Ryan Iker has spent the last four months in the woods. He has hiked over 1,400 miles, seen 16 bears, gone through four pairs of shoes and is well on his way to completing the Appalachian Trail.
Iker, a Clermont Northeastern High School graduate, said hiking the trail has been the best decision he’s ever made. And while many people would think someone who decides to attempt the feat is slightly crazy, Iker’s family and friends have supported him every step of the way – literally.
“The people who know me weren’t too shocked,” Iker said about his decision. “Everyone has been really awesome and supportive.”
It was Ryan’s father, Chuck Iker, who indirectly influenced his son to hike the trail. Chuck had a National Geographic special about the Appalachian Trail saved on his T.V., and Ryan watched the show one day when he visited.
“Ten minutes after I started watching it, I was pretty much set,” Ryan said.
Ryan said he and his brothers and sister had grown up in the woods, so he was comfortable with the idea. Even though Ryan hadn’t done more than a couple weekend camping and hiking trips he began planning to hike the trail from start to finish.
This meant quitting his job as a manager of a pizza restaurant, getting the proper equipment and training for the hike, which takes around six months to complete.
Ryan visited Red River Gorge in Kentucky several times in the beginning of the year to test out his equipment and get some training in. He said he went to the gym as well, but nothing prepared him for what the conditions are really like on the trail.
On April 9, Ryan began his hike at the trail’s southern terminus, Springer Mountain, Georgia, and almost every day since then, he has been hiking the trail and learning as he goes.
“There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can get you ready,” Ryan said about hiking the trail. “If you are a generally healthy person you just gotta get out and go.”
He said the biggest challenges so far have been finding the right shoes and keeping his head in it every single day. He said just like being in the working world, he has good days and bad days when he’s hiking.
“You’re not always psyched,” Ryan said about hiking. “But more often than not I am happy about it.”
Ryan said since he began his hike he has lost weight in his upper body and gained more muscle than ever in his legs, which he calls machines. He has also grown an impressive beard, which he doesn’t plan to shave until he’s done.
“Everything I lose weight-wise goes straight to the beard,” Ryan said.
He said the trail has given him an opportunity to think, learn how to be more patient and enjoy small things, like how entertaining chipmunks can be and how kind another hiker can be.
“You have the ability to sit back and think about things without being distracted by everything,” Ryan said about being in the woods.
He said the most interesting thing about being on the trail is the variety of animals he’s encountered. He said he has seen 16 bears, almost stepped on a water moccasin and has learned to appreciate how the animals spend their days.
Ryan has also encountered many other people on the trail and said the community of people on the AT is absolutely amazing.
While he has had decent weather and hasn’t had to hike in the rain too much, he said there have been days of hail and lightning and lately it has been quite hot, especially recently, with temperatures in the 100s.
Despite a couple set-backs, including an ankle injury, suspected Lyme disease and equipment failure, Ryan has been pushing through and is making good time, sometimes hiking 20 miles a day.
In early July he reached the halfway point and while he was excited, he said he isn’t in a hurry to finish because he is enjoying the adventure. He also knows the most difficult parts of the trail are yet to come.
Although his family and friends are miles away, they have been able to keep up with Ryan through a blog he and his father created. The blog contains updates on Ryan’s progress posted by Chuck as well as entries from Ryan, photos he has taken on the trail and GPS tracking graphics to show his progress.
The blog, www.ryaniker-clockedout.blogspot.com, has had over 16,000 hits and Chuck said he is continually spending time answering emails from Ryan’s friends and day hikers he met on the trail.
Ryan is planning to finish the approximately 2,180 mile trail at the trail’s northern terminus in Maine by the end of September. He said he hasn’t even been close to entertaining the thought of quitting.
“It was definitely the right thing,” Ryan said about his decision to hike the trail. “It’s amazing how many people on a daily basis are like ‘Man, I wish I could do what you’re doing.’ People don’t understand that you can.”