Trail Talk:A Conversation With Mark R. Heying
By Charles Chandler
As mentioned before one of the many things that I love about White Cloud is that I never know what wonderful and interesting souls I will meet next.
I discovered that Mark lives a short way from White Cloud alongside the White River. After some interesting connections from a DNR Fish Biologist, some emails and a short meeting at Flowing Wells Park I learned...
...from Mark’s significant other Pam that he was an AT through hiker and author. I immediately bought his book and recommended to other area hikers.
After a lengthy dinner at a local restaurant and a couple of fishing trips on the Muskegon and Pere Marquette, I felt that it would be appropriate to ask Mark for an interview to discuss his book in more detail. He agreed and we set a time to meet him at his house.
We began the interview with a fresh cup of coffee on the sunny back deck overlooking the pond and a beautiful restored log cabin. Mark reminded me that he wasn’t a talker and wouldn’t have much to say. That is Midwestern code for this will be a short interview. Our timekeeper was Pam’s 17 year old rescue Dachshund named Wilson who would occasionally slide his belly across our feet or bark to let us know he was still on this side of life.
N3:Why did you make this hike?
Mark: Part of reason is that I had the opportunity to hike the AT. I had been retired for several years so I had the time and resources and I just wanted to see if I still had the ability, the bull headedness within me to do what it would take, not just the physical ability but the mental ability to make this hike.
N3: Tell me about the conservation that you have with yourself out on the trail when you think about all the challenges and miles that you still have in front of you.
Mark: Because I had hiked the trail before I knew what to expect, for example when I reached New England I hit a wall not necessarily a physical wall but a mental wall, I expected that and knew that from that point on it becomes a real mental slog. Early in the hike you keep motivated by setting a goal to reach the next state. Virginia is where a lot of hikers run into their mental wall because there are about 500 hundred trail miles across that state; it just seems to go on forever. This feeling is what many new through hikers don’t expect, that the real challenge of hiking the AT is not just physical but mental.
N3: In reading your book it is obvious that you put a lot about yourself in these pages. You mentioned that you wrote this book for your kids but it will be read by the hiking community and a larger audience. What did you want your kids or hikers or the folks that are considering hiking the AT to get from your book?
Mark: I intentionally did not try to hide my flaws or weaknesses from the readers. I thought it would make a more interesting story by not white washing me. As I recalled my history lesions as a kid I only had some superficial fact but we were never taught who these historical characters like Abraham Lincoln really were. I decided to put it all out there, everyone is human and we all have our issues and our challenge is recognizing those and dealing with them.
N3: Do you think you were successful in doing that and do you think your readers have a sense of you as whole person and know from your shared experiences that hikers will have more to deal with than the logistic of getting down the trail?
Mark: I hope it did because one of the things the trail does is to strips away all the superficialities that make up so much of our lives. You know we are really good at masking ourselves to ourselves. Out on the AT you can’t do that you can’t hide from yourself. It is an interesting thought because that may be one of the contributing factors to why so many hikers don’t finish the hike.
N3: What advice do you have for those that would like to hike the AT but for whatever reason won’t commit.
Mark: The comment that I hear most often is that I would like to hike the AT but don’t have a partner to hike with. Don’t let that stop you because you will find plenty of hiking partners on the trail. You will meet hikers that have similar interest, backgrounds, age and fitness and experience levels. Don’t worry about meeting people, in my experience backpackers and hikers tend to be good people. And, buy good quality gear, packs, tents, shoes, because a hike can be delayed or abandoned because of poor quality or broken gear. In backpacking you get what you pay for. Next if you are not ready to commit to doing the whole trail then, pick a section of the trail and go hike it and learn for that experience. I suggest the Shenandoah’s in Virginia because they are an easy hike and they are really beautiful.
The very short very senior citizen lying at my feet barked signaling that enough is enough. I strongly recommend this easy to read fast paced insightful book to all backpackers and hikers and any armchair adventurers that like a good human interest story.
My take is that Mark is everything but mad. He is one of those quite unpretentious Midwestern guys that has approached life with a sense of adventure and a strong work ethic that has helped him succeed in all things including finishing the AT twice.
The title of the book probably came from one of the heard on the trail quotes that you find throughout the book. “You should be proud of yourself for making it so far. It’s a sign of how tough you are. Maybe. Could be a sign of madness.”
You can meet Mark at the upcoming Trail Town Celebration that will be held on September 24th in White Cloud Park. Mark will be at the West Michigan Chapter of the North Country Trail table and will be available for additional discussions and advice.
The book may be purchased at www.amazon.com/Sign-Madness-Re-Hiking-Appalachian-Trail-ebook.
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