BECKLEY, W.Va. — On Aug. 25, it was finished.
John Vuolo, 60, stood at the peak of Katahdin Mountain in Maine and raised his arms above his head in a victory salute.
The retired naval pilot read a list of names and sang. Then, he dedicated that climb up Katahdin Mountain — the last trek of a 2,180-mile journey along the Appalachian Trail — to the fallen members of the Class of 1977 United States Naval Academy at Anapolis, Md., his alma mater.
“Forty-eight of my classmates have died from natural or combat causes or accidents at sea, so I read all 48 of their names, and I sang our alma mater,” he said. “That was my dedication to them, all good guys, because they never had the chance to do something like this.”
To be sure, only around 14,800 people since 1982 have done what Vuolo did. He hiked the Appalachian National Scenic Trail from its source at Springer Mountain, Ga., to its terminus at Baxter State Park in Katahdin, Maine.
Hiking the trail was on the “bucket lists” for years of Vuolo, originally from Long Island, N.Y., and his wife, Beth Vuolo, 51, a native of Washington, Pa., but the two outdoor enthusiasts found a way to use their dream to help and include others.
The couple moved to Hinton in 2006 and immediately began supporting their new community. Beth Vuolo worked tirelessly with the Summers County Humane Society, helping to get a vehicle for the organization. John Vuolo began reading to students at Talcott Elementary School and volunteering at an organization that encourages adults to get their GEDs.
On March 19 — Beth’s 51st birthday — they began their dream of hiking the 2,180-mile trail, which twists over mountains and streams in 14 states. But they asked veterans and their fellow Summers County residents to pledge a per-mile or flat donation to the Hinton Area Foundation in honor of their hike.
“Their very lives have been testaments to the importance of service and giving back,” said Dr. Jerry Beasley, executive director of Hinton Area Foundation, in March.
“Here are two people who are satisfying a longtime dream of their own but doing it in a way to benefit countless people in Summers County.”
Not only did Vuolo remember his fallen classmates on Mount Katahdin, the Vuolos’ hike raised thousands of dollars for various charities funded via HAF, said Beasley.
The final tally will be available at a special HAF reception for the Vuolos at the Summers County Library on Sept. 27.
Donations may be made in honor of the Vuolos’ achievement by contacting the Hinton Area Foundation at 304-466-5332 or [email protected]
More information on HAF is available at hintonareafoundation.com.
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Overseen by the National Park Service, the trail winds through Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
The Register-Herald followed the Vuolos’ trek as they began the hike in March at Springer’s Mountain, carrying 25- to 35-pound backpacks.
They moved through Tennessee and North Carolina in below-freezing temperatures that eventually warmed as springtime progressed.
Beth Vuolo hurt her foot so at her doctor’s order, she had to quit hiking after 400 miles. Then the hike, which had started as a couple testing their endurance together against a rugged terrain, turned into a different test…