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Hiker to go extra 2,180 miles to fight cancer

| Sunday, April 22, 2012, 7:10 p.m.
Apollo native Matt Gavasto takes a break in the desert Southwest while biking from Virginia to California. Gavasto now has his sights set on completing the Appalachian Trail in just three-and-a-half months. Submitted

Every year about 2,000 people try to hike the Appalachian Trail, normally only 500 of those people complete the 2,180-mile trek from Georgia to Maine.

Starting Wednesday in Dawsonville, Ga., Apollo native Matt Gavasto -- in an effort to raise money for the Oncology and Hematology Unit at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh -- will try to become one of the 25 percent each year that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy calls a "thru-walker".

A "thru-walker' is a person who walks the length of the trail in one continuous attempt.

"I've never raised money for anything before but have always wanted to," said Gavasto, a self-proclaimed adventurer. "My grandmother died of cancer; my father died of cancer; and one of my friends is battling cancer.

"My dad died when he was 59 and people said how young that is. These are kids with cancer. It's hard to wrap your head around," he said, referred to the patients at Children's Hospital.

Gavasto's summer excursions have included kayaking from Apollo to New Orleans, biking from Virginia to California, and completing the 42-mile hike into the Alaskan wilderness made famous by the movie "Into the Wild."

According to the Trail Conservancy, it normally takes a hiker about five months to complete the grueling walk along the Appalachian Trail, which stretches through 14 states. Gavasto is going to attempt the hike in three and a half months, walking roughly 20 miles a day.

Although the Trail Conservancy does not keep time records, the fastest-known completion of the trail was done last summer in 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes by a North Carolina woman, Jennifer Pharr Davis.

Although there are hotels along the trail, Gavasto said he will sleep under the stars a majority of the nights, only stopping at a hotel every 10 to 14 days.

The trail is frequented by numerous dangerous animals, including black bears, copperhead snakes and rattlesnakes, but Gavasto -- who now lives in Monroeville and works as a delivery manager at Veltre's Pizza in Oakmont -- said he's not afraid.

"I'm not worried about bears, or snakes or anything," he said. "The only thing I'm worried about is failure."

Gavasto said only about 12 percent of people who hike the whole trail can do it in less than four months, but he is confident.

"If anyone can do it, it's me," he said.

How to donate

Matt Gavasto is trying to raise money for the Oncology and Hematology Unit at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. To donate, go to and put "Matt Gavasto" in the comment section.

About the trail

An estimated 2 million to 3 million people visit sections of the Appalachian Trail every year. Here are some fun facts about the trail:

• Of the 14 states the trail passes through, it covers the most miles in Virginia (550) and the fewest in West Virginia (4).

• Maryland and West Virginia are the easiest states to hike through, New Hampshire and Maine are the hardest.

• The total elevation hiked from the beginning to the end of the trail is the equivalent to hiking Mt. Everest 16 times.

• A hiker who starts the trail in Georgia and ends in Maine is called a "GAME" hiker, while one who starts in Maine and ends in Georgia is called a "MEGA" hiker.

• Someone who walks the whole length of the trail is called a "2,200-miler."

• The 2,180-mile trail was completed in 1937 and is part of the National Parks system.

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