Garner Cleveland Record

Cleveland man walks Appalachian Trail with one pair of shoes

Rob Angst tries to repair his shoe with duck tape.
Rob Angst tries to repair his shoe with duck tape. COURTESY OF ROB ANGST

Robert Angst walked the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine using one pair of hiking shoes.

Of course today, those shoes look nothing like they looked when he started the trail back in March. The material is coming apart. The sole is broken. It’s cut open at the top.

But the shoes are a reminder of his long journey walking a trail, which has intrigued him since he was a young boy.

Angst, 22, is about 5-foot-8, slim, with long hair, a beard and an overgrown mustache. His hair has always been long, but his mustache and beard grew over the trip.

For five months, he hiked through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine until he reached the peak of Mount Katahdin.

Fascination with mountains

Angst heard about the Appalachian Trail through a refrigerator magnet. He asked his father, also a hiker, and he told him about it.

“From then on I was pretty fascinated by it and didn’t stop thinking about it,” Angst said.

A fan of Lord of the Rings, he said he liked the idea of going on a journey through the woods. Angst has always been one who liked to explore. He used to go on hikes with his father. When he was a baby his father held him over the ledge of a mountain.

As a boy, Angst would get in trouble because he used to go on walks through neighbors’ backyards in the woods. But the Appalachian Trail was his true desire.

For six years, the idea stayed in the back of his mind.

After attending the National Outdoors Leadership School, he talked to some of his classmates about his desire to walk the trail. They encouraged him to go for it.

He saved up $1,800 and started his journey in March.

“He did it on a shoestring budget,” his mom, Alicia Angst said.

Thousands of people can be on the trail at any given time. Some hike through a state. Some attempt to go a few miles. Others, like Angst, attempt the whole trail. But not everyone finishes. Angst said only 10 percent people finish the trail every year.

Throughout the five months, he slept in a hotel twice, whenever fellow hikers on the trail wanted to split a room. The rest of the times were under the stars.

His trail name was “Roadside.”

Low times and high times

He had low times and high times. His lowest time came when he had to beg for food after running out in the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Angst’s parents had been sending him food along the way at different towns and wiring him money to pick up at banks, but there was a stretch of miles where there weren’t any towns to pass through. No stores. No restaurants. No cell phone service. Just mountains and woods.

The weather was also bad.

He and another hiker ran out of food. All they had were pop tarts, a granola bar, a cliff bar and a block of cheese.

“When you’re burning 6,000 calories a day, and you only pack in 700 calories, you just get weaker and more mentally exhausted,” Angst said. “It hit a point where I was outside this hut and I was just starving. I was so weak that I knew with the ascent that was coming up, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

The hut resembles a resort and is for wealthy hikers, who don’t want to spend the night outside.

“The hut crew caters to these people and gives them huge lavish dinners and things like that,” he said.

He asked the staff, what he could do for food. One of the staff members said that he would have to wait in the corner until everyone was done and he’d get the leftovers.

“I sat in the corner and watched 30 or 40 people just eat,” Angst said. “Just gorge themselves.”

As he watched, occasionally someone would walk up to him and ask him what he was doing, and he’d tell them he was hiking the trail when he ran out of food.

Then they would leave.

“That’s when you realize you’re being treated more like an animal than a person,” Angst said. “One woman told me that youth was wasted on the young.”

After they were finished and went off to bed, the staff gave him the leftover food. He ate it, but no matter how much he ate, he couldn’t get full.

Alicia Angst said she did a lot of praying while her son was on the trail. Although he’s 22, he’s still her son, she says.

“I checked the weather every single morning to see if it was raining, sleeting or snowing,” she said. “We have a long map of the Appalachian Trail and we’d follow every town he’d get into, and that would help us. He’d either text us or call us when he got into a town.”

She said if she didn’t hear anything for a period of time she would become worried. But praying and trusting in her faith helped her and her husband get through those times when she didn’t hear from him.

“It’s just a grueling challenge for anybody,” Alicia Angst said. “A lot of it is being strong mentally. He had to be resourceful. He had to figure things out on his own and we’re very proud of him.”

There were also good times on the trail. For instance, when he saw many different animals. He saw black bears, moose, deer, a bobcat and a turkey that chased him.

He also ran into the Appalachian Trail Angels. Trail Angels are a group of hikers that cook food or hand out food for thru-hikers.

But the best time was when he reached Maine.

As he reached the final stretch with a fellow hiker –whose trail name is “Bannanah Boat” –tired and exhausted, they ran the final mile up the mountain to Mount Katahdin’s Baxter Peak.

When he reached the top, he kissed the wooden sign that read “Katahdin,” and sat down beside it. He took in the scene for an hour, Angst said.

He finally accomplished his dream.

Jonathan M. Alexander: 919-829-4822, @GarnerCleveland