Longville man, 78, completes Appalachian Trail
By Jennie Zeitler
Egon Overgaard of Longville didn’t make his Appalachian Trail trek because he wanted to change his life, but that is indeed what happened during his six-month adventure.
“The trail changes a person,” he said. “There is a lot of time to think. Not everyone walks at the same pace, and you end up walking alone a lot of the time. You’re in your head, sorting out a lot of things.”
Egon (pronounced like the city, Eagan) hiked the 2,200 miles of trail from early March to mid-September 2022. It was an adventure that he will never forget.
He doesn’t remember what made him even consider hiking the Trail. He had driven through the Appalachian Mountains many times during his years as a submariner in the Navy, while going home to visit Iowa.
“Later, I thought that maybe (hiking the trail) was something I could do,” he recalled.
His wife, Carol, had needed a lot of care before she died in late 2021. After 57 years of marriage, he felt kind of lost for a while. At age 78, he had to consider what to do next.
“I’ve been active outdoors and hunted all my life. I’ve canoed in the Boundary Waters almost every year,” he said.
At first, he was maybe just toying with the idea of hiking the Trail.
“The kids got excited when I mentioned it,” he said. “They were very supportive. When I changed from ‘thinking’ of it to ‘planning on doing’ it, they got more serious.”
Egon considered that he was in pretty good physical condition. He’d been in the habit of walking, in addition to his outdoor activities.
“But I don’t think you can train for it,” he said. “The Trail is a lot harder than just walking.”
The weekend before he began the Trail, he was in a curling tournament. Friends from Longville drove him all the way to Georgia. He started out on the Trail alone, and walked the first 100+ miles by himself.
For those first miles, he covered maybe 10 miles a day at most. After getting his “trail legs”, the most he did was 26 miles in a day.
“That’s a lot for an old man,” he said. “The average was about 15 miles per day.”
One day he found that he had been walking on a wrong trail and a younger couple, Kevin and Leah Sharkey from Winona, met up with him.
“They probably thought that this guy’s not gonna make it if we don’t help,” he said with a smile. “They took me under their wing and we became good friends. I love them dearly.”
Once on the Trail, Egon figures he burned about 6,000 calories a day.
“It’s hard to eat that much food,” he said. “When we got a chance to go to town, we’d eat like it was our job to eat.”
Still, he lost 25 pounds during those six months.
The trio spent about three to four days in tents on the trail between trips to town.
“You can only carry so much food at a time,”’ he said. “We got to eat in town and take a shower.”
His companions were uploading videos to YouTube, so they went to town more often than other people maybe do.
During his time on the Trail, Egon kept seeing hearts on rocks, in tree branches, all around him. It inspired him to make his own hearts and leave them for others to find. He drew on them the “AT” logo of the Trail.
“I left them in different places for people coming behind me,” he said. “It was fun. Maybe it made someone’s day better.”
Egon noticed that many of the hikers were veterans.
“It seemed obvious to me they were there to heal, forget, and learn about themselves,” he said. “I truly believe that most of the people on the trail are there for more than just the adventure. They come looking for some answers to life.”
Over the six months of hiking, Egon came to realize what a “leveling effect” the trail had on him.
“Like a lot of people in today’s world, I had become less tolerant of others whose views differ from mine, especially politically,” he said. “After I was on the Trail for a time, I began to notice a softening in my attitude toward those who took an alternate view than my own. I came to accept people more for who they are rather than for what they believed.”
Once Egon returned to Minnesota, he shared his experience with several groups, including his church and other local organizations. He was interviewed by WCCO. Kevin and Leah came to the talk he gave at his church.
“I just talked to them last night,” he said. “It became increasingly apparent to me how quickly one could form deep bonds with people. I really miss those people after spending that time with them.”
There might be up to a dozen or more, including Egon, who hung out together at certain parts of the trail. In addition to the Sharkeys, he also hiked with a couple from Quebec, and a young woman from Nevis.
Egon joined a unique group of people who have completed the Appalachian Trail. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, only about 25 percent of the hikers who start the trail, actually finish it. Add to that, the fact that he was 78 years old. The oldest hiker to complete the Trail was 83.
“As far as I’m aware, I was the oldest person on the Trail to complete it in 2022,” he said. “My friends joke about doing the trail again when I’m 84, to set a new record.”
Each year, there is a Trail Days reunion in Damascus, Virginia, for past hikers. Egon joined his friends there in May, for a few exciting days as they reminisced about Trail experiences and caught up on life.
Egon believes that “If there is only one thing the trail gives you, it is that you have the time and peace to work things out in your own head.”
Egon’s blog about the Trail can be found at https://thetrek.co/author/egon-overgaard/
The YouTube videos by the Sharkeys can be found at https://www.youtube.com/@kevinandleah1221/videos