The Man, The Myth, The 1 of 3000 People that Attempt to Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail Each Year!

This year, 2023, my resolutions include practicing more humility and self-deprecation. Based on the title of this article, I think we’re off to a good start. One of my other resolutions and long-term dreams of mine have been to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. On April 14th, 2023, the first footsteps towards that goal will become reality. The following is how I got here:

“All its name implies”

Many places are described as a Paradise. I grew up in Paradise. No fr, I grew up in the town of Paradise, California. As you ascend the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, you come across a sign nestled amongst the trees that reads:

“May you find Paradise to be all its name implies”

It’s a small town, literally carved out of the forest, mountains, and ravines. The challenges and joys of hiking were born here. My successful hikes included trekking canyons trails and old logging flumes to swimming holes, and camping trips at the high lakes.

It’s Lit! (too soon, perhaps)

When I was 12, my dad and I tried hiking up to Sawmill Peak, hoping to climb up to the fire lookout tower at the top. We never made it but we did return covered in poison oak (only mildly traumatizing). 20 years later, in 2018 the most destructive wildfire in California history crested Sawmill Peak and destroyed my hometown. The blaze scarred the land and devastated nearly every family I grew up with.

Traveling back home is bittersweet. Houses, where memories were made, have been lost. Friends and family that created these memories have been displaced. Despite the tragedy, a new perspective of Paradise rises from the ashes.  Sweeping views of hills and canyons, once obscured by densely wooded timber, yield a new beauty and appreciation of this place. My lust for nature and hiking was fostered in Paradise. Its mountains, trees, and rivers run in my blood and travel with me through all the trails I tread.

Dr. Derek Witteman DO

Autumn Glow

I got my first taste of Appalachia when the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine accepted a 20-something kid from Northern California into Med School, and I absolutely fell in love. The rolling hills and mountains welcomed me home. I pined for the oak trees (see what I did there) and when their leaves would change colors in fall. The hospitality and the slower pace of daily life were a refreshing change from the hustle and bustle I had become accustomed to. Oh, and that WV accent, its backwoodsy charm is unmatched and brings a smile to my face. I left a piece of my heart there when I graduated and left for residency an ocean away.


At this point, I commissioned into the Army and was fortunate enough to live in Hawaii while completing post-graduate medical training (let’s not all feel bad for me at the same time now). Apparently, working 60-hour weeks doesn’t exactly leave much time left over for other activities. But when you do the maths and subtract sleep (50 hours if you’re lucky), and time spent in traffic (10 hours if you’re lucky), there are still 48 hours left in a week to spend hiking #luckywelivehawaii. And luckily, Hawaii is a hiker’s paradise. I completed a bucket list of hikes during my time there; the notables include:

Captain Witteman

Additionally, my military career took me back home to California, to Honduras, to Texas, and pit-stops at tons of national parks in between. The opportunities afforded me in the Army have allowed my travel caterpillar to blossom into a travel butterfly. The friendships cultivated in medical school and the armed forces now sprawl across the US. With the military portion of my career at an end, I now can shift my focus in life to other things (cue taking 4 months off to hike in the woods). I hope to reconnect with many of those friendly faces along the route from Georgia to Maine.

Derek (Trail name TBD)

Ultimately, that brings us to the present and my anticipations and expectations for the future. I anticipate I will be given a trail name, and I expect that I am not going to like it (humility lesson #1).  I am expecting a humbling experience. Humbled by the trail, its challenges, mother nature, and I expect to continue to be humbled by life itself. Mostly I expect, 96 days from now, I’ll start walking. I’ll walk from Springer Mountain, GA, for 2200 miles in the general direction of Mt Katahdin, ME, and I expect to finish.  Stow away with me in my pack while I journey the Appalachian Trail.

You can follow Derek on Instagram @barkleycharles

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Comments 16

  • Sherry Woolacott : Jan 10th

    Very cool Derek! Excited for your journey to begin and follow your adventures!

  • Julianne Smith : Jan 10th

    Great to see another Texan on here.

  • Jennifer Brittin : Jan 11th

    I live in the Katahdin region, hope you enjoy our beautiful mountain. Best wishes and best of luck

    • Derek Witteman : Jan 16th

      I can’t wait Jennifer. I’m currently reading “The Maine Woods” by Thoreau and it’s hyping me up

  • Mike Cronrath : Jan 11th

    Why not Bones? (for a trail name) I think it fits and you’ll certainly be able to practice on the trail I’m sure. And from one army vet to another. I wish you the best and perhaps hope to see you there later in the year!

    • Derek Witteman : Jan 16th

      Hi Mike, i’ll take it under consideration! Thanks for your service as well, hoping I bump into you.

  • Country Roads : Jan 11th

    take me home
    to the place…

    • Derek Witteman : Jan 16th

      (screams at top of lungs) WEST VIRGINIA!!!!!!!

      • DaddyG : Jan 17th

        To the place
        I belong.. (Key verse)
        West Virginia
        Mtn Mama
        Take me home
        Country Home!

        Looking fwd 2 following you!

        Possible handles:
        Witt’s Walk
        Doc’s Walk
        Adifferent kind of Trekkie!

        Let me sleep on it… I can do better!

        • Gary Witteman : Jan 17th

          Missing lyrics 2 Country Road!

  • Nora : Jan 11th

    Your trail name will be perfect to remember just DO

  • Hannuh : Jan 14th

    Derek – you’ll be taking off from a location in GA that I call my hometown! Grew up and live still only some short distance from Springer Mtn 🙂

    Also – gave you a follow on IG. (Best aIg handle ever cause – duh!!) we seem to have kinder rd spirits and I resonate with your writing style. Can’t wait to follow you along this adventure and have a new friends trek to help motivate me when I start mine in 2025 — cause $$$ dang! — wish I was heading out this year! Happy Trails!

    • Derek Witteman : Jan 16th

      I appreciate the well wishes Hannuh, hoping my future posts live up to the expectations lol. Thanks for the well wishes and good luck with your planning for 2025. Rooting for you as well!

  • Christi : Jan 15th

    How about Doc Hollywood?

  • Jakki Smith : Jan 15th

    I like the names, Docdoyothang !
    Docwalkabout , DrDo ! Or … Drdoeshike 🤣
    How about … Docwalk-indewoods 😜
    Ok one more and I’ll stop 🤪 Drtakeahike ❤️
    A true fan here and wish I could go too !
    If I were a few yrs younger, you would be stuck with a buddy .
    Have the greatest adventure and take loads of pic’s!
    You have a fan in me 👍👍👍👍

  • Lindsay : Feb 18th

    Only 60 hours a week during residency? Impressive. All my residents are jealous!


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