Back to Fitness: The Joy of Hiking


By John Andersen

Buddy Johnson
Buddy Johnson

Last month I interviewed Melissa Miller to get some perspective on Boot Camp and group exercise classes as an avenue to lasting fitness. We all struggle with finding the time and energy to get into a regular fitness routine. Often the answer is finding a path that really resonates with us and inspires us to pursue it with passion. This month, I want to explore another great local path to fitness, hiking.

I still am amazed how many people who live in Crozet have not yet explored nearby gems like Shenandoah National Park, the Appalachian Trail, Sugar Hollow, and Mint Springs Valley Park. We have these amazing mountain sanctuaries in our backyard and exploring them by foot is not only mentally relaxing and rewarding, but offers great physical benefits as well.

For this topic, I interviewed a friend of mine, Buddy Johnson. I first met Buddy Johnson at a local 30-mile mountain ultra-marathon. Buddy was 62 years old then, putting out a steady pace of hiking and running up and down the mountain. Meanwhile his wife Genie was sitting at the finish line drinking beer and cracking everyone up. I knew these were special people.

Friendship with Buddy on Facebook has benefitted me greatly, as Buddy regularly posts beautiful pictures of his mountain surroundings in his hometown of Lexington with simple taglines such as “Mornin’” or “Evenin’” perfectly describing a foggy country sunrise or a clear expansive sunset. He also posts pictures from his extensive hiking past, including the entire Appalachian Trail.

JA: Where did you grow up and how/when did you get into hiking?

Buddy Johnson: I grew up in Lexington, and as a child I developed an appreciation for outdoor activities going places with my dad. I went to JMU for college, and being so near Shenandoah National Park really added to my growing passion for the woods. Trail maps and guidebooks soon became the main part of my free time reading.

After graduation I started off with day hikes. When doing my day hikes, I reached a point where I didn’t want to turn around and come home, and this is when the idea of long distance backpacking first emerged and of course somehow that led to the idea of “why not hike the entire 2,179-mile Appalachian Trail?”

JA: When did you finally hike the entire AT?

BJ: 2002. I was finally ready to bite the bullet and make the ultimate hike from Georgia to Maine, and this culminated with a picture-perfect summit day on Mount Katahdin in Maine.

JA: Lessons learned?

BJ: Prior to hiking the AT, I had numerous miscues on some of my longer hikes and overnights, ranging from wrong turns to packing way too much weight. After much trial and error, I reduced my pack weight from 40 lbs. to 28, which consisted of just a sleeping bag, small tent, two liters of water, and four days of food.

Also, I was running a lot when I first started long-distance hiking. I thought, “If I can run 8-10 miles before work, I should easily be able to hike 15-20 miles during an entire day.” This has a few fallacies, but mostly that the muscles used during a long hike are worked differently than in running and you are constantly carrying 30 pounds on your back.

The toughest part of the AT hike for me was simply the day-after-day grind of keeping the same routine. It really becomes a mental challenge. Also particularly tough for me was a stretch in NC where it rained for 14 straight days.

JA: Overall reflections on your AT hike and hiking in general?

BJ: The 2,179-mile Appalachian Trail hike did more than anything to shape my life, more than I could have dreamed. Running and hiking both offer me a special way to commune with nature as well as testing my limits. There is nothing more gratifying than winding my way up the side of a mountain and the beauty and feelings it offers along the way, as well as the satisfaction when the summit is reached.

JA: Closing words for somebody looking to start hiking as a way to get back to fitness?

BJ: Hiking and backpacking are good lifelong activities and you don’t have to be a super-athlete to enjoy. After you finish a long hike, the things you remember most are the beauty, the contrast from one area to the next, and the true feeling of accomplishment. Hiking the AT or any other long hike will change your life and will be a part of each and every day.

Thanks to Buddy Johnson, a great example of embracing the beautiful mountains and trails that surround us and bringing the transformation that occurs out on the trail into our daily lives.


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