Don and Lisa, Thanksgiving, 2011

Don and Lisa, Thanksgiving, 2011

On May 26, 2011, my then 53-year-old brother, Don Stephens, was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) which is commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He died on August 28, 2012. Along with his wife, Lisa, I served as one of his caregivers during those last few months of his life. It was extremely painful to watch him suffer from this horrible disease. For Don, however, it was even more painful.

Prior to his diagnosis, Don had always been very athletic. He was still playing softball and hitting home runs in 2010. We even bought new bikes and rode for a couple of months in the summer of 2011, before he started having issues with falling. Despite his understanding of how the disease was going to progress, he tried to remain active for as long as he could.

While my brother was still alive, I discussed with him my desire to do something substantial in his memory regarding raising funds for ALS research. What I decided to do was to attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.  Since 2002, I had hiked over 1000 miles of the approximately 2180 mile trail in sections. For years I had thought about trying a thru-hike, a continuous hike of the entire trail from Springer Mountain in north Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Every year between two and three thousand hikers begin the trek in late winter or early spring. Fewer than 25 percent reach their goal. I was determined to be one of those who make it.

On September 2, 2013, 164 days after beginning the hike on Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the A.T., I summited Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus in Maine.  After returning to my home I edited my journal, included stories about my brother, and transformed what I had written into a book. My book, Don’s Brother: A Hike of Hope on the Appalachian Trail, written in honor and memory of Don, was published on March 4, 2014, six months after I completed the trail




8 thoughts on “Home

  1. Pam Woodard

    What a perfect way to remember Donald. We all miss him so much. May God be your guide on The Trail.
    The Woodard Gang

  2. possible - va

    It was a pleasure to meet you today at the 522 trailhead. We’ll follow your journey.

    Safe travels,
    Possible and Lisa Jenkins

  3. Mike Stanko

    Mike, wow…incredible story and tribute. I found this site as I am planning a hiking trip with my 22 year old daughter in the White Mtns. I am 54. It is a bit of a special event for us, just her an dad. I will think of you Mike and your brother Don as we hike from Galehead to Crawford Notch. God bless you and thanks for creating this site. Mike

  4. Gerald Mistal (trailname: Thunderbelly)

    Finished reading your book today, DB. Excellent tribute to your brother who “loved the woods”. From what I read, Don was an exceptional individual. Living near Philadelphia, I’ll root for the Braves for Don unless they are playing the Phillies. Nice memoir about the AT, as well. Really enjoy reading about thru-hikers and trail life. You should come to the Delaware Water Gap in late May when the Shad are running up the Delaware River. I think Don would have really enjoyed it. Your book did a very nice job of educating the reader on ALS. Thanks for the story and well done on finishing your promise to your brother.

  5. Jason Maccartney

    Mike, Thanks for your support for my preparations for my upcoming thru-hike attempt. I read your comment on my trail journal(Quicksand). That is an inspirational story about your brother and your thru-hike. I have read many AT books and I will check your book out. All I read right now is AT books and I seem to devour them. I will let you know what I think about it.

  6. This book made me cry, laugh and throughly enjoyed reading it. It took me with you on the adventure and indeed that is what it was. My son walked the trail that year and he is in your book. He is Bulldog. Keep writing, create new adventures to write about. You are never to old.

  7. Amy

    Oh wonderful post! What a fantastic way to honor him!!

  8. Awesome feat, way to keep your brother close to you, and great effort in raising awareness and fundraising for a cure… I am committed to doing the same for my best friend Roger in 3 weeks! Thanks for inspiring me!

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