Monroeville man to travel entire Appalachian Trail to raise funds for hospital
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Matt Gavasto of Monroeville thrives on adventure. Each year, he takes several weeks off from his job as pizza delivery manager at Veltre's Pizza in Oakmont to bike, hike or kayak hundreds of miles throughout North America.
On April 25, he will begin a 110-day solitary hike that will take the 35-year-old on what he hopes is the entire 2,168 miles of the Appalachian Trail, from Springer Mountain in Georgia through 14 states to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
In addition to challenging himself physically, he's also raising money for Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. For every mile he hikes, he plans to raise $1 for the hematology/oncology unit.
"This is the first time I'm actually raising money [for a cause], so I'm really excited," Mr. Gavasto said.
To prepare, Mr. Gavasto hikes carrying a 50-pound backpack three miles, twice a day, through trails and streets near his home. He will carry freeze-dried food in the pack.
"There's a stretch of trail where the nearest town is 10 miles off trail," he explained.
He said he is not concerned with the insects, poison ivy, summer humidity or even bears that have been spotted on the trail; rather, Mr. Gavasto said his biggest fear is that he won't make it the whole way to Maine.
He plans to do the trip it in 31/2 months, even though research shows that the hike generally takes closer to five full months.
Still he notes "anything north of Pittsburgh is gravy."
According to TrailQuest, a website for the long trails of America's National Scenic Trail Systems, only 12 percent of people who commit to traveling the entire trail actually finish.
Heather Veltre, manager of Veltre's, has known Mr. Gavasto for seven years and is optimistic he'll be in that elite group who finish.
"He's always reached the goals he's set," she said. "It's his personality ... he doesn't give up."
Mr. Gavasto has the support of many in the Oakmont community and Children's Hospital, which provided him with 20 collection canisters to place in businesses throughout the borough.
"He called two days later with a request for 15 other stores who said they would use them," said Bree Mueller of the hospital foundation.
Riverview high school students helped distribute fliers about his hike and donation information as well.
"He's well-known and well-respected in the community," Ms. Mueller said.
On a recent trip to Children's to finalize paperwork for his donation campaign, Mr. Gavasto toured the unit.
"He was mesmerized," Ms. Mueller said. "His passion for helping is awesome; you can see it in his eyes."
Since he was 18 years old, Mr. Gavasto said he has challenged himself by traveling extreme distances -- mostly alone.
He biked about 4,000 miles in 43 days (an average of 93 miles a day) from Virginia Beach, Va., to San Francisco three years ago.
He motorcycled about 16,000 miles last summer in three months, going from Oakmont to Yukon territory in Canada, then to Alaska, and traveled through Anchorage and Fairbanks.
But, the most challenging was a kayak trip from Apollo to the Gulf of Mexico. He kayaked a little more 2,000 miles in 55 days from May to July 2010, traveling from the Kiskiminetas River to the Ohio River to the Mississippi and then to the Gulf. He recalled that it was so hot on the Mississippi he had to mount an umbrella on his kayak.
"The scenery doesn't change as it does on a bike trip. It's just river and trees," he said.
He said he wants to put his love of adventure to work raising money for charity.
To support Mr. Gavasto's efforts for the hematology/oncology unit, go to givetochildrens.org\donate and click on "in honor of" and enter "Matt Gavasto."
First Published April 12, 2012 7:33 am