Statistics prove that those who begin the Appalachian Trail alone have a higher rate of completion. But sometimes two heads are better than one, and this power couple consisting of Nick Luchetti and Donnie Kirk are lining themselves up for success! Attempting the entire Appalachian Trail starting northbound in late February 2017, they’re stoked to trek the trail together, but have a little extra motivation as well. These two hope to raise awareness and donations for some absolutely incredible and important causes!
The first long distance hike for both, this endeavor one unlike any other they’ve attempted. However, both parties have accrued plenty of accomplishments, both on and off trail, that have prepared them for ~5 months, and ~2,200 miles of the best terrain in
the eastern United States. Donnie, herself, is no stranger to pain. Starring in both track and rugby throughout her schooling, she understands the importance of strength. She recounted a story to me about her time at track practice. Her team used to do a drill that forced each athlete to push past their lactic threshold. They would run on a treadmill that was going too fast for them to slow down, forcing themselves to push past the initial buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, the time when most people want to quit. Donnie Kirk is no quitter. Unfortunately, Donnie has experienced some tough situations outside of hiking and sports. She is someone who has suffered mental and physical abuse at the hands of others. Not only Donnie, but her grandmother before her also experienced domestic abuse. Donnie tells me that her Grandma, to get away from her toxic situation, would go for long walks in the woods where nobody was around. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, as Donnie is about to embark on a longer walk than her Grandma could probably even imagine. The stories of both Donnie and her grandmother parallel one of the most famous stories in AT history, of Grandma Gatewood, the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, who was notoriously abused by her husband.
After overcoming numerous obstacles on the sports field and in her personal life, supplemented with recent forays into the outdoors such as trips to Mt. Mitchell and Linville Gorge, NC, Donnie is ready for her trek along the Appalachian Trail. However, not without a great cause! Donnie hopes to raise awareness about domestic violence against women. Find out more about Donnie, her history, and her reasons for hiking the Appalachian Trail on her GoFundMe page! She needs a little bit of support to help her complete this lifelong goal! If you can, donate to her so she can hike the good hike and fight the good fight to end violence towards women. However, if you can’t donate directly to Donnie, she asks that you donate to National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Walking tall and proud along side Donnie will be her significant other, Nick Luchetti. Similarly, Nick Luchetti, from a young age was always fighter. And for that reason, the Appalachian Trail stands no chance. However, Nick wasn’t always the hiker he is today. Over the past few years, he has logged some impressive trips, including a thru-hike of the Art Loeb Trail in North Carolina, and a backpacking trip over Franconia Ridge, around the Pemigewasset Wilderness and to the summit of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. He describes this trip from Franconia Ridge to Mt. Washington as one of the most challenging trips of his life, trying to maintain his own attitude through numerous days of pouring rain while making sure he didn’t ever lose focus on supporting the campers he was leading. Despite the challenges, Nick describes this as the trip where he caught his bug for backpacking. But he also tells the story of his first hike, one on which I, in fact, took him. One Sunday afternoon in college at Virginia Tech, he told me he wanted to go chill on a hill. My answer was immediate, “Let’s go to Bald Knob.” Bald Knob is a flat rock outcropping in the Mountain Lake Wilderness of Virginia. It requires a long drive up the Mountain Lake Road, but a short ~.4 mile hike to the knob. However, this ~.4 mile is steep, and being arguably Nick’s first hike, it kicked his ass. As the sun was setting, I told him, “this is why we do this.” But whether improving from huffing up ~.4 mile trail to being capable of attempting the ~2,000 mile AT, to overcoming life’s most difficult obstacles, achieving success requires focus. Focus on accomplishing the tasks at hand no matter how hard, but also taking another step, the next step. That’s just what Nick had to do, undergoing treatment as a child with Wilms tumor kidney cancer at the age of 4.
Nick, being a childhood cancer survivor himself, has painful memories of treatment and his family’s struggle through the entire process. He recounts how difficult it was to just “be a kid,” and have fun during this time of his life. Whether or not he completely understood his circumstances at that time is unclear, but he and his family never gave up on the process. Eventually, he was completely cured! Reflecting back on his personal experiences, Nick will be an ambassador for The Sunshine Kids along the Appalachian Trail. The Sunshine Kids is an organization that, rather than fund cancer research efforts, helps kids with cancer engage in positive group activities so they can just feel like kids throughout the duration of their illness and treatment. Activities The Sunshine Kids fund and organize range from hospital parties to field excursions and sporting events. Nick plans to promote the organization during his thru-hike, on his facebook site “Take Another Step: Nick Luchetti’s AT Thru-Hike.” He has been in touch with the organization in hopes of finding a way to update directly with the organization, and maybe even organize a day when some kids in the hospital can meet him on the trail in hopes to inspire! You can support his fundraising efforts by pledging to donate a small amount for each mile he hikes, and depending on how far he makes it along the AT will be the total amount that you will donate as his sponsor. Check it out on his HikeFor page!
But you don’t even know what brought Nick and Donnie together! Who knew NASA (yes, NASA!) could be such a good matchmaker. Nick and Donnie were in the same Master of Geography program at Eastern Carolina University, Donnie focusing on Geomorphology and Nick on Atmospheric Science. They maintained a strong friendship during grad school, and kept in touch as they transitioned into internships with NASA, Donnie at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, Nick in Asheville, NC in association with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Their shared experiences working with the same organization with similar interests help keep their line of communication open until they reunited at the headquarters at Langley. Their great communication and similar interests were too hard to ignore, and the rest is history. Since then, they’ve dedicated time to improving together as outdoors people. As a testament to their relationship, as well as their deep belief that always, but now more than ever, excellent objective science must be funded, defended, and available to the American public, they plan to promote Penny 4 NASA. Penny 4 NASA is an organization that hopes to promote the need for and to influence legislation that will allow NASA to receive a single penny on the dollar from the federal government for funding. NASA currently receives less than 0.50% of the US Federal Budget, about 0.48 cents per dollar. That’s less than 1.00 cent! NASA has given us some of the most important experiments, research, and technologies that we use each day on earth to improve our every days lives, predict and mitigate natural disasters, and provide disaster relief! Imagine what they can do with just 1 cent! Now, with Donald Trump planning to cut NASA’s funding for Earth Science, it is more important than ever to make sure NASA gets the funding they need to continue doing research here at home to combat climate change and to protect the natural environments we need to sustain life and in which we enjoy recreating!
It is clear that Nick and Donnie are an all-star team prepared to not only complete the Appalachian Trail but create change along the way! They are poised to dedicate serious time to not only their own dreams, but to helping others improve their situations and hopefully continue to succeed in life. That’s pretty admirable! Whether or not they make it from Springer to Katahdin, it’s great to know that their dedication to helping others will extend far beyond the beginning and ending points of the Appalachian Trail. If you feel inspired by any of the causes mentioned above, click the links and see how you can donate or get involved. Click on their sites to follow them along the trail and track their progress! I’m excited to say that I’ll be able to walk alongside these two!