Thinking About Don

As I planned this hiking adventure throughout the fall and winter, I wrote about my reasons for referring to the endeavor as my “hike of hope.” One objective was to raise awareness of the multitude of challenges a person with ALS faces. I wanted people following my walk to understand that a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail, be it difficult in its own way, pales in comparison to those challenges a victim of Lou Gehrig’s disease must confront. Hikers of the AT have the use of their arms and legs to navigate both strenuous as well as less difficult sections of trail. Most ALS patients eventually can’t use any of their extremities. Their mind remains the same; their bodies just stop working.

Each day that I hike I remind myself of just how active my brother was before his diagnosis and just how quickly he lost all ability to be active. He knew there was no cure, and he knew that he would never get any better. Still with a strong faith and surrounded by so many who loved him, he persevered. Sometimes, I don’t know how. Watching his transformation from an avid bass fisherman, hunter, and excellent softball player to a man forced to sit in a power chair and have others do everything for him was excruciating for all Don’s family and friends to endure. For him it must have been beyond any agony the mind can conceive.

So another of my “hopes” as I started the walk from Springer to Katahdin was that I could raise some funds for ALS research. I didn’t set a monetary amount as a goal because I wanted my brother’s friends, my friends, and perhaps those who never knew either of us to give because they wanted to help make a difference. I don’t know if whatever monies I raise will be substantial enough to provide researchers with what they need to finally determine a cause and treatment for ALS. But they just might. What I do know is that every time a new diagnosis is given, another person, along with his family and friends, has no hope. None. That’s a sobering thought.

While I’ve hiked each day I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and reflecting. Always enjoying numbers (even though I was an English teacher), I often find myself doing trail math. How many miles will I need to average to finish the hike on a certain date? How many days off can I take if I average 15 miles a day? If I only hike 10 miles tomorrow, can I do 20 the next day? If I cover two and one-half miles an hour, when will today’s hike be complete? I seem to always be thinking about numbers.

Numbers are important on the trail just as they are in research. So now that I’ve completed over one-third of the trail with the full intent to get it all done, I would like to ask my readers to consider making a contribution to the ALS Association or The ALS clinic at Emory at my website, If 100 people gave $50…….I’m thinking about numbers again. There is a “Make a Donation” drop down tab at the top. While you’re at it, if you haven’t already, please spend some time reading about my brother on the “Don” pages, also at the top. If my brother were here he would be saying, “Stop asking these people for money and get on with your hike.” But Don is not here which is why I feel a need to try to help find a cure for the disease that took him from those he loved and from those who loved him.

As I wait to return to the trail on Sunday, I just felt like it was the appropriate time to reach out. I won’t do it again. What I will do, however, is keep walking north on the Appalachian Trail. And every day that I hike I’ll keep remembering my brother and of course reminding myself often that above all, Donald was a man of faith who loved his family, but I’ll also keep remembering how much Don loved the woods.

Categories: AT Hike | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Thinking About Don

  1. Pam Gilstrap

    Mike, I think it is great that you have reminded us of our opportunity to help fight ALS. I hope you will from time to time remind us all of what we can do. Then it is up to each of us to take action. Special post!

  2. Angie Stafford

    I really enjoy reading your posts, Mike. Your description of ALS is painfully accurate. Those of us who knew and loved Don know that all too well. I miss him everyday and I pray the work we all do to raise awareness and donate to research will make a difference. Safe Travels and God Bless you for what you are doing.

  3. Robert Anderson

    Thanks so much for what you are doing from a PALS that still can hike. We are camping at Loft Mountain in the Shenandoah. Maybe I can join you for a short part of the hike.

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