Local sculptor and outdoorsman Allen Ferg and fellow hiker Bob Miller are preparing to begin an enormous undertaking of 2,184 miles.
The duos estimated six-month journey from Georgia to Maine along the Appalachian Trail is set to benefit the Dawson County Arts Council, Bowen Center for the Arts and Reading Education Association of Dawson County (READ.)
Expected to begin their trek March 8, the two hikers have considerable hiking experience along Georgia's trails and decided they wanted to attempt the entire distance to Maine.
Determining the hike would be a great fundraiser they aligned themselves with non-profits they advocate.
"My interest in benefitting (READ) stems from the fact that I was in education for a number of years," Miller said. "I taught in Florida and got as far as assistant principal in a middle school. I have always had an interest in education so I thought it would be best to benefit a charity like that."
As a frequent participant in Bowen Center for the Arts as a bronze and clay sculptor, Ferg wanted to spotlight them.
"Bowen Center for the Arts is very important to this community," Ferg said. "It is not just for visual arts, it is for performing arts too. It's for the young and old."
READ, an organization set on enriching lives through improved literacy and education, and Bowen Center for the Arts, established to promote and cultivate an appreciation for the arts, are asking followers of Ferg and Miller's journey to pledge money for each mile they hike.
For example, if a follower donates 10 cents for every mile Ferg or Miller completes, the designated organization will receive $218.10 if they finish the entire hike.
Followers can donate as little or as much as they would like and are not obligated to donate to each mile hiked. According to officials, donations are voluntary and tax-deductible.
"Allen came up with the idea of using our hike for fundraising, which I think serves two purposes. One that it benefits the non-profits that we are each working with and also importantly, that it gives us an incentive not to quit," Miller said.
According to the Appalachian Trail Conservatory, thousands of hikers attempt to complete the trail and only about one in four make it all the way.
"The saying is that hiking the Appalachian Trail is 75 percent mental and 25 percent physical. You might be cruising along fine physically but you get tired of waking up every day and packing up all your stuff, hiking 10 to 15 miles and eating the same junk food," Miller said.
Ferg agrees that the biggest struggle on the trail is "sustaining mental determination. It is an enormous trek."
According to both hikers the emphasis should be on patience.
"There are a whole range of people who attempt the trail. There is a popular phrase on the trail that says, ‘Hike your own pace,' meaning do it however you need to do it," Ferg said.
Ferg, who served in the Marine Corps for four years and was deployed to the Vietnam War in 1967, once told a friend who asked him to hike the trail that, "I don't really sleep in the dirt anymore."
Yet, sleeping alongside the trail doesn't bother him any longer, according to Ferg.
Miller, who served in the Coast Guard reserves, admits he never used to be an outdoorsman.
"This is totally out of character for me. I'm not adventuresome and I'm not a very outdoorsy person," Miller said.
"Why I have fallen in love with (backpacking) I am not quite sure, but I really enjoy it and I crave it. It is almost an obsession. My daughter who got me started on it says she has created a monster," he said.
However, the two like to stay realistic; 71-year-old Ferg and 68-year-old Miller realize there are a lot of difficulties facing a hiker.
"Over a six month period we hope to stay together, but one of the reasons we approached these charities as separate entities is in case we don't stay together. Anything can happen on the trail, you can get injured and have to get off," Miller said.
Carrying only the basic necessities and cameras, phones and Spot, a GPS Device that sends designated contacts a hiker's coordinates, they hope to successfully raise money for their charities.
For more information on how to make a pledge to READ, contact Sandy Lipkowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on how to pledge to the Bowen Center for the Arts and the Dawson County Arts Council, call (706) 216-ARTS or visit www.dawsonarts.org.
To follow Miller's online journal of the trip, visit www.trailjournals.com/granbob.