the sun is shining, is the perfect antidote, he said.
'The Lord is my trekking partner'
When he began, his 46-pound backpack included a tent, clothing, food and water plus a Bible he determined to read during his journey. As he hiked, he reworked the 23rd Psalm, adapting it to the Appalachian Trail, beginning with: "The Lord is my trekking partner, I hike with ease; He makes me lie down in fine campsites. He leads me beside good water: He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of grandeur for his names sake."
He ended it with this verse: "Thou prepares grand views and times of silence; thou bless the land with silver dew, my cup overflows. Hopefully a steady gait and surefootedness shall stay with me all the days of my trek, and I shall hike in the lands of the Lord forever."
One of the worst experiences on the Trail was remedied by "trail angels" he encountered during a seven-day hike with his son, Dan, in Tennessee. They had replenished their water supplies using a perforated bucket that afterwards, they realized, had a dead rat in it. Lacking chemical supplies to decontaminate their water bottles and baskets, they sought out two Icelanders they had shared food with earlier at a shelter where all had stayed. The Icelanders, two women hikers, became genuine trail angels, sharing their supplies of chemicals for decontamination. Camping together that evening, Yaniglos prepared a delicious spaghetti meal to reciprocate the kindness.
In 2011 in southern Maine, some of the oldest portions of the dedicated Trail required descending over, around, and under large bolders that forced him to occasionally remove and drag his backpack. His son, Dan, who had earlier hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, had warned him of those difficulties. Yaniglos covered that stretch of the Trail, approximately 176 miles, in 15 days.
The view from Rainbow Ridges
The final hike this past summer consisted of more than 140 miles in 12 days and brought Yaniglos to the state of Maine's magnificent Katahdin Mountain. Seeing it from 20 miles distance at a vantage point called Rainbow Ridges was so awesome it felt like a religious experience. As he paused to take in the view, Yaniglos thought of the 10 years and all that had happened. He remembered his son, Dan, no longer living, but who like his father had loved the outdoors.Yaniglos had buried portions of his son's ashes at points on the Trail in the final years of his trek.
The hike up to Baxter Peak on Katahdin Mountain that day proved one of the more difficult he had attempted over 10 years of hiking, but once on the top, the views were glorious and made for great picture taking. Below, awaiting in a family campground, would be his son, Tom, who during the 10 years had graduated from high school and then Carnegie-Mellon with a degree in chemical engineering. He was working for a pharmaceutical company in Philadelphia. Father and son would the next day ascend once more to the top of Baxter Peak.
Ten years on the Appalachian Trail, often alone, gave Yaniglos time to think and sort out life, his journal notes, but it also adds that the Trail, like so much of life itself, keeps one so busy and focused on simply moving forward that there is too often no time to consider anything, but where to take the next step.
"Large and small mountains all have their challenges," he writes of his epic trek, "... sometimes you get lucky and the large ones are easier than expected."