Appalachian Trail hiker speaks to local students


Photo: Second-grade students raise their hands with questions for guest speaker Dalton Nelson. (Courtesy of Beth Panik, Mitchell Elementary)

Mitchell Elementary School teacher Beth Panik recently gave her second-grade class a special treat when Panik’s former student shared his experiences in hiking the entire Appalachian Trail.

Dalton Nelson, who was a student of Panik during her first year of teaching, accomplished the above feat over a span of 156 days in 2017.

“Our second graders did a week-long study recently on the true story of Pam Flowers, who hiked the entire Appalachian Trail with her dog Ellie,” said Panik. “I thought, ‘What better way for them to understand what it was really like than to have someone tell them in person?’ And that’s where Dalton came in.”

Flowers hiked the Appalachian Trail starting in Maine in September 2008 and ending in Georgia in April 2009. She hosted Ellie’s Walking Club during her hike, in which students were encouraged to try and match the number of miles that Flowers and Ellie walked throughout the school year. If participants were unable to match the distance walked, Flowers encouraged them to pledge goals of their own.

Nelson made his 2,190-mile trip starting in Georgia and ending Maine.

Panik said her students were “mesmerized” by Nelson’s stories, including an up-close encounter with a bear and surviving days of heavy rain and a blizzard.

“Of course, the students wanted to know things like what David ate, which was a lot of astronaut-type food and Ramen Noodles, and how he showered, which he did not do for days and sometimes weeks at a time,” said Panik. “For his bathroom breaks, David showed the students his bag with toilet paper and a shovel. He also shared the contents of his 30-pound backpack he carried the entire time, which included a down sleeping bag and jacket, a tiny tent, a water filter and a very few other necessities. He even gave each student a chance to try and pick it up, which they loved.”

Nelson’s talk was geared toward his young audience, but it was also inspirational.

“I once sat in this very library where you guys are now, and any one of you can accomplish what I did or whatever else you set your mind to,” Nelson said. “Believe that you can and surround yourself with good people who believe in you as well, and you can do anything.”

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