Residents recount their active adventures.
Before you go ... some helpful hiking terms:
Trail name — a pseudonym that a hiker is usually given by another hiker on a trail. Often, hikers don’t even know each others’ real names.
Thru-hike — to complete a long-distance trail from end-to-end within one calendar year.
Trail angel — A non-hiker who provides unexpected but much-appreciated aid to hikers.
Realizing he needed a change in his life, Bobby Babcock set his sights on the Pacific Crest Trail, a long-distance hiking trail that covers 2,650 miles through California, Oregon and Washington and into Canada.
“I understood there was a freedom that existed outside of society that I needed in my life,” Babcock says. “I needed to free myself."
The 23-year-old learned about the trail through a co-worker when he was working at New Mexico’s Ghost Ranch and decided to leave college so he could make his own attempt.
Babcock’s journey took about five months, and he teamed up with a group of 10-15 people. Known on the trail as “the Engineer” because of his affinity for playing with empty bottles and duct tape, Babcock says his favorite part of the experience was a “trail-cation” at Yosemite National Park. In nearby Santa Clara, California, he saw the Grateful Dead play multiple nights to sell-out crowds.
One of the hardest parts of the experience was returning to everyday life, Babcock says. On the trail, the only worry is finding water or preparing for the next breathtaking view.
“So, having to come back to regular life, you want to scream because you know how simple life can be, and the real world is anything but simple,” he says.
After graduating college he plans to hike the Continental Divide Trail, which stretches from Mexico to Canada via the Continental Divide.
“The trail allowed me to understand that I don’t have to worry,” Babcock says, “and now I understand life is really good if I allow it to be.”
Pacific Crest Trail
- 2,650 miles
- 5 months to complete
- Northbound hikers start in mid-April through early May. Southbound hikers start in late June or early July.
- 1,825 volunteers help maintain it.
- 4,111 people have completed the trail.
- 78 have done it more than once.
- See it in “Wild” (2014) starring Reese Witherspoon.
On his 49th birthday, Shelton Hahn made an announcement to his family: He wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago through western Europe a year later, on his 50th birthday. Hahn didn’t speak Spanish, had never really been interested in hiking and didn’t even own a backpack.
But a small article in a backpacking magazine had piqued his interest, and he decided he was going to complete the 485-mile French/Spanish route.
As owner of appliance repair company Shelton’s Quality Service, Hahn got busy, and it took longer than expected to prepare for his absence. But his desire to experience the trail never wavered.
“I was 52 when I set a date and really started preparing for my Camino,” he says.
Hahn hiked the trail with his son, Taylor, who was 16 at the time. The two started in the summer of 2011 and walked about 160 miles before returning home. They picked up where they left off the following year, along with Hahn’s wife, Diane, and oldest daughter, Kayla. A year later, they continued the third leg and added Hahn’s sister, Teresa, to the group.
“Each year we would walk anywhere from 11-14 days — each leg of our journey was completely different,” Hahn says. “The first leg began in France, crossing the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain, and thru the Basque region of Navarre. The second leg was mostly flat farmland, and the last leg we entered into the region of Galicia with its Celtic influence and mountains and rain.”
For Hahn and his family, the journey along the Camino de Santiago wasn’t really a hiking trip, but a pilgrimage, he says. He notes that pilgrims have been walking to the tomb of Saint James for more than 1,000 years and using the time for personal reflection.
The trail was extremely safe and there were always others around, Hahn says. He says people on the Camino are referred to either by their home country or home state. His favorite part of the adventure was getting to spend time with his children.
“It was an amazing experience watching them interact with my wife and me as equals,” says the 57-year-old Hahn. “I was so amazed at their attitudes, as well as their compassion and maturity.”
Hahn also solo-walked parts of the Appalachian Trail in 2015, a journey that was very different from his time along the Camino.
“I only walked a little over 80 miles and had to cut my walk short because of a problem with my ankle,” he says. “I am trying to strengthen it and plan to return this summer to walk another 130 miles.”
Camino de Santiago
- The most popular route, the Camino Francés, is nearly 500 miles.
- It takes four to six weeks to walk the classic route, which means hikers must average12 miles per day.
- In 2015, 262,458 people made the pilgrimage.
- See it in “The Way” (2010) starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, who also wrote and directed the film.
The lure of open water proved too strong for one landlocked Florida transplant to resist.
“I grew up in Miami and finished high school and college in Pensacola,” says Mark Chapman, who with his wife Becky, owns the Melting Pot in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. “I have always loved the water and had a desire to be on a boat.”
In 2010, Chapman, his two sons and his father-in-law went on a 35-day, 2,200-mile boating adventure, looping through the southern U.S.
The goal, Chapman says, was to experience some adventure with his sons. Chapman, 51, has always been attracted to the idea of spending time on the water and boating. He formed the idea as he read and heard about the experiences of others.
Chapman had been around and even owned a few boats in the past, thanks to his upbringing in Florida, but he had never been on a boat as big as this one — a 33-foot Sea Ray — which sleeps six and has air conditioning.
“I’m not sure I could’ve done the trip without that,” Chapman says. “We were actually very comfortable.”
The trip took several months of planning, which included spending many nights on the boat on Grand Lake and conducting a trial run down the Arkansas River to become accustomed to locking procedures.
The group started in Muskogee and cruised down the Arkansas River to Lake Dardanelle, Arkansas, and onto the Mississippi River.
From there, they continued on the Mississippi River to New Orleans and out into the Gulf of Mexico. At Mobile, Alabama, the group turned north on waterways to the Ohio River and then reconnected with the Mississippi River and headed south, closing the loop — known as the Little Loop — to head home.
Because they had limited time to complete the journey — 35-40 days because of school and sports — they tried to travel 75 miles per day. They used navigation charts to plan their routes.
They planned to arrive at each night’s stopping point by 1 or 2 p.m. in case they encountered problems or wanted to look around.
About half the time, they docked for the night at marinas, which allowed them to drive to town to restock or occasionally eat out — a welcome break, as most every meal was eaten on the boat. They did, however, anchor the boat and sleep on it every night.
Chapman, whose wife ran the businesses in his absence, says the scariest part was the fear that the anchor could give way at night, leading to the boat drifting down the Mississippi River, where it could be run over by a barge.
Obtaining gas also was difficult at times. Traffic along the Mississippi River is mostly commercial; the large commercial ships only use diesel fuel. Once in New Orleans, however, marinas were plentiful.
Just south of Memphis, one of the engines malfunctioned, so they hobbled back to the first place they could get the boat out. Though they didn’t make it back to the starting location, they did technically complete the Little Loop.
The trip also came with nice surprises, Chapman says.
“When we reached Mud Island in Memphis, the boys were able to pick out all the places we stopped on the scale model of the Mississippi River,” he says of his sons, Tommy and Greg, who were 15 and 14, respectively, at the time. “I realized how much fun they had and that they were paying attention the whole trip.”
Everyone helped out as needed, including with complicated maneuvers needed to enter or exit a lock.
“We have to tie up to the bollards and keep the boat from rubbing the wall while the water goes up and down,” Chapman says. “Someone has to stay at the helm and be in radio contact with the lock master.”
Mark and Becky have more trips planned. They are taking sailboat lessons with an eye to visit the Caribbean, and possibly cross the Atlantic Ocean to Europe.
“What are your dreams?”
That was the question Amy Robbins’ husband, Steve, asked her in 1976, two weeks after they married. Robbins voiced several ideas: philanthropy, family reunions and friendships.
Steve said he wanted the same things, but pushed harder. What did his new wife really want to do?
“Hike the Appalachian Trail,” she finally said, to which Steve responded, “Well, you better start backpacking.”
That, Robbins says 40 years later, was the instigator for a lifestyle that has led her to hike some of the country’s most well-known paths, including the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest and the 2,190-mile Appalachian trails. The AT goes from Georgia to Maine through the Appalachian Mountains.
Robbins, who in 1987 became the first woman to thru-hike the nearby 223-mile Ouachita Trail, says she was always active in various sports and started hiking in her late 20s.
“I suppose, in general, I prefer long-term endurance activity to short-term intense workouts,” says the woman whose trail name is Steady.
Over the years, she says she has met many wonderful people on the trails.
“The rigors of long-distance hiking leave no energy for maintaining any sort of façade or pretense,” she says. “Folks are reduced to being genuinely who they are. And at their core, people are good, kind and very likable.”
Ahead of her Appalachian Trail experience in 1993, Robbins spent four years studying guidebooks and maps, researching the best gear and training for eight months. To make the trek, she took a leave of absence from her job writing scientific/signal-processing software.
“Once on the trail,” she says, “a person realizes there is no way to ‘train’ for backpacking. One must simply ease into it over a period of several days or weeks.”
Steve is not a hiker, Robbins notes, but enjoys his role as a “trail angel,” loading up several ice chests with water, Gatorade, pop, fresh fruit, candy bars and other snacks before driving 40 or more miles on rough, backcountry roads to arrive at a remote trail crossing. That’s where he spends most of his day, intercepting hikers and giving them much-desired treats while he waits for Robbins.
“He actually meets more hikers than I do each day,” she says, adding that sometimes he’ll even drive hikers into town to show them the best motels to stay in and places to eat or visit. He has even driven hikers to medical facilities when needed.
“My story would be very different without the support and encouragement of my husband,” Robbins says.
On the long trails many thru-hikers start within a few weeks of each other. Often, those hikers develop a consistent pace and end up camping with the same group off and on, Robbins says.
“Most long-distance hikers are introverts, so even when hiking as a small group, individuals are often spread out over a mile or two,” she adds.
When she meets up with her husband, they go into town together either to resupply or stay at a hotel since a shower is always welcome. They plan out their meet-ups ahead of time with a date and relative time and he waits for her to appear.
Early on, Robbins says she wasn’t as comfortable sleeping in the woods, but now says worry is a waste of energy and health.
In terms of fear, Robbins asks, “Why forfeit joy?”
“Better, I believe, to survey an uncertain situation, listen for guidance and embrace the adventure, sometimes relinquishing appealing options for the sake of an ultimate objective or personal safety. This applies to life in general.”
Robbins, who is eyeing the Chilkoot Pass near Skagway, Alaska, for her next trek, has spent anywhere from a few days to seven months on her hiking adventures over the years. Altogether, the 61-year-old Broken Arrow resident estimates she has spent, in total, three years in the woods and has hiked more than 12,000 miles since she began in the early 1980s.
“The longer one spends in the wilderness, the less one feels autonomous,” she says. “You cease to be a person walking through the landscape; you simply become a part of it.”
- 2,190 miles
- A thru-hike takes five to seven months.
- Of those who attempt a thru-hike, only one in four will complete it.
- 15,524 people have completed the thru-hike.
- See it in “A Walk in the Woods” (2015) starring Robert Redford.