Introducing Pearwood on the AT

Who am I?

I am a photographer, walker, and sometime paddler, a theologically-educated geek living in Rochester, NY. Once upon a time I was an Army helicopter jockey in Alaska.

I started with film photography, switched to digital, then went back to classic film cameras.

With major back surgery in August 2019 and bunion repair in January 2020 now behind me, I am gearing up to start Appalachian Trail NOBO in March, 2021 to celebrate my seventy-first birthday.

Why pearwood?

Pearwood has been my online moniker ever since I signed up on deviantArt.com in 2005 and needed to come up with a username. I’ll tell you the rest of the story later.

Why am I thru-hiking the AT?

Because it has been far too long since I have done anything really outrageous.

Plan A

In 2017 I got laid off from my software quality assurance job, had outpatient surgery to correct a herniated disk, and started working my way back to the land of the living.

In January 2018 I made two critical decisions. The first was, “Screw it. I’m 67. I am no longer unemployed. I am retired.”

The second was, “You have long had this idea that thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail would be a good idea. There’s only one way to make it happen. Set a date and start telling people.” 2020 for birthday 70 sounded like nice round numbers with reasonable lead time. On Epiphany Sunday, January 7, I wrote in my journal, “Resolved: I intend to spend my 70th birthday thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. So help me, God.”

I started planning for a March 2020 start. I walked a lot of miles in Letchworth State Park that summer. In November I started having back problems again. We assumed it was another herniated disk. The x-rays and MRI told us differently. It was an infected disk, which turned out to be much worse than the herniated disk. Was it related to the disk surgery over a year earlier? Perhaps. Who knows? Doesn’t really matter. Heavy antibiotics looked like they were clearing it up, but the infection came roaring back. In August 2019, I spent ten hours on the operating table and eight days in the hospital getting the infection cleared out and the adjacent vertebrae fused.

On to plan B

Even while I was in the hospital the surgeon told my I would be ready to thru-hike in March. I told him that meant I would be ready to resume training. I set my sights on March 2021. By December I had the surgeon’s enthusiastic approval to go ahead. But now the bunion on my right foot was getting rapidly worse. It was becoming a matter of taking care of it or being crippled. X-rays showed the toe joint eaten up with arthritis. We got that cleaned up and the main toe joint fused in January. The foot surgeon gave me a thumbs-up for the thru-hike as well. Then came the pandemic. I could not have thru-hiked in 2020 even if I had been ready.

Will there be a plan C?

Earlier this month I started adding #PandemicPermitting to my #AppalachianTrail2021 for #Birthday71 hashtags on Instagram. I am still working toward a March 2021 start at Springer Mountain, but it is looking iffier every day. I am in excellent health now, but I did turn 70 last June. If thru-hiking in 2021 means recklessly endangering myself or the people in the communities along the trail, then it will be #AppalachianTrail2022 for #Birthday72. But one way or another, it is going to happen.

I’ll keep you posted.

Steve / pearwood

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Comments 12

  • Avatar
    keith wingad : Dec 1st

    Pearwood, great to read about the beginning of your journey on the AT. We share a similar background in that I, too, was an Army helicopter pilot and commander of an aviation unit in Minnesota which was detailed to support Alaska if activated. In 2017 I thru-hiked the AT at age 65 and did it on horribly painful knees that were later both replaced. So, I both look forward to reading more of your story as you work your way north and offer my help if you need any. It’s a great journey whose experiences are actively lived all the days after you reach the summit at Katadhin. Wishing you the very best. COWG

    Reply
    • Avatar
      pearwood : Dec 1st

      Thanks, Keith. It is going to be an interesting year, said he, somewhat ruefully. I just registered for a March 1 start, but June 1 is probably more likely. I’m in the wait-and-see stage.
      Steve

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Rick : Dec 1st

    Pearwood, hello fellow WNY’er! I’m a little southwest of you in Allegany, NY. I too have aspirations of thru hiking the AT. My target is retiring late 2024 and attempting a thru hike 2025, turning 70 on the trail. From the sounds of it you have no shortage of tenacity to make it happen. Wishing you the best and looking forward to following your hike.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      pearwood : Dec 1st

      Greetings, Rick. So you would be a 1955 model versus my 1950. Stay in touch.
      Steve

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Katie Houston : Dec 1st

    Hi Pearwood, I love your attitude towards COVID and I really appreciate your caution and forethought! Can’t wait to follow along!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      pearwood : Dec 1st

      Thanks, Katie. We’re all at the wait-and-see stage. I treat Covid-19 the way I treat heights. I’m not exactly afraid of them, but I treat them with great respect. There’s no coming back if I go over the 500 foot cliff at Letchworth.
      Steve

      Reply
  • Avatar
    J.D./ La Loon : Dec 8th

    I was hoping to complete the triple crown on my 50th. Now I’m just hoping to complete one; I’ll be 50 in 22′.
    Nice to meet you Pearwood!

    J.D./ La Loon

    Reply
  • Avatar
    WILLIAM BOERNER : Dec 8th

    Hey Pearwood,I too live in Rochester NY.I’m 61.After loosing my wife to cancer in 2015 I took my retirement from Kodak and hiked the AT in 2016.I will hopefully do it again in 2021.I will like to start 4/1 but we’ll see.Hiked 700 miles of PCT in 2019.Had to cancel hike in 2020.Good Luck hope we get to hike.Hope world in better position this spring.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      WILLIAM BOERNER : Dec 8th

      Hey Pearwood,I too live in Rochester NY.I’m 61.After loosing my wife to cancer in 2015 I took my retirement from Kodak and hiked the AT in 2016.I will hopefully do it again in 2021.I will like to start 4/1 but we’ll see.Hiked 700 miles of PCT in 2019.Had to cancel hike in 2020.Good Luck hope we get to hike.Hope world in better position this spring.

      Reply
    • Avatar
      pearwood : Dec 8th

      Sounds good! I’m targeting June 1. We shall see.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Morgan : Dec 13th

        Hi Pearwood,

        Just a note to say we are cheering you on during your prep hikes!

        Reply
        • Avatar
          pearwood : Dec 13th

          Thanks, Morgan!

          Reply

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