Hoovler uses piece-by-piece persistence
Published: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 10:01 p.m.
Being one of the hikers to tackle and complete the Appalachian Trail in 2005 puts Ed Hoovler in a select group. When that accomplishment is combined with his bike ride from Maine to Key West in 2000, he joins a rare group of travelers.
But don't try to tell him he's done something heroic, incredible or even impressive.
Hoovler called Gainesville home for a few decades before making the move to Monson, Maine, in 2004. He was back in town over the holidays catching up with old friends and seeing his fiancée, Sue Fitzwilliam, as she picked up her nurse practitioner's degree from the University of Florida.
On March 8, 2005, he and nephew Scott Hilton set out from Springer Mountain in Georgia on the AT, a trek that's officially listed as 2,174.9 miles as it winds its way north through 14 states to Maine's Mount Katahdin. They wrapped up the hike on Sept. 24. The two argued so much as they hiked, they were dubbed the Odd Couple by their fellow hikers.
"After two or three weeks, we realized we got along a lot better if we just hiked on our own days, and agreed on where we'd end up that night," he says.
few in number
While 3 to 4 million people a year hike portions of the AT, only a few attempt an end-to-end journey, and even fewer succeed. In 2004 (2005 figures aren't in yet), 1,535 reported starting the hike north; 370 finished. Hoovler says he's still processing the trip, not quite sure how to describe it, but heroic and spectacular aren't words that come to mind. He knows the journey changed him, he thinks in a positive way.
At 58, he can't be accused of ducking a challenge. In the mid-'90s, the hurdle was closer to home, not far from the end of long beard. He could see his waistline growing and his health slipping a tad. He knew it was time to do what he'd been telling himself he could do if he'd just set his mind to it. While this may seem like a familiar theme among New Year's resolution makers, Hoovler actually carried through on his. He stopped smoking and didn't just exercise a little, he became a long-distance runner.
In 2000, he read about the Five Points of Life bike ride that would travel from Maine to Key West, promoting blood, organ and tissue donation. At the time, he'd never ridden his tank-like bike any farther than Hawthorne, but he volunteered and started training. When the time came, he was ready and pedaled all 3,028 miles.
Along the way he learned a lesson that applies to riding a bike, walking the Appalachian Trail, or to those of us tackling a New Year's resolution. When seen as a whole, the journey may seem overwhelming, but when broken into pieces, it can be done.
"You have to allow yourself to see the pieces. That's the only thing that makes it possible," he says.
So on those days when the mosquitoes were howling outside his tent, he was wet and cold and exhausted, he knew if he talked himself into getting up, the only immediate thing he had to worry about next was rolling up his sleeping bag. Then he'd get packed up. He didn't need to think about the 20 miles ahead, he'd focus on eating breakfast.
"Just do that part, do the part you can do now, and then by the time it's time to get ready to hike, the act of faith, if you will, is that you'll be ready," he says.
Outside the tent, as on the bike ride, there were other lessons as well.
"Learning all over again that nature 'is,' as opposed to 'I wish,' the fact that it doesn't do any good to yell at a mountain or the weather or the trail or other people, it doesn't do you any good," he says.
And if all this sounds more like torture than a hike, it's worth noting that Hoovler had to think long and hard when asked about his best day on the trail, because the piece-by-piece approach also works for the positive. With his digital camera, he took more than 3,000 photos of scenic creeks, flowers, mountaintops and fellow hikers.
"Every day had its several moments of wonder," he says. "If you could find those moments in each day, then all the days become good days."
Having walked and biked more than 5,000 miles, I was curious about his perspective of seeing America in slow motion.
"More than America, you see yourself. No matter where you go, there you are with yourself and all of your baggage and all of your history," he says.
It was another lesson from the road, one first learned when he was serving in the Peace Corps in Tunisia.
"Here I am, feeling very Ed-like wrapped up in a burnoose, walking down a road in Africa," he says with a chuckle.
He tackled the AT on his own terms. In an era where hikers battle to shave fractions of ounces here or there, and extra-light hikers take pride in carrying 25 pounds or less, Hoovler carried books, a camera, knitting, extra food and clothing in a pack that tipped the scales in the mid to high 50s. After one resupply stop, he says he was carrying more than 35 candy bars. The mere sight of his blue and green monster pack seemed to upset some on the trail. One hiker called it obscene.
"It's not obscene, it's just heavy," was Hoovler's reply.
Since finishing up the trail, he's been putting those lessons to work. He came home to a house that piece by piece is becoming more habitable, while also putting up wood for a Maine winter and learning the 15 parts for a one-man play, "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol," that he performed at the Wayside Theater in Dexter, Maine.
The fact that he ended up in Maine was a bit of serendipity for Hoovler, who'd been active in many ways while living in Gainesville, from singing with the Burr Oak Ensemble and dancing with the Cross Creek Cloggers to performing with the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre and the High Springs Community Theater.
He and Fitzwilliam had gone for a visit to Bangor, Maine, to see his son. One afternoon they decided to explore some of the small towns where mills and shoe factories had once powered community economies.
"There were a lot of big, old, really interesting houses for sale in those towns. We weren't really looking to buy, we just wanted to see," he says.
They were so "not looking," he didn't even have a checkbook. But the day trip took them to Monson, famous in the AT hiking circle as one of the last big supply stops before hitting the hundred-mile wilderness homestretch to the finish line at Mount Katahdin. There they saw a house and met its owner, a disabled vet whose deteriorating health was forcing him to move.
"By the time we left, Sue said 'I feel we have a spiritual obligation to buy the damn house,' " Hoovler recalls, and that's just what they did. In June 2004, he made the move, while she stayed in Gainesville to finish up school.
"I'm now the proud owner of a three-story, several-hundred-million-square-foot 1880s thing that's going to take the rest of my life to make it a habitable space," he says with a laugh punctuated by a roll of his eyes.
He's working part-time for a local furniture maker and putting together his own furniture repair shop at his house. He knows inside there are hundreds of tasks to do, rooms to fix and furniture to build to fill the rooms. But by now, he's quite cozy with the overwhelming. Piece by piece, he's hard at it.
Gary Kirkland can be
reached at 338-3104 or email@example.com.
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