83-Year-Old ‘Nimblewill Nomad’ Sets Record as Oldest Person to Complete the Appalachian Trail

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M.J. “Sunny” Eberhart, known on the hiking trails as Nimblewill Nomad, completed the 2,190-plus mile Appalachian Trail on Sunday, becoming, at 83 years old, the oldest person to hold the honor, The New York Times reported.

The retired eye doctor started the 261-day, 15-state trip on Feb. 5, 2021, leaving his hometown of Alabama. He called the journey “Nimblewood Odyssey 2021 ‘Bama to Baxter- Hike On,” the news outlet reported. 

“This will be the ultimate journey in this old man’s life, one of body, mind, and spirit,” he wrote on his blog.

His journey started with a series of short hikes starting at Flagg Mountain, Alabama, the southernmost mountain in the Appalachians Mountain Range. From Flagg Mountain, Eberhart followed the Pinhoti Trail through northeast Alabama into Georgia where he connected with the Benton MacKaye Trail, which led to Springer Mountain in north Georgia. On Springer Mountain, he hiked to the Appalachian Trail and to Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

For the first month, Eberhart was on the Pinhoti Trail. He then headed onto Benton MacKaye Trail for another eight days before hitting the official start of the Appalachian Trail, which took him approximately 39 days to reach.

The long-distance hiker was carrying approximately six pounds of gear, which included a solo tent, sleeping pad and his iPhone. Along the way, he documented his daily mileage, the people he met along the way, his experience an inspirational quotes from the likes of Dr. Seuss and Henry David Thoreau.

Despite some challenges he encountered, including unpredictable weather, bears, a square of mosquitoes and physical pain, he carried on, according to Travel + Leisure.

He told one news outlet that “every day, he said, he overcame the temptation to quit,” according to the Times.

“I knew what was coming,” he said. “And day to day, the challenge. Every foot of that trail.”

Despite what was ahead, Eberhart persevered, and described the experience as a “profound blessing.”

Eberhart said the first major hike he accomplished was during a tough time in his life that involved a divorce and a strained relationship with his children. He told the news outlet that he had always “found peace among the trails,” CBN News reported. 

“You can seek peace. That doesn’t mean that you’re going to find it,” he said. “I persevered to the point that that good Lord looked down on me and said, ‘You’re given, you can be at peace.”

Eberhart’s first time conquering the Appalachian Trail, also known as AT, was in 1998, as part of the Ten Million Step Eastern Continental Trail trek. 

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, hikers must complete the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in 12 months, which isn’t restricted to a calendar year, T&L reported.

Eberhardt completed his mission early. During his final leg of the hike, Dale Sanders, the former record holder of the oldest person to hike the Appalachian Trail, who drove from his home in Tennessee met Eberhart, to pass along an engraved hiking stick. 

“An incredibly emotional time, as I again break down in tears,” Eberhardt said.

After the 2,190 miles were complete, Eberhart thanked his friends, supporters and sponsor for their “encouragement,” and “generosity” for what was an “amazing journey,” he said.

He ended with a quote by C.S. Lewis: “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”