Adventurer -- and now philanthropist -- Matt Gavasto hiked more than 2,000 miles for 104 days on the Appalachian Trail to raise money for patients who have uphill climbs of a different sort -- in the hematology/oncology unit at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
Mr. Gavasto of Monroeville began the 2,184-mile trek in April and finished last month when he reached the trail's northern end at Mount Katahdin, Maine.
He raised about $1,730 -- $1,400 from donations placed in cans at more than 30 businesses in Oakmont and Verona and $330 through a Children's Hospital website.
"People along the trail were extremely excited about the website and made sure they got the right information about how to donate," said Mr. Gavasto, adding that one local woman wrote him a $50 check on the spot. "Another family [from Duncannon, Pa.] took me in, fed me, gave me a place to sleep and insisted on giving me money to take with me," he said.
The 25-year-old began hiking April 25 at the trail's southernmost tip -- Springer Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia.
The living creatures he passed on the trail included daytime hikers, nine bears and a rattlesnake in New Jersey.
By the time he got into New England, contact with people on the trail became a rare event.
He said the average time to hike the entire trail is 5.5 months, so he moved at a faster pace, averaging 21 miles a day.
"In the Shenandoahs in Virginia, I did 107 miles in three days because the trail was easier, and I had my trail legs by then. There were three other days when I did 41 miles each day," he said.
Ditching his tent while still in Georgia to shed some weight from his 50-pound backpack, he slept in shelters -- three walls and a roof -- that are located every 10 or so miles along the trail.
To avoid mice in the shelters, he did a lot of "cowboy camping" under the stars.
He said when he started his journey, he was recovering from an ankle injury that he further irritated while hiking, but he suffered no injuries on the trail.
Mr. Gavasto works as pizza delivery manager at Veltre's Pizza in Oakmont.
Without hesitation, he said he would hike the Appalachian Trail again.
"But first I'd like to kayak from Chicago to New York City or ride my bike across the country again," he said.
"You'd be surprised at what you can do. Adrenaline has a lot to do with it," he said.
Laurie Bailey, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.