Jenison man conquers AT after 2nd attempt
Jenison man conquers Appalachian Trail after two attempts, 3,384 miles
October 30, 2004 By Howard Meyerson
Grand Rapids Press Outdoors Editor
It took two years for Benny Green to reach his goal. But 3,384 trail miles later, having sustained a broken arm, an injured knee and Lyme disease, the 65-year-old hiker is home and resting, even sleeping on a bed.
"It will take a while to get a good night's sleep on a soft bed," said Green, a tall and lanky man who still prefers a hard floor after spending six months sleeping on the ground.
Green returned to his wife, Linda, and their Jenison home earlier this month having completed the 2,172-mile Appalachian Trail. He is one of an estimated 400 people to complete the hike this season, an achievement called "thru-hiking" in vernacular of AT fans.
Typically, 2,000 hikers attempt the entire trail each year. Countless others walk sections over successive years. The trail begins in Spring Mountain, Ga., and runs north through 14 states before reaching its northern terminus on the peak of Mount Katahdin, Maine.
For Green, who first set out on the trail in March 2003 with the idea of dedicating his hike to his disabled son, Brian, coming home this year was a sweet reward.
"I can say I am satisfied with my trip," said Green, who was forced to cut his 2003 hike short after breaking his arm 1,212 miles into his hike. "I am pleased with my hike, but I have no desire to do a long trail again."
He doesn't include a 290-mile Tennessee hiking trail that he hopes to walk next summer. His definition of a "long trail" has changed since he first set out to walk the Appalachian Trail.
Green returned home last summer vowing to walk the entire trail again this year -- rather than just the mileage he had yet to cover. His goal was to thru-hike it in one season. Starting at the beginning again also meant he would be able to enjoy the company of other hikers along the trail.
"Having walked it once, I didn't find the first half as interesting this year, but the second half really boosts you up," Green said. "I also decided not to hike with just one person this year and got to know a lot more people on the trail.
"I spent time walking with a doctor and with a judge. It's unbelievable who is out there."
Two old trail friends from his 2003 attempt, men who go by the names Itchy-foot and Big E, met Green at Baxter State Park in Maine in September for the 5.5-mile hike to the top of Mount Katahdin. His daughter Connie also came to help celebrate his finish.
"Big E drove all the way from Florida to finish with me. It was really great having
see WALK, D2
them out here," said Green. "I am really grateful to my Connie and my son Brad. Without them I wouldn't have been able to finish the trip."
Linda Green developed medical problems during the summer while Benny was gone, She required hospitalization. Green initially considered calling it quits.
But his children volunteered to look after their mother and the couple's home so that he could get to trail's end -- a proposition that would result in his own health deteriorating.
Green was hiking through Connecticut when he was bitten by a tick and soon became ill. At first he thought he had the flu. But after three nights of holding up in a trail shelter, unable to eat and getting weaker, he decided to hike to a road, flag down a car and get to a hospital.
A North Carolina couple vacationing in the area stopped for Green. They then drove him 40 miles to the nearest hospital where he was diagnosed with Lyme disease, given antibiotics and released.
The antibiotics began to help him feel better almost immediately he said, so he started back on the trail the next day. The going was slow, but over time he was able to pick up the pace. It would be three weeks before he was feeling good and once again covering 13 or more miles a day.
Once in New Hampshire, where the terrain became more mountainous and where the trail becomes rugged and steep, Green suffered yet another setback. His left knee flared badly and began to cause him serious pain.
Green had suffered short bouts of knee-pain during his 2003 hike, but nothing that lasted. This year he started down the trail with pain that only got worse as he added up the miles.
"I finally had to get a shot of cortisone in my knee," said Green, who once again sought a hospital for relief. "I went through three different knee braces on the trip, each one larger and stronger than the last. But it go to the point that without the shot, I wouldn't have been able to finish."
With the pain under control, Green pressed on and enjoyed the rugged New Hampshire and Maine terrain, including the 100-mile wilderness leading up to Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin.
The steeper it got the more he enjoyed it. Even fording four streams in one day, going up to his waist in one became a big adventure.
"I liked the danger, the roughness of it all and the steepness," he said. "If my wife had seen some of the places, she probably would have said: 'Oh no,' " Green said
She might also have thought twice about a unique tradition that thru-hikers celebrate while traveling in the White Mountains, particularly up New Hampshire's Mount Washington, the highest point on the eastern seaboard where the views are spectacular.
"The tradition is for thru-hikers to moon the train as it comes up the mountain. People on the train are warned about it, told not to look if they don't want to see it, but most of them get their cameras out ..." said Green chuckling heartily.
"I'd never admit to mooning the train," he said. "But I'm not one to let a tradition die."
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