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Hiker takes heat, blister in stride

July 22, 1999

Asher WolfBy ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




WEVERTON - He's walked 1,000 miles through driving rain, searing heat and five states. He's faced poisonous snakes and a blister that felt like it had more elevation than some mountains he's scaled.

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His socks are stiff - and he's ready for more.

Asher Wolf, who is a kidney transplant recipient, is hiking the 2,158-mile Appalachian Trail to raise awareness about organ donation.

Wolf will leave today on the second half of his trek, after spending several days at his home on Valley Road near Weverton in southern Washington County.

Wolf, 24, departed from the national scenic trail's southernmost point, Springer Mountain, Ga., on May 1.

Although he has at times been bored, drenched, exhausted, startled by rattlesnakes, annoyed by other hikers' complaints, and burdened with a blister 3 1/2 inches high and 1 inch wide, Wolf said he is eager to return to the trail.

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"It's fantastic out there," he said.

He listed as the trip's high points the rhododendron in full bloom at Mount Rogers in Virginia, the mother bear with two cubs in the Shenandoah National Forest, and the wild ponies and turkeys he has met along his journey.

Then there was the trail shelter with the shower and pay phone.

"I could order pizza," Wolf said.

It was one of the few times his fatigue didn't overshadow his appetite.

On a "good day," Wolf said he rises at 5 a.m. to start hiking by 7 a.m. He has averaged 15 to 20 miles a day, he said.

Power Bars and Fig Newtons have given him energy en route. Peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches have served as lunch staples and freeze-dried meals as dinner fare, Wolf said.

Within three hours of reentering civilization one week ago, Wolf said he consumed a pack of Combos pretzel snacks, a soda, two McDonald's cheeseburgers and a crispy chicken sandwich, two roast beef sandwiches and a large bowl of ice cream.

"I'm eating anything," he said.

He's got a long trip ahead of him.

Wolf said his health is "terrific," but upcoming portions of the trail are daunting.

After traversing the "reasonable" terrain of the mid-Atlantic part of the trail, Wolf will tackle the rocky stretch through Pennsylvania, he said.

"There's nothing I hate more than rocks. They slow you down and there's always a chance to get hurt," Wolf said.

Though he expressed some fear at the prospect of scaling the "enormous" White Mountains in New Hampshire, which will comprise much of the last 200 miles of his journey, Wolf said he is "feeling like the finish is so possible at this point."

He hopes to reach the trail's northernmost point in the central Maine wilderness by early October.

Asher was 15 when he was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that attacks part of the body, in his case the kidneys.

Asher's mother, Judy, immediately stepped forward as a donor. In January 1994, the transplant was performed at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Within days of his operation, Asher was up and walking.

He went on to graduate from Oberlin College in 1996, and then spent more than a year teaching English in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning. Asher returned to the United States this spring and began proposing his Appalachian Trail hike to potential sponsors.

He found a sponsor in the National Transplant Assistance Fund, a Bryn Mawr, Pa.-based nonprofit fund that provides financial support for transplant patients and their families. So far, more than $2,500 has been donated to the fund in Asher's name.

The overall cost for the kidney transplant and five years of follow-up treatment is around $190,000, according to fund spokeswoman Sidney Constien. While health insurance can help defray a large part of the cost, the expense is still large for the organ recipient.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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