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An escape from our pandemic reality: One man's solo adventure through the Appalachians

Escaping our COVID reality, one step at a time
Kevin Newsome, 66, at the top of Mt. Katahdin after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Posted at 11:50 AM, Oct 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-11 11:50:27-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Some of us might want to unplug from the news or social media for a few hours, maybe a day or two, tops. One Tampa man escaped it all for 171 days.

Kevin Newsome, 66, said he checked in with his wife of 36 years and at times (when there was internet) jumped online and reconnected with the world. But, for the most part, he was living a new life, with new friends and a new name.

"I've always wondered about an epic adventure. And I'm getting to the point where I'm at the age where if I don't have one now, I may never get the chance," Newsome said. "I think I just wanted to be healthier. I put on the 15, the COVID 15 that everybody else had; it's probably a good thing because I lost 36 pounds doing this hike."

Newsome said a few weeks into the hike that he crashed into a picnic table walking down a hill during a rainstorm, and his alter ego was born.

"Somebody yelled he's 'Reckless Abandon,' and somebody else said that should be his trail name. It took me about a week or two before I accepted the trail name and introduced myself as 'Reckless Abandon.' And once I did, that was my name."

Newsome, a professional photographer, gave his clients to other photographers he knew and left the world he knew behind him. He kissed his wife of 36 years goodbye and hit the trail on March 23, 2021.

"It seems rather daunting at first, and you do go through periods of I'll never get there. You know, at this pace, I'll never get there, and you do have a much slower pace in the beginning because your legs are not yet developed and prepared for what you're asking them to do," Newsome said. "Take it one step at a time. Take it one day at a time, take it a hundred-mile chunk at a time, one state at a time."

He got banged up with bruises and scratches. But, it was a bad case of cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection, that almost ended his journey.

"It just makes your ankles swell, and I couldn't walk for nine days, so I had I had to take nine days off, or I didn't go anywhere I stayed in a hostel for nine days," Newsome said. "And, that really has a mental effect on you because you have to come to grips with okay, the goalposts is just moving every day I'm not moving. My finish date is moving."

Newsome met new friends, saw plenty of bears and deer on the trail but never a moose. One of the animals he was hoping to see. But, all in all, he said it was one of the most amazing experiences of his life.

"I think I'm a little more patient. You know, I'm not as stressed. I don't feel like I'm part of the rat race. But of course, I've only been back a week and a half. So I don't know how well how long that change will last, but I think I'm more patient," Newsome said. "It did make you reflect on what you have and what you miss, and you start to discover things that you were taking for granted, and you suddenly have a far greater appreciation for, my wife is certainly one of them."

On September 10, after making the 2,193-mile trek from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, in Maine, Newsome reached the trail's end.

"I think the last day was an emotional one. I was laughing hysterically most of the day because I was finally realizing the completion of something that was, you know, far more epic than I really thought it was going to be," Newsome said. "You know, the first day you're apprehensive, you're terrified. You're more afraid of making a fool of yourself in front of all the other hikers because you're going to do everything wrong. Everybody does everything wrong in Georgia. I wasn't looking for anything; I was just out there to have a good time and see if I could, you know, compete with this challenge of mine, and I was able to."

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. Would Newsome ever attempt a similar challenge again? Nope.

"I enjoyed the process, and I enjoyed the camp life. But hiking itself was never that big a passion of mine. I never hiked until I went on this trail," Newsome said.