MHS class of 1962 alumni conquer Appalachian Trail

Start with a dozen seniors in their late 60s or early 70s, 17 miles of trail out of a possible 2,180 and beautiful scenery.

Oh, and don’t forget one defiant timber rattlesnake.

During the Marietta High School Class of 1962’s 50th class reunion in September, several alumni were sitting around a table reminiscing, when the conversation turned to bucket lists. The lists are of items a person wants to accomplish during his or her lifetime.

Class member Tim Cooper, of Thornville, mentioned he would like to hike at least a part of the Appalachian Trail.

An avid hiker, Cooper, 69, said he already had hiked in the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park (Idaho, Montana and Wyoming), Mount Rainier (Washington state) and the Great Chicago Basin (Colorado).

Soon after, Cooper checked with his doctor because he had open heart surgery in 2009 to have an aortic valve replaced because of heart murmur since childhood. Copper got the OK, he said.

Quickly, the planning began, and five more couples had signed on to make the journey: Nancy and Bill Hathaway, Anne and Randy Bules, Beth and Emerson Shimp, Laurie and Joe Lukens and Bonnie and Dick Miller.

“It was on my bucket list,” said Emerson Shimp, 69, of 607 Washington St., who made the trip with his wife, Beth. “It was something we wanted to try.”

Everyone except the Lukens met May 20 in Luray, Va., to start that section of the hike in the Thornton Gap area, about 10 miles from Luray. The Lukens had to travel to Indiana for a funeral, and they didn’t join the rest of the group until the last day -May 23.

“How many people in their right mind would drive 18 hours to walk four miles on the last day?” said Joe Lukens, 69, of 122 Meadow Lane.

Leading up to the journey, the hikers in Marietta started walking extra miles wherever possible, taking advantage of the hills of Colegate Drive, the trails of the Broughton Nature and Wildlife Education Area off Ohio 821 and the Wayne National Forest.

“You never know how fit you are until you try it,” Bil Hathaway said.

According to the group’s itinerary, the drop-off point was at the Skyline Drive entrance at Thornton Gap, east of Luray, Va. The hikers continued on to Byrd Nest Hunt No. 3, the Pinnacle and the Jewell Hollow Overlook, finally arriving at Stony Man Mountain for the first overnight stop. Day 2 included Pollack Knob, a view of Hawksbille Mountain and Ida Valley, Crescent Rock Parking Overlook, Salamander Trail to Franklin Cliffs Overlook and David Spring. On the third and final day, with a view of the Alleghenies in the distance, the hikers were able to see the Allegheny Mountains, Hazeltop Ridge and Bootens Gap.

The most difficult part of the group’s section of the trail came on the first day.

That first leg -12 miles-went from 2,200 feet to 3,800 feet within two miles, giving the hikers a challenging steep climb on Day 1.

“Several found it strenuous,” said trip leader Tim Cooper. “We all felt the pain.”

Hiker Nancy Hathaway, 70, said most of them inched their way to the top. They would rest on a rock for five minutes, then walk some 200 feet, repeating that process until they reached the summit. Some had a difficult time on that slope, she said.

Nancy said she would have preferred to do it the opposite way and take on the section of trail going downhill.

Ann Bules, 68, of Atlanta, made the hike, while her husband, Randy, 68, helped man the sag wagon, which, Bill Hathaway said, is an escort vehicle for hikers or bikers to help deal with injuries, supplies or other issues.

“That section of the trail itself was very rocky,” Ann Bules said. “I had to keep my eyes toward the ground the entire time. It was very warm. The first day was 90 degrees. Just keeping your footing was difficult. I had two walking sticks, and the heat was bothersome. By the third day, the trail was smoother, and it was cooler by that time.”

Bules said she most remembered the incredible views she was able to experience along the trail and how proud of herself she was for completing the trip.

At one point in the hike, Dick Miller, 70, of Marietta, said he met up with a timber rattlesnake sunning itself in the middle of the trail.

“It wasn’t in any hurry to get off the trail,” he said. “That really got the heart started. It was pretty good size.”

Others in the group laughed about the episode and said the reptile apparently already had eaten because of the bulge in its middle section. Finally, it moved away so the hikers felt more comfortable leaving the venomous snake behind.

Despite the heat, physical demands and the snake, the whole group said they enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and at least attempting something they weren’t sure they could accomplish.

For Lori Lukens, 69, it was the joking and harassing each other that made the trip more enjoyable.

“Everyone kept the good spirits going,” she said.