FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. — This is what Zac Gleneck did on his summer vacation: He hiked about 25 miles a day from early May to mid-August.
He was robbed by a flying squirrel.
He hiked more than 2,000 miles just because he had the time.
“I’d pretty much wake up at 5 a.m. and walk until I needed a headlamp,” he said.
Gleneck, a Fort Walton Beach college student, stepped off the Appalachian Trail on Aug. 16 after summiting Mount Katahdin in central Maine.
He had lost 40 pounds from his 6-foot-5-inch frame and gained a lot of facial hair.
The decision to thru-hike, as it’s known in the hiking community, was made after Gleneck learned the summer classes he wanted to take weren’t available. He said he had dreamed of completing the trail since he was a little boy.
Gleneck told his parents, who didn’t talk him out of it. That disappointed him a little, he said.
On May 4, he started on Springer Mountain in Georgia and quickly became known to his fellow hikers as “Jethro.”
“It was from the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ because I carried a lot of food,” he said.
Along the way, he took photos, gave up cooking and mailed most of his gear back home because it was too heavy to carry.
He even ditched his raincoat.
“You end up sweating inside it and you get wet anyway,” he said.
Along the way Gleneck met people in almost every state.
The trail runs through 14 states from Georgia to Maine.
He moved fast, hiking at twice the speed of a normal person and only got turned around once when he veered two miles in the wrong direction.
But he paid the price with a twisted left ankle, a stress fracture in his right foot, Achilles tendinitis in both feet and knee pain.
The challenge intensified when he got to Mahoosuc Notch, a notoriously tough mile-long section of the trail in western Maine.
“It’s a giant boulder field,” he said. “You end up crawling under and jumping over things.”
Gleneck is back in class now at the University of West Florida, where he is studying to be an environmental engineer.
Countless books, including trail guides and personal accounts of thru-hiking the trail, have been published. Gleneck didn’t read any of them, and he’s not sure they would have helped.
“I don’t think anyone is prepared for that,” he said.
If he had it to do again, he would — but at a much slower pace and not all at once.
“I wouldn’t do the whole thing again. My favorite part was the first 500 or 700 miles.”