Richmond County resident Marcus West was just a young boy when he first developed an interest for running and hiking; little did he know the adventure this interest would bring him many years later.
Being a smoker most of his life, West never dreamed of what awaited him.
In 2015, he decided to put the cigarettes down and find something productive to do instead, so he joined the Mangum Track Club. That same year, he was also introduced to the Uwharrie Trail.
Each weekend, West would help with the maintenance on the trail where he also met numerous hikers.
This stirred his desire for hiking, and that’s when he decided to challenge himself to his first long-distance hike.
In 2016, West signed up for the Uwharrie Trail Annual Thru Hike in which he completed 42 miles.
Several years later — and desiring to go further — West took the ultimate plunge.
On April 7, 2022 at age 60, West signed up for what was the adventure of his lifetime: the Appalachian Trail Thru Hike.
A thru-hike is completed within a 12-month period and covers all areas of a trail.
The Appalachian is a historical trail envisioned by Harvard graduate Benton MacKayein 1921.
The first section of his vision came to life as the trail began construction at Harriman State Park in New York around 1922. The trail continues to expand and currently covers about 2,200 miles.
Around 20% of the people who attempt the hike will ever complete it, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
West began the outdoor journey in Springer Mountain, Georgia, and covered 14 states ending in Mount Katahdin, Maine.
West, his wife Krista Anderson West, and his friend Stanley “Chipmonk” Siceloff all began the journey together.
Two days into the hike, Siceloff was injured but continued to hike for 300 more miles. He finally had to stop in North Carolina at the Great Smoky Mountains.
Three days into the hike, Krista West went home — but she didn’t leave West alone.
There were numerous encounters with other hikers along the way. One person he met on the third day was an engineer from Minnesota named John Marshall and they hiked the entire trail together.
“We were 10 days into the hike, and it was so cold when we reached North Carolina that our shoes and shoelaces froze,” West said about the challenges on the trail. “Another time is when I fell down a rock at White Mountain in New Hampshire.”
Not only did he mention physical struggles, but mental struggles as well.
“One of the most challenging moments was around the halfway point which was in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, when my wife drove up to stay with me for a few days. I wanted to go back home with her when she left, but she told me I had to continue,” West recalled. “I wouldn’t have been able to complete the hike without her support; when I stopped to rest, she would schedule all of my stays ahead of time.”
The trail brings people from all over the world together with a love for the great outdoors.
“I met people from all over,” West said. “One thing about the Appalachian Trail is that you get a trail name, and it sticks forever. I got the nickname ‘Gummy Bear’ because when the hike got tough, I ate gummy bears to get extra energy.”
West said he reached Mount Katahdin, Maine, on Sept. 30, 2022, completing the hike he began six months earlier.
“My favorite moment was the last day of the hike when my wife met me to pick me up and take me home, as well as realizing what I had accomplished,” he said. “I may try to hike it again in about five years.”
West said he’s thankful for the support from his wife, other family members and friends.
“Going from smoking and not even being able to run one mile, to seven years later completing a 2194.3-mile hike shows that if you are motivated, anything is possible,” said West.
With a focus on encouraging outside activities, 2023 has been named the “Year of the Trail” in North Carolina. Events will be held in all 100 counties and at state parks throughout the year.
While some of the trails are natural and physical, others are cultural.
Rockingham Speedway was recognized earlier this month as part of the Moonshine and Motorsports Trail. Click here to read that story.
There are also several trails listed in neighboring Moore County.
For more information, visit greattrailsnc.com.