MONTVILLE, NJ – Many people hike, many people hike portions of the Appalachian Trail, and about 15,000 people have hiked the entire trail. But very few have hiked the trail from end at the age of 77. Mike Venus is one of them, and he spoke to an audience at the Montville Township Public Library on Jan. 12 about his journey.
Venus explained that the trail is about 2,200 miles long and is in almost total wilderness. It stretches from Georgia to Maine and is in first-growth forest.
“Hiking it is like climbing Mount Everest 16 times from sea level,” Venus said.
Hiking the entire trail is called “through hiking,” and Venus had a friend whose son accomplished the trek. At his friend’s invitation, Venus followed the son’s journals as the son hiked.
“Some hikers post online every day about their hikes,” Venus said. “I read about his hike, got interested in it, and thought this was something maybe I could do.”
But first came the preparation. Venus traveled to Tennessee and participated in a one-week “boot camp”-style school to prepare him. He said the teacher gave lots of pointers, including avoiding the shelters along the trail – where many sick hikers sleep 12 to 18 deep – and purchasing the right shoes – 1 1/2 sizes too big.
Venus and his wife drove to Georgia in March of 2015 and he began his hike, while his wife visited “every musical venue along the way,” Venus said.
“Many people felt her excursion was more interesting than mine,” he said with a laugh.
Venus’ wife would pick him up at a designated meeting spot every three days, and the couple would go to a motel.
Venus described the trail as extremely rocky due to the erosion of 50 years’ time. He mostly slept in a tent along the way. He practiced at home walking his son’s dog with weight on his back and determined that about 30 pounds was the maximum amount of gear he could handle.
Venus said it rained for 30 days out of the first 40 days of his hike. He said his teacher told him to “get to love being wet, otherwise you’ll get discouraged and give up.”
“I didn’t like it, but I dealt with it,” Venus said.
Venus said he averaged about 15 miles a day.
“I started out with other hikers, and since they were younger, they were faster,” he said. “They would pass me. At noon, I would see them, sitting and eating lunch in the sun, but I would have to keep going and eat while I walked. Then by the time I arrived at my destination in the late afternoon, they would already be there.”
Venus said New Jersey has its own portion of the Appalachian Trail in the northwest portion of the state.
“In Vernon, there’s the Pochuck Trail,” Venus said. “It’s a boardwalk, and it’s dead flat so anyone can hike it and enjoy it. It’s accessible from Route 94 and 517 and it’s three and a half miles long.”
Venus finished after 150 days, on Sept. 16.
“Mostly I saw snakes and turtles on the trail,” Venus said. “I only saw one bear on the entire trip. I come from Sparta and I see one bear a month there. But it’s different when you’re seeing it from your deck!”