Tim Geary, who lives in Aspinwall, is well on his way to charity.
Geary, formerly Vandergrift, began a solo hike on the Appalachian Trail on March 17.
He hopes to raise more than $ 5,000 for research into melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, in honor of his late wife, Gillen, who passed away in April 2020.
“I made a promise to my wife that I would dedicate this hike to her,” Geary, 77, said during a phone interview Monday from the trail in North Carolina. “We talked about it before she died. She wanted me to have a plan. “
The couple had been married for 53 years, and Geary served as a caregiver during their seven-year battle with melanoma.
Geary said his Catholic faith was a driving force during the hike. By the time he completes it, he will have covered 2,193 miles through 14 states, including Pennsylvania, ending in Maine in October.
He said failure is not an option and quoted a “Star Wars” character summarizing his motto on the trail.
“I challenge my inner Yoda. I am a Star Wars fan. Yoda said, “There’s no trying,” Geary said.
He just packed a pair of shoes and is carrying a 30-pound backpack.
“Before I finish, I’ll go through four or five pairs,” he said, adding that his family will send out replacement shoes if necessary. “I don’t have any bubbles. I use stakes. “
Geary said he was learning the pros and cons of hiking the Appalachian Trail.
“Food. I found I wasn’t eating enough and I was exhausted. I had too many carbohydrate snacks and I need to eat more protein,” Geary said. “And there is too much food in my backpack to weigh it down. I eat lots of packets of tuna, chicken and peanuts. “
Geary, a self-described “old man”, said he was the oldest of any hiker he had met and was nicknamed “Papa Smurf” by his grandson Ryan.
“I admit that by age 77, I’ve had most of (my life) behind me and my legs are not quite up to date,” Geary said.
Geary uses two trekking poles to aid his hike. He said the path was more difficult than expected.
“There are a lot of hills – up and down all the time,” he said.
Geary, a former long-distance runner, said his main ailment was ankle pain.
He hiked to Franklin, NC this week. He divides his nightly accommodation options between camping in a tent or sleeping in a hostel.
“I had trouble sleeping,” Geary said. “That was difficult. But I just say a few prayers and you will get past them. “
Geary is reading from a downloaded Catholic Bible app on his phone because he can’t go to church right now.
“I have faith,” said Geary, “and I feel like my wife is with me every moment. ”
He is a member of the St. Scholastica Church in Aspinwall and a former member of the St. Gertrude Congregation in Vandergrift.
His son Brendan frequently posts on social media for fans of Gillen’s Army.
“I’m looking forward to him because he’s been talking about it for 15 years and honoring my mother,” said Brendan.
Geary averaged about 10 miles a day. He has covered 103 miles since leaving Springer Mountain, Ga.
He began his conditioning training with daily walks in Aspinwall Riverfront Park and on the stairwells of his residence. He later added a weighted backpack to his walks to simulate hiking conditions.
He has a GPS with a distress signal.
“I’m not worried about him because the trail has a lot of people there,” said Brendan. “He made friends with some strangers and said he learned more about hiking in the first two weeks on the trail than in all of his years of hiking.”
Tim Geary grew up in Maine. He attended the University of Pittsburgh, earned a law degree, and settled in Vandergrift.
He is an Air Force Vietnam veteran who served as an active and reserve flight navigator for 23 years.
The couple raised three children. Tim was the director of the Kiski Area School Board for about 20 years. He volunteered with the Westmoreland County Bar Association and the mock trial programs at Kiski Area High School and St. Joseph High School.
His two sons said that their father is clearing a trail.
“He’s in great spirits,” said Tim Geary Jr. of Wisconsin.
Tim Jr. and his son Ryan, 11, met Geary for a week on the Georgia trail.
The trio endured turbulent weather with soaked rain and tornado threats.
“He had more fun when we left,” said Tim Jr. “He got into it. A highlight for me was that he spent so much time with his grandson. “
Brendan said his father was in excellent health and started training for the grueling trip about a year ago.
“After mom died, dad said he would do that,” said Brendan. “It was always on his bucket list.”
Geary hopes to raise more than $ 5,000 for the AIM at the Melanoma Foundation.
To donate to Gillen’s army, click the link here.
Joyce Hanz is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Joyce at 724-226-7725, [email protected], or on Twitter.