Euphoric – that’s how Dale Sanders, 82, described the sensation he felt when he completed his 2,200 mile or 3,540 kilometre hike of the Appalachian Trail. Dale began his journey in January and reached the end Oct. 26.
If you read my column regularly, you’ve heard me mention Dale a time or two. I’ve written about him a few times because he’s often on amazing adventures. The last time I wrote about him was in the Mar. 2 edition of the Maple Creek News.
Dale lives an inspiring life. He’s a role model and a living example of what people can achieve, even in their 80s. Case in point, he just become the oldest person to walk the entire Appalachian Trail in a single season.
But that isn’t Dale’s only record. Two years ago, when he was just a young pup of 80, Dale canoed the entire Mississippi River from source to sea. He’s also the oldest person to complete that journey, too.
Dale’s colourful past is closely linked to water. He began canoeing in the mid-1950s and in 1961 was the Unites States national spearfishing champion. He’s currently a member of a conservancy group that promotes watershed protection and fosters human connection to wild places.
When it came to canoeing the Mississippi River, Dale was motivated by two goals. The first was to earn a Guinness record and the second was to raise money to battle juvenile diabetes, a lifelong condition his 12-year-old grandniece Anna is afflicted with. Dale’s intention was to generate $20,000 for research into this dreaded disease. In the end, he raised over $34,000.
Dale admitted he found hiking the Appalachian Trail more difficult than paddling the Mississippi River. In part, this is because there was no current to push him forward, but also because the Appalachian Trail winds through the mountains between Georgia and Maine. The terrain is often steep and covered in sharp rocks. Weather was also a complicating factor, especially when trudging over snow-covered mountains in the wake of early spring storms.
Despite the weather and treacherous hiking conditions, Dale saw between 20 and 40 other hikers a day. He estimates five per cent were middle aged, 10 per cent were retired and the rest were in their 20s.
Towards the end of his trip, Dale experience some internal bleeding and seriously contemplated quitting. However, the input of other hikers he met on the trail made him reconsider.
Most of the 2,500 hikers who complete the Appalachian Trial every year are in their 20s and, thanks to social media, many of them had heard of Dale’s attempt to become the oldest person to finish the hike. “I can’t count the number of kids that said, ‘I want to be just like you when I get to your age.’” For Dale, that comment was “really uplifting” and he couldn’t let those young men and women down by quitting.
After taking a few days to recover from his medical issue, Dale laced up his hiking boots and continued his quest. Weeks later, his family and friends gathered and walked the final mile with him.
One aspect of the arduous hike he enjoyed the most was exploring small towns and villages along the way. The log buildings in the forested communities as well as local culture were of particular interest to him.
After he finished his hike, I phoned Dale to congratulate him and to hear about his experience. I also asked him why a more traditional retirement, one of golf and coffee at the mall, doesn’t appeal to him. He answered that he wouldn’t last if “he sat in a rocking chair.” His adventures are what keep him alive.
And he’s already contemplating the next one. Dale is thinking of paddling the Missouri River in 2019 – all 2,340 miles or 3,760 kilometres of it. But that’s no big deal, he’ll only be 84.