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Father, son set sights on Appalachian Trail to raise funds for vets

MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Two Eufaula residents are making final preparations for a trip of a lifetime, with which they will raise money to build a retreat for veterans.

Kevin Steele, 45, and his son, Hunter, 19, are planning to hike the approximately 2,200 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail to raise $100,000 for Active Heroes, a Louisville, Ky., organization whose focus is on suicide prevention among veterans, Steele said. The organization plans to build a retreat in Shepherdsville, Ky., for veterans and active-duty military members and their families. Shepherdsville is about 20 miles south of Louisville.

Kevin Steele said he has wanted to hike the trail for many years after reading articles and books about it. His son read one of the books during his freshman year in high school. After reading it, he asked his father whether they could hike the Appalachian Trail someday.

They have been preparing for the hike for about four years. About a year ago, they decided to make their hike a fundraiser.

“It started off as a father-son adventure of a lifetime,” Kevin Steele said. “We rolled it into a charity for those bad days on the trail, when you just want to quit and go home. Those are the days that it’s not about us: Put your backpack on and let’s go.”

The two will begin their hike March 17.

The trail stretches approximately 2,200 miles, from Spring Mountain, Ga., to Mount Katahdin, Maine.

The two plan to complete the hike in six months.

Along the way, they plan to spread the word about Active Heroes, Steele said.

Their goal is to get 5,000 people to donate $22 each, which works out to a penny per mile, he said.

“As of this moment, we’re sitting at $4,100,” he said. “Not bad, considering we haven’t even set foot on the trail yet.”

Donations can be made at their website, www.HikeForHeroes2014.org.

The hikers’ preparation has included a lot of time on the treadmill for the elder Steele and short hikes in the Ozarks. They also have hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail last year, Steele said.

During their first two to three weeks of the hike, they will take it slow until they get their “hiker legs,” and then they will be able to walk 12 to 15 miles a day.

The Steeles are planning to post reports on a blog during their hike and will take time to “spread the word” about their goal in the towns on the trail, he said.

The Steeles are paying all their expenses. All of the money they raise will benefit the charity, Steele said.

“When someone makes a donation, when they click that link, it immediately opens up a new window at the actual charity’s website,” he said. “We’re not touching the money — don’t want anything to do with it. When they make a donation, the charity immediately receives it, and they get their email receipt from the charity.

“One hundred percent of the money we raise is earmarked to help build that retreat.”

The elder Steele is looking forward to the trip, which has been carefully planned. He said his biggest concern is “just physically holding up. ... It’s a beating on your body, no doubt about it, to go do something like that. So that’s my biggest (concern), just not getting hurt.”
 

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