Outdoor World

The man who went on a hike and never stopped walking

MJ Eberhart AKA Nimblewill Nomad has become a legendary figure among fellow hikers, even having his toenails surgically removed to prevent infection

In his 61 st time on this ground, the man who calls himself Nimblewill Nomad left home and walked a long way through the mountains about 10 million paces, he calculates, or 4,400 miles. Then, “hes taking” another, even longer walk. And then another one. And then another. Soon, he had given away virtually all of his fund and taken to walking nearly year-round, roaming the post-industrial wilderness of North America in what he called a desperate search for peace.

His fellow long-distance hikers speak of him in mythical terms. They told me that, in order to avoid foot infections, he had chosen to have all 10 of his toenails surgically removed. He was said to never carry more than 10 lbs on his back, and to have invented a tiny stove that operated on branches and grass, so he wouldnt have to carry fuel.

Over 15 times, he had hiked 34,000 miles. First he completed the so-called Triple Crown of long-distance trails: the Appalachian road( 2,200 miles ), the Pacific Crest trail( 2,650 miles ), and the Continental Divide trail( 3,100 miles ). Then he went on to complete all 11 national scenic trails in 2013. Triumphant, fulfilled, and nearing his 75 th birthday, he swore to hang up his hiking boots.

Then, the next spring, he was back. He announced he would complete a grueling road-walk from New Mexico to Florida, in order to completed a road he had named the Great American Loop, which connected the four farthest corners of the continental US. This, he claimed, would be his last long hike.

I wrote to him be interested to know whether I could join him for a few periods. After some delicate negotiation he harbored a deep if not wholly ill-founded distrust of journalists he agreed to let me stroll with him. He told me that he would be hiking east on highway TX-7 3 somewhere outside of Winnie, Texas, on a certain day in early June. If I could find him, I was welcome to tag along. But he wasnt slowing down for anybody.

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MJ Eberhart on his hike in west Texas. Photograph: Robert Moor

On the appointed day, my sister and I drove south-east from Houston, eyes peeled for a walker by the side of the road. As we passed a place on the map called Alligator Hole Marsh, we spotted him: a white apparition on the far side of the road, strolling upstream against the traffic.

We circled around and parked on the shoulder about 50 yards up the road. He waved as he drew near. He carried a blue backpack no larger than a preschoolers knapsack. A single plastic water bottle was tied to his belt with a piece of frayed blue string. His trekking poles were folded in the robber of his arm. In his hand, he carried a chipped styrofoam coffee cup.

When he reached the car, I shook his hand, and he smiled. He had a wild head of white mane streaked with yellow, and a white beard wove with black. He took his sunglasses off, and his eyes, arced against the sunshine, were set with deep, leathered wrinkles, pale in their depths. His hands too were profoundly tanned, but merely up to all over the base of his thumb; the rest of each hand, shaded by the his cuffs of his shirt, was pink.

His real name was MJ Eberhart. He said I could call him Eb.

Welcome to my backyard, Eberhart said, waving at the vastness with his cup of ice. The land was flat( elevation: 11 ft ), but the clouds above it were colossal a white mountain range, severed and levitated.

As we strolled, Eberhart recounted his travellings thus far. He had begun 46 days earlier at the southern terminus of the Continental Divide trail. From there, he headed east, through the blackened badlands of New Mexico, through the gateway city of El Paso, and on to an endless spread of dry dun plains. The traffic consisted almost entirely of semi-trailer trucks surging past every 10 seconds at speeds of a 100 miles an hour. He had learned to take shallow breaths through his nose, so as to not inhale their fumes. The voice was meteoric.

In west Texas, the road stretched in a straight line to a vanishing point on the horizon. Space and time started to play tricks on him. He walked for hours each day and never seemed to progress, the distant mountains withdrawing faster than he could catch them. The freeway was lined with mileage markers, and he checked each one to persuade himself that the numbers were changing.

His program was to walk from gas station to gas station, but houses of various kinds were sometimes dozens of miles apart. If people hadnt stopped to be given water, he may well have died. When he emerged from the desert, vultures were circling ominously over his head.

Other than the vultures, virtually all of the wildlife he had watched was dead( most of it roadkill ), including a crushed coral serpent, two mule deer, a raccoon, an armadillo, numerous birds, and a group of dead coyotes wired, inexplicably, to a fence.

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Nimblewill Nomad hiking in Texas. Photo: Rober Moor

Step by step, I learned the full story of how this humankind became Nimblewill Nomad.

He was born Meredith Eberhart which, he stressed, back then was a boys epithet in a sleepy township in the Ozarks with a population of 336. He likened his childhood to that of Huck Finn: he spent his summers operating barefoot, fishing, and riding horses. In the autumn, he hunted quail with “his fathers”, a country doctor.

Eberhart afterwards attended optometry school, got married, and helped raise two sons of his own. They lived in Titusville, Florida( Space City, USA ), where he was soon making a six-figure salary perform pre-and post-operative is currently working on cataract patients, many of them Nasa scientists. He enjoyed helping people restore their sight and he prided himself on being able to provide for his family, but his project still felt strangely hollow.

He retired in 1993 and began expending more period living alone on a plot of land he was developing beside Nimblewill creek in Georgia. He and his wife was beginning to drift apart. There followed a dark period of about five years, about which he said he didnt recollect much. When I later called up his sons neither of whom had spoken with him in years they remembered him as a caring father-god and a dutiful provider, but likewise someone who was easily frustrated, prone to bouts of drunken brood, and, occasionally, loud( but never violent) outbursts of rage.

His new house sat near the base of Springer Mountain, which he would regularly climb. His hikes gradually grew longer; he began systematically hiking the Appalachian road segment by segment, eventually reaching as far as Pennsylvania. Then, in 1998, at the age of 60, he decided to set out on his first journey, a 4,400 walk from Florida to Cap Gasp in Quebec, along a sketchy agglomeration of trails, streets, and a few pathless wilderness regions.

Not long before, he had been diagnosed with a heart block, but he declined the doctors admonitions to have a pacemaker installed. His sons assumed he would not make it home alive.

On the trail, Eberhart renamed himself after his adopted home, Nimblewill creek. He began in the inundates of Florida and hiked north on flooded roads, where the dark, reptilian water sometimes reached to his waist. When he emerged from the inundates, all 10 of his toenails fell off. By the time he reached Quebec, it was already late October.

Over the past nine months, he had experienced a slow religion arouse, but his religion was shaken as he passed through those grim, freezing mountains. Dear Lord, why have you forsaken me? he asked, upon realise the climate darken one day at the base of Mont Jacques Cartier. However, a lucky break in the cyclone allowed him to reach the snowy mountaintop, where he sat in the sunlight, feeling the warm presence of a absolve God. After reaching the trails end, he returned to the south( on the back of a pals motorcycle) and, in a blissful denouement, walked another 178 miles from a town near Miami down to the Florida Keys, where he settled into a mood of total and absolute, perfect contentment, most near nirvana.

He returned home a different man. He stopped showering. He kept his whisker long. He began ruthlessly shedding his possessions; over such courses of three days, he burned most of the books he had collected over his lifetime, one by one, in a barrel in his front yard.

In 2003, he and his wife divorced. He conceded the house and the majority of members of his assets to his ex-wife, and signed over his other real estate keeps, including the land at Nimblewill creek, to his two sons in an irrevocable trust. Since then, he has lived exclusively off his social security checks. If those funds operated out by the end of the month, he went hungry. But what he had gained was the freedom to walk full hour, which felt to him like freedom itself. As if with each step, he wrote, these burdens were slowly but surely being drained from my body, down to the treadway beneath my feet and onto the route behind me.

Three periods I strolled with Eberhart, through swampland and farmland and urban wasteland. To pass the hours, we talked; sometimes we argued. I discovered he held a fierce faith in an almighty God, and could not bring himself to believe in the science of Darwinian evolution or anthropogenic climate change issues. He also comprised a dogged sentiment in personal freedom, including the freedom to pollute the ambiance with fossil fuels. If I want to buy an airplane and fill it full of a thousand gallons of fifty-dollar-a-gallon gasoline, and I got the money to do it, goddamn it, leave me alone! he exclaimed at one point, in exasperation.

We strolled through the very land this doctrine had run. We booze tap water that stank of kerosene. We exhaled automobile weary. We dined on frozen burritos and fried things from gas station and diners.( Sometimes we eat the leftover meat from neighboring tables .) One night we slept in a grassy ditch in the city of Port Arthur, beside an oil refinery; I strung up my hammock between an electrical pole and a chain connection fencing carrying a sign that read: Admonish: light hydrocarbon pipe.

The next night, we slept in a copse of gnarled oaks beside a graveyard, a shady grove carpeted with slender, rippling foliages. It was strangely lovely. Eberhart found them everywhere, these forgotten little shards of wilderness. The difficulty, he said, was that hikers tended to divide their lives into compartments: wilderness over here, civilization over there. The walls that exist between each of these compartments are not there naturally, he said. We generate them. The guy that has to stay where you are and look at Mount Olympus to find peace and quiet and solitude and intending life has escaped him totally!

Eberharts posture was hunched, and he had a slight hitch in his right stair, but his pace, from the outset, was remarkably steady: three miles an hour, on the tick.

Throughout the day, to ease his pains, he swallowed handfuls of aspirin and joint supplements. Each year, Eberharts hikes got a little shorter, and the winters he spent living out of his pickup truck camped in Walmart parking lots and national park grew longer. At his age, after all he had experienced, it amazed me that he could hike at all.

On his journey, he had violated four ribs, his shinbone, and his ankle. He had suffered from excruciating bouts with shingles and an abscessed tooth. He had visited unspeakable frights upon his feet. Once, up in Canada, he had been struck by lightning.

At one point on our final period together, Eberhart paused at the intersection of a gravel road to show me the contents of his pack. He spread out his things in the dust. There was a tarp tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, the smaller container of electronics, a hint of a medical kit, a plastic poncho, his maps, a pair of ultralight breeze gasps, and the piling of metal junk. All of the fabrics had the wispiness of gossamer; a strong wind could had taken most of his earthly possessions away.

Besides his truck and a few mementos he kept at his sisters home, he didnt own much more than this.

I tell my friends: each year Ive get less and less, and every year Im a happier man. I just wonder what its going to be like when I dont have anything. Thats the behavior “were coming”, and thats the style we go. Im only preparing for that a little in advance, I guess.

Instead of a toothbrush, he carried a wooden toothpick. He did not carry a stave. He did not carry a spare change of socks, a spare specify of shoes , nor any other spare clothes. He did not carry reading material , nor even a notebook. He did not carry toilet paper. His med-kit contained little more than a few bandaids, a piling of aspirin, and a sliver of a surgical blade.

Shaving down ones pack weight, he said, was a process of sloughing off ones fears.

Each object a person carries represents a particular panic: of hurt, of discomfort, of boredom, of onslaught. The last vestige of fear that even the most minimalist hikers have trouble shed, he said, was starvation. As a outcome, most people purposed up carrying way the hell too much food. He did not even carry so much as an emergency candy bar.

Earlier, I had asked him if he was afraid to die. He shook his head. Nah, I dont think so, he said. He told me his grandpa had died in the lumbers( of a heart attack while hunting ), “his fathers” had died in the lumbers( of a chainsaw collision while assembling firewood ), and he was working on it.

As I picked over his gear, a few questions continued nagging at me. Seeming sheepish, I asked if the rumor Id heard was true: did he have all of his toenails surgically removed?

He smiled. Oh, sure, he said.

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ world/ 2017/ jul/ 03/ hiking-walking-nimblewill-nomad-mj-eberhart

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