"Walking the Walk" is reprinted from the February 22, 2002 issue of Tailwind, the newspaper of Travis Air Force Base. The article was written by Michael T. Moseley, a reporter from The Daily Republic.
by Michael T. Moseley
SSgt. Mark Orton and his long-time friend Jeremy Baldwin had planned to take some time off this summer, get away and do one of the things they enjoy doing together hiking.
It was to be a time of fun and fellowship, but would turn into so much more. One day Orton, a C-5 aero repair instructor with Detachment 14, 373rd Training Squadron, picked up a book by Jeff Alt. The book, A Walk For Sunshine, told the story of Alt's love of hiking and how he turned a pleasure into a passion. Alt hiked the Appalachian trail to raise money for the Sunshine House, the institution that cared for his mentally ill brother. That gave Orton an idea.
"I told Jeremy, we might as well hike for a good cause," Orton said.
The cause Orton chose was one very dear to his heart.
"Several members of my family suffer from diabetes," he said.
Orton chose to use Ins love for biking to raise money for the Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation of Washington, D.C.
"The foundation was completely surprised," Orton said. "They've never had anyone attempt to raise money in this way. They're very excited."
The first step to put "legs" to his dream of the fundraiser was to contact the man who had inspired him. Orton called Alt.
More than happy to assist in the cause, Alt not only doled out encouragement and helpful advice, he donated two autographed copies of his books to be given away to the largest contributors to Orton's walk.
The path Orton and Baldwin chose to hike is one of the most visited trails in America the Shenendoah section of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.
"It's 101 miles," Orton said. "We plan to do it in nine days."
This is no small challenge for Orton. The farthest he has walked on a continuous hike to this point has been 50 miles. That took him five days.
Is he worried about covering the entire distance in the alotted amount of time?
"We should be fine," Orton said with a smile. "We're both in much better shape now than we were two years ago when we did the 50 mile hike."
The Shenendoah section is new territory for Orton and Baldwin, but to Orton, that's part of the thrill of hiking. He loves to get out and see the country, enjoying the view and the challenge of the hike, he said.
This adventure, being more than an ordinary hike, has brought other considerations to bear.
"We've started looking for donations from sports equipment organizations," Orton said. "We need to be able to use the best, most updated and lightest weight equipiment we can get."
Lightweight, because the heavier the pack, the more difficult the hike. For safety's sake Orton has to plan for every contingency.
"General Ecology has already donated a great water purifier," Orton said. "There are a lot of springs on the trail, but the water's been contaminated over the years and it's safer to purify it before drinking."
Another consideration for any backpacker is shelter. The trail is ouffitted with pre-fabricated shelters along the way, set 10 to 12 miles apart, but Orton is concerned that they may be too crowded.
"At that time of year, the trial is probably the most traveled trail in the States," Orton said. "If we're not able to get space in a shelter, we'll need to have our own tents." Tents are heavy, and Orton is still in the market to have lightweight tents donated for the cause (Ed. note: see our sponsors page to read about the company that came forward to donate tents).
Map and compass in hand, Orton and Baldwin will undertake their journey June 2 through 11.
Those wishing to donate can do so by the mile or at a flat rate. Orton has ensured that each Travis squadron has donation forms and has even established a Web site at www.consideration.org/hikeforhope that assists those who wish to donate. When the hike begins, the Web site will also track their progress.
"I just love to hike," Orton said. "I can't think of a better reason to."