Cast of Characters: Introducing Appalachian Trail Hikers Dessert Queen and Mr. Rook

“Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.” ― Joan Didion, On Self-Respect

Hi from Grandma Gatewood’s hiking grounds, the Hopewell Culture’s Serpent Mound, and Lake Erie.  We are Beth and Tom, trail names Dessert Queen and Mr. Rook, lifelong hikers who are setting off on our next adventure, a flip flop thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. Our journey begins in early April, 2023 as we willfully step onto the Goodloe E. Byron Memorial Pedestrian Walkway to cross the Potomac River with our backpacks filled with gear needed for this six month journey.  We are embracing the spirit of the month and the characteristics of the Jungian archetype The Fool by demonstrating confidence, persistence, and courage.  We believe that it is not too late to aim high, to practice joy and awe, to be curious and try new things and to face the unknown together.

“Hold it Hold it. What is this? Are you trying to trick me? Is this a kissing blog?”

“Keep your shirt on…it is just the beginning of the adventure.” Mr. Rook says.  Reiner, Rob. director. The Princess Bride. MGM. 1987.


For those who don’t know us, we met at a local coffee shop: Stauf’s.  No surprise to anyone, Mr. Rook was drinking coffee and playing chess; and the Dessert Queen was eating a sweet, drinking coffee, and reading.  

We are members of the Friends’ of Mary Hiking Club of Central Ohio’s who trek the metro parks of prairies, wetlands, and glacier ridges and the trails of Hocking Hills (Grandma Gatewood’s territory); and we have hiked, backpacked and camped in the Adirondacks, National and State Parks throughout the country including down to Phantom Ranch in the Grand Canyon.  Before the pandemic, we walked the last 65 miles on the El Camino de Santiago – French Way.  Hiking, camping and backpacking have been a part of our family life and were included in our honeymoon 27 years ago.  

Hiker #1

  • Hiker #1 Name: Dessert Queen
  • Hiker #1 Age:  She will be celebrating 60 on the trail.
  • Hiker #1 Profession off the trail: Public Health Consultant
  • Hiker #1 Early Camping Memories – car camping with her family and the green canvas tent. The Hawaiian Pudding Recipe from One Burner Gourmet.  Cabin camping in the woods at her Grandparents’ farm.  Making campfires under the watchful eye of Mrs. Zoller, her Girl Scout Leader.
  • Hiker #1 Loves: Desserts: She is the person who looks at the desserts on a menu first, before choosing an entree.  She likes being outside in the woods.  However, she loves the smell after the rain especially if hiking within the evergreens; the smell after the rain in New Mexico and a rainbow arch across the horizon.  Dessert Queen loves going to live music, painting, reading a thought provoking novel, however a “no think novel” is nice too, and writing.
  • Hiker #1 Hates: Conflict that has no way to come to a compromise and bosses who practice micromanagement.
  • Hiker #1 Fears: Edges with a long way down.  (i.e., Mount Katahdin’s Knife Edge Trail)
  • In the future, hiker #1 hopes to be filled up with awe of the beauty of the Appalachian Trail both upon the summits, foot soaking in streams, and in walking among the cows.  She hopes to break bread, share food, and stories with many people along the trail.  Dessert Queen hopes there will be many great stories to share with friends, family and anyone who will listen about life on the trail.
  • Six adjectives that describe hiker #1: Kind, Serious, Thoughtful, Creative, Prepared, Determined

Hiker #2

  • Hiker #2 Name: Mr. Rook
  • Hiker #2 Age: 60
  • Hiker #2 Profession off the trail: Engineer, programmer
  • Hiker #2Early Camping Memories:  Being above tree line in the alpine areas of the Adirondacks, being face to face with a moose on Isle Royale, seeing the glacier on the top of Mount Olympus in Washington.
  • Hiker #2 Loves: To solve a good problem or puzzle, at work or on the chess board. Enjoying the meditative pace of a hike or ride. Learning a language, a culture, the history.
  • Hiker #2 Hates:  The inflexible and uncurious
  • Hiker #2 Fears:  Fluffy pillows
  • In the future, hiker #2 hopes: to see a bear, but not too closely.
  • Six adjectives that describe hiker #2:  Curious, persistent, intelligent, patient, calm, funny

Common Questions from our friends and family

What is a Flip Flop?

I can hear some of you humming Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” (Buffett, 1977)  For the purposes of this blog, a flip flop isn’t footwear.  A flip flop thru hike means starting somewhere in the middle, in our case Harpers Ferry, WV and hiking north Maine.  After we scale Mount Katahdin, we will return to where we started (i.e., Harpers Ferry) and hike south to Springer Mountain, Georgia.  (For those who following our hike using one of the guides, our hike will begins on page 112 in the AT Guide and page 115 in the Appalachian Thru Hikers’ Companion)

Note: We will not be wearing this type of footwear on the trail nor acquiring any tattoos.  We promise that we will drink responsibility.   

Why are you doing a flip flop?

  1. Decrease the impact and stress on the trail. Most hikers (~81%) start at Springer Mountain in March and April going north bound (NOBO). This has led to overcrowding at campsites and increased erosion on the trail. 
  2. Increase the economic impact in the trail towns by creating a longer hiking season. 
  3. A quieter and warmer hike in the woods. 
  4. Ohio is relatively a flat state to train in. Our highest elevation is Campbell Hill (1549 ft). It takes 3.4 Campbell Hills to equal 1 Mount Katahdin (5269 ft.). Starting at Harpers Ferry builds will build up our endurance for the elevations to come both in the north and the south portions of the AT.

Note:  ~10% of hikers are flip floppers and ~8% are south bounders. These statistics are from the Appalachian Trail Conservatory.  

“How many years is this going to take you?”  Walter Stafa (1936-2023)

According to the 2003 Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Planner, the average hiker takes 180 days.  Really, it all depends on our pace.   Most people can expect to walk a mile in 15 to 22 minutes, according to data gathered in a 2019 study spanning five decades (Rasmussen, 2019). The average walking pace is 2.5 to 4 mph, as  reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018. 

Some of the hikers we have watched over the last two years have finished the trip in less than 180 days.  However, they are completing a half to a full marathon daily.  We aren’t planning on this type of “death march” pace of mile eating.  Mr. Rook and I are embracing “hiking our hike” at a more leisurely pace so we can embrace the awe and wonder on the trail.  In some portions of the trail, one mile may take five hours if we are climbing up to a 6000 ft. peak; while other days the path may be like Columbus’ Glacier Ridge Metro Park (flat and paved).  It all depends on the terrain or a must-stop-enjoy-the-view or soaking our feet or a great conversation….

We are hoping to complete this journey in six months.

How many people actually complete a thru hike?

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy data, every year about over two thousand people sling on a backpack and attempt to hike the trail.  The same data shows that approximately one in four actually complete the hike and of those same hikers, three percent are aged sixty plus. 

We are hoping to become a three percenter.

  • Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Appalachian Trail: Thru Hikers’ Companion 2022. Editor Robert Sylvester. Appalachian Trail Conservancy, 2022.
  • Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “The Adventure of a Lifetime: 2,000 Milers.” 2023,
  • Barker, Harriett. One Burner Gourmet. Contemporary Books. 1975.
  • Buffett, Jimmy. “Margaritaville.” Changes in Latitudes. ABC, February 14, 1977. (Hear a recording of the song.  Rewind Music Group. April 10, 2010.
  • Miller, David “Awol” and AntiGravityGear. The A.T. Guide: A Handbook for Hiking the Appalachian Trail 2023 Edition., 2023.
  • National Park Conservation Association. “Appalachian National Scenic Trail: A special report.” March, 2010,
  • Rasmussen LJH, Caspi A, Ambler A, et al. Association of Neurocognitive and Physical Function With Gait Speed in Midlife. JAMA Network Open. 2019;2(10):e1913123. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.13123
  • Reiner, Rob. director. The Princess Bride. MGM. 1987.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018.


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Comments 8

  • Roz : Feb 21st

    I am all about the flip-flop! I am looking forward to following,

    • Beth Malchus Stafa : Feb 24th

      Glad you are coming along on our journey.

  • Gecko : Feb 22nd

    Great intro! I look forward to following your progress through your blog posts and your footsteps/hiker logs when my multi-year LASH resumes from the NY/CT border area in mid-June.


    • Beth Malchus Stafa : Feb 24th

      Hi Gecko. Blogging is new for us. We hope to put the hiker’s log in after we re-read the manual. Maybe we will see you in NY/CT over a yummy dessert and good conversation.

  • Papa Dump : Feb 22nd

    Good luck to you guys. We lived in OH 14 years before moving south to GA. Love your flip flop plans; we did our’s in 2022 starting in Damascus heading north, then Damascus heading south to GA. Looking forward to following along on your adventure and reminiscing.
    Happy trails!

    • Beth Malchus Stafa : Feb 24th

      Glad you are coming along with us on our journey… Hope some of the photos and stories will help you remember your 2022 trip.

  • Crossword : Feb 22nd

    Very entertaining reading. I completed a flip flop last year, starting at Rockfish Gap. I was 61, so part of the 3% club! There are many other reasons why a flip flop is the way to go! I look forward to following your journey. Best of luck!

    • Beth Malchus Stafa : Feb 24th

      Crossword. Congrats on being a 3%’er. We hope to join your club this year. And, thank you for coming along with us on our journey.


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