Tuscaloosa outdoorsman achieves goal hiking the Appalachian Trail

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — A Tuscaloosa man is proving that it’s never too late to achieve what could seem like the impossible.

There are very few challenges for lovers of the outdoors that compare to hiking the more than 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Rod Riley, an avid outdoorsman and published author, set this goal for himself a long time ago.

Rod Riley said, “Someone we knew had hiked the AT and I said ‘what’s that?’ And he said ‘It’s the Appalachian Trail.’ I didn’t know anything about it. That was basically 44 years ago.”

This year, Riley decided to tackle the monumental task. He trained for weeks at Lake Lurleen State Park in Tuscaloosa County. After hiking its miles of trails, he was finally ready. On February 9 of this year, which happened to be his 68th birthday, he went to Springer Mountain in Georgia and headed north.

But almost immediately he found out his training might not be enough for the AT. He encountered steep rock faces, flooded trails with nothing but wooden planks to walk across. Not to mention the falls and illnesses that slowed him down.

But with the help of his wife of 45 years back home handling logistics, and his friend Dan Speed of more than 50 years on the trail with him, he was determined. 

In our interview, Riley spoke about trail angels, people that live along the trail and support complete strangers trying to complete the monumental task like himself. He said those people made all the difference.

Riley said, ”I encountered trail angels I’d never seen before. This experience renewed my faith in humankind.”

Riley is taking his experience on the AT and turning it into his third book. He says you’ll likely find tips to hiking the trail, things he did right and things he did wrong. But most of all, you’ll find the story of his hiking family. 

Riley said, “To me the entertaining part of the trail was the people. So I met a lot of people on the trail both northbound and southbound. And they all had their own stories, then there was a story with me.”

Some fun tidbits he shared with us about his journey: He never saw a bear in the more than seven months he spent on the trail. And according to him, he once set up camp at a gravesite and encountered some supernatural hikers.

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