Phil Pepin is facing a challenge when he begins hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine on April 13.
He has made the 2,175-mile journey twice, once in 1977 and again in 1982.
However, much of the location of the trail has changed over the past 30 years. It has been rerouted off many of the roads it followed when he last hiked it, and as a result been made more difficult, wild and primitive.
When he starts his third through-hike, end to end, he’s aware of all the differences he’ll discover, both to the trail itself and the number of people using it. He’s using a guidebook with maps to keep him on the trail, but the social aspect of the trail has changed the most.
“When I hiked it in 1982, I would often go two or three days and not see another hiker,” he said when we met for a hike in Acadia last Sunday.
I told him that on my own through-hike in 1994, I never went a day without seeing someone.
The 54-year-old Pepin has changed over the past 30 years as well. The experiences he had on the trail after his first long- distance treks inspired him to contribute to the hiking community by volunteering to the trail effort.
He maintained trail for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and held offices in the club as vice president, director and district overseer. As a result of his volunteer effort, he was awarded a Presidential Call to Service Award and a National Park Silver Service Award.
Giving back is important to Pepin. His through-hike this year holds special significance for him. This year he’s hiking for a cause.
Pepin and his wife, Robin, love their animals: four dogs and a horse. That’s partly why he is raising money on the hike for the Furry Friends Food Bank, operated by the Eastern Area Agency on Aging in Bangor.
On the trail he’ll be delivering his message that disabled people and seniors living on fixed incomes need help feeding their pets. It takes money to buy pet food and deliver it to recipients.
Locally, he’s asking the public to make a pledge to the agency’s pet food bank. Any amount can be pledged, but he would like to see people donate a penny a mile for the each mile of the Appalachian Trail. At 2,175 miles it adds up to $21.75. That amount can purchase a lot of pet food.
“I hope people connect with this cause. I’m going without creature comforts by my choice on this hike,” he said. “But people in need go without food for their pets. They sometimes deny themselves food to feed their animals. They shouldn’t have to make that choice.”
The mission of the pet food bank is to fill that need, so recipients won’t have to make that decision.
Robin Pepin will be sending Phil mail drops in care of general delivery post office addresses for him to re-supply his pack for each leg of the hike. Robin supports him in the cause because she loves animals as much as he does.
“Phil knows I’m independent enough to be all right without him here,” she said. “I’ll be in contact with him whenever he gets to a town and a phone. Of course I’ll miss him, but I support him and this cause. My heart goes out to people who can’t afford to feed their pets.”
In town, Pepin will send Robin journal updates and photos, which she will forward along to the area agency on aging. They will update their Web page so contributors can track his progress north. The agency has set up a donation section on its home page to make pledging convenient.
When asked about the impact of Pepin’s hike and fundraising effort, Ken Banks, nutrition development coordinator for the agency, said, “This will easily be the most high-profile event we’ve done to raise money for the Furry Friends Food Bank. This is truly a unique idea, and in accordance with Phil’s wishes, we plan to spread the word as much as possible.”
He also stated that the food bank serves about 700 clients in their service area of four counties, including Penobscot. Their volunteers travel 14,000 miles a year and distribute approximately 30,000 pounds of food each year.
Pepin knows that money’s tight for everyone, but hopes that once people see the need to help others, his fundraising effort will be a success. He’s also very religious and says that this through-hike is a testament to his faith.
The journey he’s embarking on is more than just a summer of hiking. There is more in his pack than just the basic items he needs to make it all the way. He’s carrying the weight of expectation from supporters, family and friends. He’s made it twice before from end to end.
This year should be another successful journey, with one major difference. This year’s hike will benefit others more than himself. That alone is a cause worth supporting.
To make a donation to Pepin’s hike and the Furry Friends Food Bank, the public can send a check to Eastern Area Agency on Aging, 450 Essex Street, Bangor, ME 04401 or preferably donate through its Web site, eaaa.org. Click on the “Donate Now” button and follow the instructions to pledge to the food bank.
To follow Pepin north, the agency has set up a profile on its Facebook page as well. Those seeking more information may call them at 800-432-7812.