Personal Trainer Hikes Appalachian Trail for YMCA Strong Kids Campaign
On Monday, April 6, Ryan Boatman from Muncy boarded an Amtrak train and headed for northern Georgia where he was going to begin one of his most challenging lifetime moments. As a Fit Team member and personal trainer at the Eastern Lycoming YMCA, Boatman made arrangements to hike the Appalachian Trail so he can raise money for the YMCA’s Strong Kids Campaign. Proceeds from his efforts and this campaign have allowed children and familes to help fund memberships, child care, day camp and other programs that are offered.
Georgia was the beginning of the Appalachian Trail that spans a well blazed 2,175 miles ending in Mount Katahdn at 5,267 feet, the highest point in Maine. It covers fourteen different states. Boatman completed 12 of them.
Taking only necessities, Ryan scheduled food drops to replenish supplies. He carried a small GPS locator unit, cell phone and small camera. He traveled with 2 pair of pants and what he referred to as his ‘cold weather gear.’ He made arrangements to pick up his mail and food through various post offices along the way. He kept in touch with his girlfriend, Ashley Burkhart from Hughesville, who helped him with his food drops. She also helped him make the switch from his winter gear to his warm weather gear in late May. “She was my ground crew,” said Boatman. “She came to see me in Parisburg, Virginia. I was real homesick by then. I had already traveled over 600 miles.”
Boatman would consistently hike about fifteen to twenty miles a day. The most he did was 28 in one day. He tried to go light weight and carried no more than 35 pounds on his back which included a small tar, a portable shower, a water pack with chlorine dioxide drops, and a good sleeping bag that only weighed one and a half pounds.
The Appalachian Trail in Georgia traverses the Chattahoochee National Forest. This area features rugged wilderness hiking, with highway crossings spaced about a moderate day’s journey apart. The trail here was steep both up and down according to Boatman, but the Trail is lower in Georgia than in North Carolina and Tennessee, mostly along ridges of between three and four thousand feet. He would make a food drop about every four to five days and replenish on water.
By the time he reached North Carolina, the Trail runs between northeastern Tennessee and the southern terminus at Springer Mountain in Georgia. It penetrates several of the vast national forests of the South, and crosses the Trail’s highest mountain, Clingman’s Dome, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Though mostly well-graded, the Trail through this section is remote, with long, strenuous climbs. The high ridges along the North Carolina-Tennessee border are prone to winter weather similar to parts of New England.
“This part of the trip was the roughest,” said Ryan. “I was 7000 feet in altitude. The terrain was very steep and I didn’t stop to rest as much as I should have. I over did it and injured my right knee. So I had to stop for awhile and take some ibupropen and wrap it real good before I could continue on. I got a knee brace and made a walking stick and used it for the next 300 miles,” he added. “I started alone but stayed in touch with the world by cell phone. I had 13 days straight of rain from the end of April to the beginning of May. Sometimes it was sleeting and it got down to 20 degrees at night,” he said. WBRE also followed his progress.
The Appalachian Trail offers unparalleled opportunities to explore, experience and connect with nature. It was Boatman’s hope to not only raise money for charity but to gain a spiritual awareness with God. Having suffered a troubled childhood, Ryan was in awe of the beauty along the trail and this increased my faith in Jesus said Boatman. For along the way he encountered “Trail Magic” known to trail goers as acts of kindness by others. He was given shelter and places to stay by complete strangers who welcomed him and other hikers into their homes. they would pick up a traveler for a day or two and help them re-supply their back packs. “My main goal was to share and connect with my faith and with God. I first started hiking when I was 14. I had to go to boot camp but I learned a lot from it. It was my first back packing experience. I have been doing it ever since,” Boatman explained.
He decided to do this last November after reading a special feature on the Appalachian Trail in Backpacker Magazine.
One of his favorite stops along the way was the Grayson Highlands in Virginia where he enjoyed seeing the wild ponies. He said he did not see very many flat areas. Pennsylvania was one of the flatter states he said. “I went through about thirteen miles in PA that was fairly level, but the mosquitoes in the Delaware
Water Gap got really bad.”
Unfortunately, Boatman was unable to complete the entire trail. He had to come back to Pennsylvania after he fell ill. It is believed that he suffered from Lyme disease. “I removed four ticks from my leg when I was in Connecticut,” he pronounced. “I really got sick and had to take antibiotics. I came back August 15 from Woodstock, Vermont after having been away from home for four and a half months. This has been a very challenging experience for me. I admit that I would get a little uneasy sometimes at night. Probably from watching too many scary movies when I was a kid.” Twenty percent of people who hike the Appalachian Trail drop off after the first 30 miles or so. “I was run down, lethargic, sick. I reluctantly had to leave the trail,” he added. “It was tough to come home. I wanted to tough it out and I felt like I let people down.” But he had hiked a total of 1,175 miles, a notable feat that many could never accomplish.
Ryan’s mission is to not only finish the 460 miles he didn’t complete, but to also help others with their personal fitness goals. “I really want to make a difference in someone’s life and share my experiences with others,” he said. “I am so fortunate to have such a network of support.” Boatman graduated from Penn College with a two year degree in physical training and fitness. He hopes to complete the remaining miles next summer.