Hiking 2,200 miles in six months is probably not on your New Year’s resolution list. But for MPI’s chairman emeritus & managing director Harry (Hal) Curtis, it’s at the top of the list for 2016.
Hal joined MPI over 20 years ago, in 1994. About 10 years ago, he laid out plans to take a leave of absence to fulfill his dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail. But shifts in management brought him into a senior leadership role at the firm and the trek was tabled.
Then on his 60th birthday last November, Hal’s mother Lillian passed away from pancreatic cancer. For 17 years, she had served as a volunteer with the Merrimack Valley Hospice (MVH) in Greater Lawrence, MA, providing companionship, compassion, and personal support to those nearing life’s end. She was a philanthropic supporter, advocate and friend for many years until she herself welcomed hospice for her transition from this world.
“What a remarkable contribution she made,” says Hal. “Through her work at MVH, my mother was able to help people leave the world with dignity. I wanted to honor the memory of my mother and also pick up my quest of hiking the Appalachian Trail.”
Hiking with Purpose
“Life is a journey,” says Hal, admittedly trying not to sound corny. “We’re good at celebrating beginnings and milestones along the way, but I don’t think we’re very good at death.”
Hal and his family established The Lillian Prince Margolis Charitable Care Fund to support patients of Merrimack Valley Hospice and he’s once again laid out plans for the hike. This time, he’ll try to invoke some “trail magic” to raise money for the Fund, which will provide access to hospice care to those who are otherwise uninsured or require financial assistance to receive services at Merrimack Valley Hospice House.
“When you get a little older you push things away and you say I will get to it sometime,” Hal continues. “Well, that ‘sometime’ has come. This is something I have wanted to do—I can’t put it off any longer.”
The day Lillian was born (May 13) and the day she passed away (November 2) will serve as bookends for Hal’s trek: 173 days to journey the entire length of the famed trail.
An Inspiring Challenge
The Appalachian Trail (also known simply as the A.T.) runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia up to Mount Katahdin in Maine and—at almost 2,200 miles—lays claim to being the longest hiking-only trail in the world. While the traditional route begins in early spring and runs south to north, Hal will be dividing his journey into three roughly 700-mile sessions, hiking an average of 16-17 miles per day.
He plans to tackle the middle section first – from the NY/CT line down through PA/NJ and into Virginia. Next, he’ll hike the northernmost section, from Maine down to Massachusetts, during which his son and a friend will join him. The final leg will start back in Virginia, where he will trek south to the trailhead in Georgia.
Hal’s training consists of a commitment to daily cardio and walking, but don’t expect to see him lugging around a 40-pound pack or climbing mountains. “My view is that I’ve only got so many miles left in me and I want to save them for the trip!”
While on the trail, he will rely on mail drops for supplies and will also resupply in pass-through towns when in heavily populated areas. However, in some remote areas of the trail, Hal expects to go up to 10 days without replenishing.
What does he look forward to the most?
“Getting started,” he says after only brief consideration. “Seeing places I’ve read about and being joined by my son and a dear friend.” He adds: “And to have it done.”
The biggest challenge?
“The emotional commitment,” says Hal. “There’s other stuff I would like to do in life and I won’t be doing it. I will be away from family and fairly isolated at times. And then add to that the toll of grinding it out and not being able to quit, which brings its own sense of anxiety.”
Hal doesn’t even mention the obvious hazards such as bad weather, bears, snakes, bug bites, lack of running water or sleeping on hard ground for six months.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy estimates that 2,700 hikers attempted to thru-hike (complete the entire trail in a single season) in 2014. Only about 10% to 15% of thru-hikers reportedly complete it. Hal wonders: how many are 60 or older?
Supporting the Journey
“MPI is very proud to support Hal in this important endeavor,” says Dan Kerrigan, president of MPI. “The trek is long, and the schedule aggressive, but if there is one person with the perseverance to see it through, it is certainly Hal.”
“My career at MPI has meant everything to me,” says Hal. “These last 22 years have been an interesting ride and it is a great value for people in leadership to be able to take some time off and do something outside of their comfort level.”
Hal also praises MPI’s recent transition to a “focused, young management team that has come on, taken the lead, and is getting things done.”
“I think my leave will accelerate the process of transitioning to a new generation of leadership,” he adds.
“And I intend to come back with a fresh perspective.”
For more on the Lillian Prince Margolis Charitable Care Fund and to make a donation, click here.
Stay tuned to the MPI blog for occasional updates on Hal’s journey or visit Hal’s blog at http://www.HLCTakesAHike.com.
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