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On Sept. 16, 2022, after some 6 million steps, Robert Cheek from Randleman celebrates reaching the end of the Appalachian Trail at Mount Katahdin in Maine.

One man's journey

Ella-Brooke Morgan

Randolph Hub


RANDLEMAN — “Don't do it.”


Those are the words of Robert Cheek, a 29-year-old Randleman resident who was one of the few hundred people estimated to have hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in 2022. 


The Appalachian Trail — or, as it’s more commonly know, the “AT” — is one of three major trails in the United States that make up the “Triple Crown” in “thru-hiking.” The AT covers a staggering of 2,194.3 miles and spans 14 states from Georgia to Maine. Cheek, up to the challenge, spent 5 1/2 months traversing the whole path on foot. 


From March 29, 2022, to Sept. 16, 2022, Cheek took approximately six million steps, only stopping to sleep in three-walled enclosures and tents and for the occasional once-a-week sabbatical. “Some states have certain regulations — you have to camp in certain areas,” Cheek said. 


He adds that hikers are, of course, not without guidance. “The whole trail is laid out. You follow ‘white blazes,’ which [are] two-by-six inch white paint mark[s]. [They’re] on the trees. There’s also guides, so I carried a book guide, but then there was also an app.” Cheek mentions that with the app, it was much more navigable in terms of finding grocery stores or hostels.


In response to the universal question of “Why?”, Cheek's answer is simple: “Why not?”


Cheek describes his inspiration for deciding to embark on his adventure as wide-eyed rapture when listening to a Boy Scout leader detail his accomplishment, the same accomplishment Cheek would later hold. With “certain life changes,” Cheek said, “it just worked out that I possibly could do it. I've had several years of full-time employment that I’ve been putting away savings [from], and I thought, ‘Why wait for a bucket list item like this?’ ”


Thus began the process of preparing. “I bought trekking poles, backpacks, [a] lightweight tent, and then they’ve got gear for thru-hikers like this. You have to carry everything on you at all times. Most people begin with more than they actually need, and then, as you go, you start figuring out, ‘Oh, I could live without that.’ ” 


Once Cheek reached the starting point and registered with the Appalachian Trail Committee, he was off.


As Cheek continued learning, he was moved to document his experience on an online platform fittingly dubbed “Trail Journals” (trailjournals.com). From March to May, Cheek transcribed the daily comings and goings of his life on the trail in a straightforward, narrative style. Readers are privy to the progression of a sense of community as Cheek establishes a “trail family” (or, as it’s known in hiker lingo,  “tramily”) — a group of individuals who walk “together.” As Cheek describes it, this arrangement bolsters a sense of accountability and emphasis on safety. 


Cheek became further entrenched in the thru-hiking culture, representing one of the thousands who embody the sagacious phrase “hiking the trail is akin to life, start to finish.”


“In life, you meet people and realize, ‘Hey, maybe we can be friends for a little while,’ but we’re going different directions. [It’s the same] when hiking,” Cheek said.


He hasn't lost touch with everyone he encountered, mentioning a specific group of travelers. “We have a group chat, and we’re always throwing information in of just what’s going on and what we’re doing now — particularly now as we enter into the new hiking season.” Hiking seasons, Cheek says, tend to vary based on the section of the AT, creating a motley patchwork spanning the lower south to New England. 


Cheek says that reaching the trail’s end — symbolically located on a mountaintop — was “emotional.”


“Reaching the end was just gorgeous. I had ice covering me when I went up to the top. I had to get to the summit finish, take a photo, and get back down the mountain.”


There were plenty of physical and mental summits to climb throughout Cheek's journey, including a tragedy that irrevocably affected him.


A key member of Cheek’s “tramily,” a Dutch man with the trail name “Grandmaster,” was victim to an unfortunate accident at McAfee Knob in Virginia that led to his passing. “So I actually spent a week off-trail with my trail family in order to coordinate his parents and family getting here from the Netherlands. I’d hiked around two-and-a-half months with him at this point.”


“ ‘I live my life a quarter mile at a time,’ ” Cheek says, reciting a quote from a “Fast and Furious” movie that was adopted by his tramily to represent their perspective on the trek. It has not been lost on him, especially as he is still transitioning back to normalcy off the trail. Walking the AT has also reinforced the importance of genuine connection and taking life as it comes.


Cheek is looking to the future, eyeing the potential of hiking the other two Triple Crown trails. But, to those who may consider facing the AT, he says firmly, “You’re going to face days where you want to quit. If you’re not willing to step past me telling you don’t do it, don’t do it.”


“If you've got the audacity, you’re going to do it anyways, then you might make it from that point. The advice I would tell you [there] is 'just do it.’ ”