Adventure for Someone: Hiking the AT to Heal

Written by Rachel Brackins
Photos and Story courtesy of Andy Miller

Like many hiking enthusiasts, Andy Miller plans to walk all ~2,190 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail (AT)  – traveling from Georgia to Maine while battling grueling terrain and wicked weather in order to reach the beloved wooden A-frame sign at the summit of Mt. Katahdin. With a set pace of 100 miles a year, Andy is projected to finish his trek in 22 years. 

Originally from Michigan, Andy moved to North Carolina with his family. Coincidentally, around the same time, his best friend Ryan Ginther moved to South Carolina. 

“We would connect occasionally and stayed pretty active in each other’s lives. We talked alot about hiking the Appalachian Trail. It was one of these dreams we had, but we kept saying, ‘Oh we’ll do it next year.’ Well, we never got around to it because life happens – we had jobs, we had kids, and we were never able to get out there and set foot on the trail together. Fast forward to December 2015…Ryan was killed in a car accident. It was very sudden, and it shook my world up. I thought, ‘There’s my best friend, he’s gone, what do I do now?’”

Andy and a few others decided to honor Ryan’s legacy by completing an annual hike in his memory – officially named the Ryan P. Ginther Memorial Hike. It started out small, in 2016, with some friends and family climbing a mountain in South Carolina. After some thought, Andy realized the annual hike could serve not only as an emotionally healing opportunity for those close to Ryan, but as a financial blessing to causes near and dear to the Ginther’s hearts. That’s when the plan to section-hike the AT as a fundraiser started to take shape. 

“I still couldn’t take 6 months off of work to hike the AT, it just wasn’t feasible. But, I focused on what I could do – and I definitely could take a week off every year and tackle a section. I could try to accomplish roughly 100 miles a week every year and then start where I left off the previous year and make my way up to Maine. It’s going to take me forever,” Andy said with a chuckle. “I think I’ve got 17 years left at this point…I’ve got 500 miles under my belt so far.” 

The first few years of the trek Andy focused on raising funds for a camp in North Carolina for bereaved children, where Ryan’s son attended to continue his healing process. Last year, after Ryan’s son moved states and longer attended the camp, Andy began looking for a new organization to support. That’s when he stumbled upon Big City Mountaineers and the Adventure for Someone campaign.

“I love BCM’s whole mission, and I know Ryan would have too. I think it’s awesome that they help get people outdoors who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity and are new to that sort of thing. The outdoors has been healing for me, as I work through the grief with Ryan. Each year, after I finish my weeklong hike I feel like I’m 10 feet tall and bulletproof. I have to imagine that’s what these kids feel like too when they finish a trip.”

Last year, Andy’s Adventure for Someone raised about $5,000, and says he is excited to continue doing it every year until he reaches Mt. Katahdin.

When we asked Andy what advice he’d give to anyone interested in starting their own Adventure for Someone, he had this to say – 

“It’s the same advice I have for someone wanting to set out and hike the AT –  you don’t have to bite it off all in one go. Start off with what you can do at that time. When we started fundraising, we didn’t really know what we were doing, but we just did what we could. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where what you’re doing really resonates with people.”

Learn more about how you can set up your own Adventure for Someone campaign.

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