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This article was in the Johnson City Press today.  Plodder

Trail trip a learning experience

By Sam Watson
Press Staff Writer

Staying dedicated to her five-month journey on the Appalachian Trail was a =
lot easier for Alison Matney knowing that Woodland Elementary School studen=
ts were rooting for her every step of the way.

=93I felt that pressure,=94 she said. =93I thought maybe there is a kid at =
Woodland that will one day hike the AT, which would be excellent.=94

Matney and her roommate, Joy Zasadny, set out on the trail from Springer Mo=
untain in Georgia on May 13, a day after they graduated from Milligan Colle=
ge, and wound up on Mt. Katahdin in Maine on Oct. 4.

=93First, I love being outside,=94 Matney said. =93It seemed like a good ch=
allenge and I wanted to see if I could do it.

=93I would recommend that every college graduate do it. It really takes lif=
e to the simplest level, it puts your priorities in line and you find out w=
hat you really need.

=93It=92s just a good way to start in the real world,=94 she said.

Matney and Zasadny maintained contact with Woodland students throughout the=
ir 2,168-mile trek via Matney=92s mother, Woodland physical education teach=
er Laura Matney, who kept track of their progress on a map at the school an=
d posted pictures mailed from the trail.

=93It was very neat, because I got to see what state they were in and what =
part of the Appalachian Trail they were on,=94 6-year-old Ethan Eilo said.

Before the hikers left, they demonstrated how to use their tent and other c=
amping gear in three assemblies at Woodland, which hooked the kids for a vi=
carious journey.

=93They came before they started and told us all about what they were going=
 to do and how they used their food supplies and water supplies and stuff,=
=94 said Gabe Hawley, 7. =93You have to walk hundreds of steps and miles.=

Students concentrated on all those steps because Matney and Zasadny wore th=
e same digital pedometers Matney=92s mother uses to teach physical fitness.=
 The hikers averaged about 35,000 steps per day on the trail, logging as ma=
ny as 76,000 steps when the terrain was light and the weather was good.

Teachers incorporated the mileage and the steps into math lessons, and stud=
ents also studied outdoor recreation, geography, geology and environmental =
science through the experience.

=93There=92s some pretty cool stuff out there,=94 said 11-year-old Matthew =
Turner. =93It=92s not a small world after all. I didn=92t know there was al=
l that wildlife out there.=94

Woodland librarian Vicki Jackson taught lessons on encouragement, so studen=
ts made cards to lift up the hikers on their way. Receiving those bundles p=
ut a spring back in Matney and Zasadny=92s steps.

=93We received a homemade letter from every kid in the school,=94 Matney sa=
id. =93It was huge.=94

Some students even asked their families to go camping, getting a first-hand=
 taste of the experience for themselves.

=93I hiked around for a little bit there, and I had a very good view,=94 Et=
han said.

Several students said they would be willing to give the trail a try some da=
y. Ashlyn Sexton, 10, said she was fascinated by the hikers=92 lifestyle an=
d how they saw so many things on their journey.

=93I think I would like to do that sometime, like when I was out of college=
,=94 Ashlyn said. =93I think I could. I=92d probably miss my mom some and m=
y dad, but it would probably be fine.=94

Matthew, however, said while he learned from Matney and Zasadny that he cou=
ld live without all the comforts of home, he prefers them.

=93I don=92t think I could take all that time away from home,=94 Matthew sa=
id. =93Hiking is fun and all that, but I wouldn=92t do it for six months.=

There were times when Matney and Zasadny felt the same way. The trip was es=
pecially grueling during the 650-mile trek through Virginia in the summer h=
eat. Sometimes going all day without water because of the summer=92s drough=
t, the hikers nearly called it quits.

=93If I had been near a phone on July 4th, I would have given up,=94 Matney=
 said. =93If we were going to quit, we would have done it in Virginia.=94 T=
he heat and drought forced Matney and Zasadny to send their traveling compa=
nion, their dog Tasha, back home after about 600 miles.

After entering Pennsylvania, the hikers were determined to make it to Maine=
. Their next challenge came at the New Hampshire border, where the trail=92=
s terrain changed from deep forest to rocky peaks above the tree line, slow=
ing their pace from 2-3 miles per hour to about a mile every 1=BD hours.

=93When we entered there it was a totally different mental struggle,=94 Mat=
ney said.

But those struggles made the whole trip worthwhile.

=93I=92ll be drawing from this experience for the rest of my life,=94 Matne=
y said. =93I don=92t know if I will ever encounter this kind of challenge. =
I can=92t imagine anything in my life being more challenging in every aspec=
t, physically, mentally.=94

If Woodland=92s students took nothing else from following the journey on th=
e trail, Matney hoped it would be the need to set goals and achieve them.

=93Setting goals is very important in life =97 following through with them =
and just going for it,=94 she said. =93When I started, I thought it was cra=
zy going from Georgia to Maine in five months.

=93I still think it=92s crazy, but I did it, and I have such a sense of acc=
omplishment,=94 she said.

The lesson was not lost on at least one Woodland student.

=93When you set challenges, I think you need to follow through with them,=
=94 Ashlyn said.

(Contact Sam Watson at swatson@johnsoncitypress.com).

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