As fall approached, Jim Nanninga was eager to complete his mission of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail.
Derailed by an ankle injury last November after hiking more than 1,200 miles of the 2,180-mile trail over the course of three months, he rested and recovered and rolled out of Fort Walton Beach Sept. 6 via Greyhound Bus to his restart point in Virginia.
Hiking is what this physically fit and adventurous 70-year-old man loved to do. His list of accomplishments as a hiker is one most only dream about, having hiked over the Continental Divide in Colorado and through Glacier National Park and the Grand Tetons. He dreamed of one day hiking the nearly 3,000-mile Pacific Trail from Mexico to Canada.
Ten days into his journey on the Appalachian Trail, he died in a tragic accident while hiking. With only 600 miles or so to go, he died doing what he loved.
“He was very excited to be retired and have the time to do the Appalachian Trail. He was very disappointed when he hurt his knee and had to stop last year. But he knew he would finish the trail,” said his daughter, Laura Daugette.
Although he never got a chance to finish the trail, his passion and love for the outdoors is something to be admired, and his story is inspirational to others.
Originally from Illinois, he moved his family to Florida so he could have more time in the outdoors and he often hiked the Florida Trail. He even worked with the Florida Trail Association to clean up the trail.
It was on those trips along the Florida Trail that he started researching the Appalachian Trail.
On Aug. 9 of last year, the research and planning stages ended. It was time to conquer one of America’s most famous and challenging trails, one Nanninga described on his Following Jim Nanninga on the Appalachian Trail Facebook page as the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest 16 times due to the elevation.
The first few days weren’t easy. He was pick-pocketed on the Greyhound Bus trip to the trail’s starting point in Maine.
On his second day on the trail, another hiker accidentally took his contact lenses, which forced him to wear glasses – that was a challenge because they kept fogging up in the rain – and his custom-made backpack broke.
Yet, he pushed forward, refusing to let the adversity stop him, and by Oct. 11 of last year, he had reached the 700-mile mark. Just under three weeks later, he hit 1,000 miles.
“He had set a goal of 20 miles per day but soon realized that the terrain was just too rough,” Daugette said. “It was slippery and steep and he even had to climb through crevices to get through certain parts. One day he couldn’t even hike up to the top of Mount Washington because the wind was so strong and it kept pushing him back.”
Despite those challenges, he loved the kindness he experienced among fellow hikers and would hike with many of them on and off throughout his journey.
In one instance, a family member on his Facebook page posted that he hiked four miles in the dark with another Chicago Cubs fan so they could make it to a hotel on the night of Nov. 2 to watch the Cubs win their first World Series in 108 years.
“He enjoyed the camaraderie that he instantly felt with other hikers,” Daugette said.
One of his final posts on Facebook described how he had a long day up and down Humpback Mountain. One of the locals asked if he could pray for him. They held hands and prayed. That was his update from Sept. 8. Six days later, he tragically died.
Yet, his memory will live on. On the obituary posted on his page Sept. 18, someone commented: “Hike on, Mountain Man Jim. This only means you are on to your next great adventure.”
It was a touching comment in honor of a man who embraced adventure in this life as well.
Laura Daugette is on the administrative team for Navarre Press and has worked with us for four years. She was attending a wedding in Illinois when she received the news her father, Jim Nanninga, had died on the Appalachian Trail. Reports say he fell off a cliff while hiking. A church group found him and called for rescue. They stayed with him. It took more than 12 hours for rescuers to reach him. Due to the terrain and the trail being designated as a national park, no motorized vehicles or equipment could be brought in. Jim Nanninga died in the great outdoors doing what he loved. This is our tribute to him.
Feautred in the Nov. 9 issue of Navarre Press. Subscribe online at navarrepress.com for as little as $38 per year.
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