augusta free press news

Trekking for a cause

Story by Chris Graham

tfc_4forweb.gifThe next time we see John Robb, he’ll look … well, we can say a little different, and leave it at that.

“I’ll need a belt. I know that much,” said Robb, who is leaving Waynesboro for Georgia this week to begin a seven-month, 2,179-mile journey up the Appalachian Trail.

Robb is walking with a reason – raising money for Gilda’s Club, a nonprofit started in honor of the late actress Gilda Radner that provides a meeting place for families and friends and others affected by cancer.

His goal is to raise $5 per mile walked, or about $11,000, and he’s more than halfway there already. But he still has a long way to go to meet that goal, in addition to the long walk that he has up ahead of him.

“What got me thinking about it a girlfriend of mine got really sick – recurring brain tumors, total blindness, diabetes, et cetera. And I really felt kind of helpless sitting around looking at her situation. So I wanted to find a way to help her either directly or indirectly. And the opportunity to work with Gilda’s Club came about. And while I can’t run marathons, I can walk, so that’s what I’m going to do, walk for charity,” Robb said in an interview for today’s “Augusta Free Press Show.”
Robb has a history with physical ailments himself. He has undergone 12 surgical procedures on his knees, shoulders and neck and has diabetes to boot. Which put my question to him regarding how one prepares for a seven-month walk through the woods in a whole different light.

“I think the biggest thing in order to get ready for me was not to screw anything else up,” Robb said. “I tried to be conservative. Starting three or four months ago, I’d hike a week at a time, 30, 40 miles, stuff like that. Just enough to get used to my equipment, break in my boots, make sure I was comfortable with everything. And then about two and a half weeks ago, I got out here and have really hit it hard, six to nine miles a day. With very limited cartilage left, I’d rather blow it up on the Trail than walking around the block.”

The history with his knees, in particular, did alter his plans in one way.

“Individuals that have a full complement of cartilage can do this in about six months, five and a half to six months. But I’ve alloted for seven months. I’m going to go slow at first, and gradually build up, and hopefully finish by Oct. 1st,” Robb said.

That has him in Maine by Oct. 1, incidentally. And it promises to be mighty cold in Maine in the early fall. But Robb isn’t scared off by that prospect, or the chance that he will encounter any number of predatory-type critters out on the Trail.

In fact, Robb is looking at his Appalachian Trail walk as the first in a series of eight long nature walks through which he will raise money for charity.

“There are eight national scenic trails, and my goal, if I can hold up physically, is to become the first guy to hike all eight for charity,” said Robb, who details his plans for future walks at a website,, that he will use to update the world on his progress.

The site has helped get his message out to the world at large.

“We’ve already had 1,100 hits, and the site’s only been up for about three and a half weeks. I’ve been getting e-mails from people that live along the Trail offering their cabin as a rest stop, stuff like that. So people are aware of it. Word has started to get out. I’m really happy with it,” Robb said.

Aside from a couple of friends and family members insisting that he has to be crazy to set out on a 2,000-mile walk, “everybody has been real supportive,” Robb said.

The friend who inspired the walk has even helped him come up with the name that he will be known by on the Appalachian Trail for the next several months.

“I’ve thought long and hard about it. And since I’ve got bad knees, I came up with this with my girlfriend – I’m going to go with Hell on Bad Wheels,” Robb said.

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.