On March 22, along the banks of the Missouri River, in North Dakota, M. J. “Eb” Eberhart, 70, started a 4,400-mile journey across the North Country National Scenic Trail. On Monday, July 6, with 2,800 miles behind him, he spent the night at East Fork State Park, in Clermont County. When Buckeye Trail Association member Steve Miller caught up with Eberhart July 7, he was east of Williamsburg, heading into Brown County where he was expected to spend the night in Russellville.
“This is my passion, I get joy and fulfillment out of walking the trails,” said Eberhart. “The local chapter of the Buckeye Trail Association is doing a great job maintaining this section. The Buckeye Trail ties in with the North Country National Trail and I’m a beneficiary of all their hard work. This is one of the most family friendly districts and part of this trail is due to the diligence of Steve Newman.”
"The East Fork State Park trail is beautifully engineered for hikers," said Eberhart. "There must be good soil here because the vegetation is really lush. It is a really enjoyable trail and not a difficult hike for younger kids. This trail gives young kids a feel for what hiking is like. This trail was designed with me in mind and I want to thank Steve Miller and all the folks with the Buckeye Trail Association for their work."
The Buckeye Trail is a 1,400-mile hiking route around the state of Ohio. It is marked with blue paint blazes on trees and utility poles and is maintained locally by members of the Buckeye Trail Association. The trail follows old canal towpaths, abandoned railroad rights of way, rivers, lakeshores, rural byways and primitive footpaths over forested public and private lands.
"Members of our association have designated areas to maintain," said Miller. "One of our biggest concerns is obtaining an easement from property owners so we can maintain the trail that goes through private property. We want to have a good relationship with property owners."
Eberhart started hiking and backpacking in the early 1980s and has taken the trail name of "Nimblewill Nomad." He moved to Nimblewill Creek, near Dahlonega, Ga., shortly after he retired from his optometric practice in Florida.
In addition to his current "Odyssey 2009," Eberhart has hiked six National Scenic Trails including the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Natchez Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and the Eastern Continental Trail. His current hike has taken him 2,800 miles from North Dakota, through Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. He has another 1,600 miles to go before reaching Rutland, Vermont. His goal is to reach the Amtrak station in Rutland, Vt., by Sept. 20. Eberhart is also an author of three books, "Ten Million Steps," "Ditties," and "Where Less the Path is Worn."
"If someone wants to become a long distance hiker I would suggest that they decide what their priorities are," said Eberhart. "Everyone has obligations to their family, job and so on. Look at the long term, and beyond that, look at your 'one of these days' list. Hiking is a way to enjoy nature and get in shape, but it can be difficult physically."
Eberhart says that he has a passion about hiking. It is something that he wants to do everyday and looks forward to hiking as soon as he wakes up each morning.
Eberhart is a lightweight hiker; his summer-loaded backpack weighs about six pounds. While hiking in the winter he says that the pack might weigh 11 or 12 pounds.
"You have to reach an understanding between what you want and what you truly need," said Eberhart. "Wants and needs are different. Basic needs are food, shelter and clothing to keep you warm, cool or dry. One of my most basic needs is finding a flat spot to sleep."
Eberhart relates in a journal entry posted on his web site that he hikes an average of about 25 miles per day and notes that he has actually hiked all those miles.
"I am able to hike at a very comfortable and steady pace, three (miles) per hour," said Eberhart. "To average two and one-half (miles) is a cakewalk, even when I dilly-dally."
Eberhart said the most dangerous situation he found himself in occurred while hiking through the Sierra Nevadas on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2008. He was hiking up Goats Rock near Lutz Lake when he encountered a rock avalanche.
"Comes now driving winds, pushing wave after wave of local clutter through. I must work to maintain my balance along a very narrow section known as the Knife Edge. Above Packwood Glacier the weather takes a turn for the worse -- 30-40 mph winds that are driving rain intermixed with hail. In a small lee I stop to don my poncho, which proves a half-hour ordeal, what with my wet, cold sticks-for-fingers, caused by the freezing rain," said Eberhart. "Climbing still, then rounding a very large pinnacle above Packwood I'm faced with a very narrow (and scary) side-slab along a treacherous section of trail, which crosses a 60 per-cent slope replete with nothing but loose scree and dirt. Here an amazing thing happens. A rock dislodged from a snowfield some 50-75 feet above careens directly down to strike me in the right elbow and shoulder, knocking me silly--and clear over the side. I could hear it coming, the noise of it reverberating above the wind--clankety clunk, crash. I had not an instant to turn or look, no chance to dodge before the incredible, explosive impact. Somehow, could there be the least good fortune in this, I land heads up, such that I'm able to stick in the loose dirt and rocks. However, every time I try stabilizing my position, I just keep sliding further down the slope. Finally, slowly, and totally deliberate, I'm able to kick in a small toehold and slowly work myself back up to the trail. Damage control shows no serious injuries, nothing busted, just a cut-up and badly bruised elbow and shoulder. Thank you, Lord."
Eberhart also related one of the most pleasant experiences of his hiking career. It happened in a climb to the top of Mt. Elbert, in Colorado.
"When I climbed to the top of Mt. Elbert, it was the most emotional time of my life," said Eberhart. "My father's name was Elbert and when I reached the summit, I knew that I did it for my dad. When you climb above 10,000 feet, be ready for the altitude change. Climbing Mt. Elbert was one of the most exciting and emotional things I have ever done."
Eberhart is part of an elite group of hikers who have earned the Triple Crown. They are awarded plaques for completing the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest Trails. He accepted the award at the American Long Distance Hiking Association West gathering in 2008 at Wenatchee, Wash.
"Achieving the Triple Crown was the greatest accomplishment in my life," said Eberhart. "Receiving the award will remain the most intensely emotional time in my memory."
To track Eberhart's progress on his 2009 odyssey, visit his web site at www.nimblewillnomad.com. To find out more about the Buckeye Trail Association, contact Steve Miller by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Buckeye Trail web site at www.buckeyetrail.org.