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Professor completes Appalachian Trail

Mitch Zimmer, Assistant Professor of Business at Penn State Berks, realized his lifelong dream on July 28, 2010, when he completed hiking the Appalachian Trail, an endeavor that can be traced back to 1966.

Zimmer recalls that his first real backpacking trip was when he was a member of a New Jersey Boy Scout Troop in October 1966. The troop camped on the Appalachian Trail at Sunfish Pond, near Midland Park, New Jersey. He found it fascinating that he could continue south to Georgia or north to Maine and decided that one day he would hike the entire trail.

After graduating from college, Zimmer became an adviser to Boy Scout Explorer Post 61, and later scoutmaster with Troop 61 in New Jersey. For many years, he led explorer posts and scout troops on two- or three-day trips on the Appalachian Trail to New Jersey, all the while planning to "through hike" when he retired. His goal was to complete the trail by the time he turned 61; he exceeded that goal, by completing the trail before that age.

Zimmer's positions as adviser to Explorer Post 61 and scoutmaster of Troop 61, as well as his goal of completing the trail by age 61, earned him the trail name of "Explorer 61." He explains that hikers use names that describe an experience they had on the trail.

He states that he got serious about his goal in 1996 when he told the scout groups that he would do more of the planning, but would no longer repeat a trip. He also added one-week summer trips to their weekend outings and led the post on a five-day, 50-mile trip that covered all of the trail in Maryland, as well as areas to the north and south, allowing them to hike in four states during that excursion.

About ten years ago, Zimmer left the scouts, freeing up more time to increase his trail mileage.

With the support of his family who took their vacations with him, Zimmer would backpack or day hike while they visited museums, battlefields, and caves, or participated in activities like rafting or kayaking. Sometimes they hiked with him. By his last year on the trail, his adult children no longer participated, but his wife continued. In addition to shuttling him, she often took hikers to town or provided snacks, earning her the name "Trail Angel."

According to Zimmer, he walked for 11 days this year and 10 of them were the easiest days of all, with the exception of climbing Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine. Going up Katahdin, he said he "thought the wind would blow us off the mountain."

This year, Zimmer was joined by a Penn State Berks colleague, Terry Speicher, Assistant Professor of Engineering. He also met a Berks student, known as Red Tail, on the trail in Maine. On the second day out, it had just started raining, and Zimmer and Speicher decided to take shelter. In early afternoon, Red Tail and another hiker approached the shelter, and after a brief conversation, they discovered that Red Tail had been a student in Speicher's class

Zimmer thanks his family, all the great people he met on the trail, and the volunteer maintainers who made his dream possible, and summarizes, "It's been a fun run."
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