Meredith “Sunny” Eberhart is looking to walk his way into history.
Eberhart, 82, is seeking to become one of the oldest persons to through-hike the Appalachian Trail and he’s taking the extra mile by starting at Flagg Mountain in Alabama, the southern terminus of the Pinhoti Trail, which links to the Appalachian Trail in North Georgia.
Dale Sanders, another 82-year old, did the entire Appalachian Trail in sections in 2017. He started in Georgia, went to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, then was transported to Maine and completed the journey by walking back south to Harpers Ferry.
Eberhart is known to his hiking comrades as the Nimblewill Nomad, as well as Sunny.
He’s already completed the Triple Crown of long-distance hikes: the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail, in 1998; the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, in 2008; and the 3,028-mile Continental Divide Trail, twice, in 2005 and 2007.
He said achieving the Triple Crown was the greatest accomplishment in his life.
More recently, he finished a concrete and asphalt walk along Route 66, from the Loop in downtown Chicago to the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles — some 2,300 miles.
“I can’t think of a better way (to see America),” Eberhart said. “If you really want to see what this country is, what it has to offer, and have a really deep appreciation for it, you’ve got to get out of the car and walk.”
He said the Continental Divide Trail was probably the toughest. Not so much because a lot of it is above 10,000 feet in elevation, but because it was so poorly marked.
“I was 17 miles off trail at one time,” he said. “If you want to see what kind of a cut you’re made of and what sort of person you are, that would be the Continental Divide Trail.”
He calls the Appalachian Trail a social journey, and said the Pacific Crest Trail is rapidly becoming that way.
Before he took up hiking he practiced optometry, but he’s been an outdoorsman all of his life. He compares his childhood to the life of Huck Finn.
Eberhart hasn’t done a serious wilderness hike, up and down the mountains, in the last three years but he has been been banging out 16- and 18-mile days in the weeks since this hike started on Feb. 5.
“My legs have come back under me pretty well,” he said while starting a day and a half of rest at the Hearn Inn in Cave Spring on Monday. Adding the Pinhoti Trail and a short section of the Benton MacKaye Trail to the AT will extend the trip to Maine by some 420 miles.
“There is a physical challenge, of course, but that gets easier as you hike,” Eberhart said. “But the mental challenge gets more difficult to deal with.”
Snakes and bears bother him a little — but when he gets closer to the northern end of the AT, the black flies become a real problem.
“I’ve had blood running down and dripping off my elbows from the black flies chewing on me,” he said.
He’ll leave Cave Spring after a couple of nights. The goal is to reach Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Maine’s Baxter State Park, by the second week of September.
Asked how long he could continue his long-distance hikes, Eberhart fired back with a question of his own.
“Do you know somebody 100 that’s still hiking?” he asked. “If you don’t, I’m going to work on being the one you find out can do it.”