A sense of home­less­ness

Hiker Robert Mes­sick’s long walk home lends fresh in­sights

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­pub.com

EAS­TON — Robert Mes­sick has re­turned home for a cou­ple weeks from his jour­ney as a through-hiker on the Ap­palachian Trail, but he’s re­turn­ing to fin­ish his long walk home for the home­less.

The Tal­bot County na­tive and St. Michaels at­tor­ney took a break from the 2,190-mile trek to cel­e­brate his mother’s 95th birth­day and at­tend to some work for his clients, as well as spend some time with his part­ner Lynda and his chil­dren, Marisa and Rob.

Al­most two-thirds of the $35,000 goal he set has been raised for the Tal­bot In­terfaith Shel­ter, 107 Golds­bor­ough Street in Eas­ton. He’s hop­ing the cul­mi­na­tion of the hike in Oc­to­ber or Novem­ber co­in­cides with the full amount com­ing in.

Beginning his jour­ney on April 15, Mes­sick, 62, had planned on a five-month hike to raise money and aware­ness of ru­ral home­less­ness.

An in­jury on an icy and treach­er­ous por­tion of the trail in the Great Smoky Mountains, how­ever, forced him to so­journ in Damascus, Va., to ice his in­jured right knee and take it easy for about a week.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ap­palachian Trail Con­ser­vancy, the trail is the long­est hik­ing foot­path in the world, span­ning 14 states be­tween Springer Moun­tain in Ge­or­gia and Mount Katahdin in Maine.

“(The weather) was pretty mis­er­able in the beginning,” Mes­sick said. “When I got into the

Smoky Mountains, the high­est el­e­va­tion on the whole trail ... at 6,400 feet, I was in snow and freez­ing rain and winds blow­ing up to 80 mph, so that was pretty nasty.”

“I re­ally had a bone-chill­ing day com­ing to Hot Springs, North Carolina,” Mes­sick said. “For­tu­nately, I was able to soak in the hot springs. But it was a very wet spring, so a lot of rain. That in it­self didn’t bother me too much. You never stay dry — you just try to stay warm.”

His ex­pe­ri­ences on the trail have broad­ened Mes­sick’s per­spec­tive on home­less­ness and made him more em­pa­thetic.

“In a sense I’m home­less when I’m on the trail,” Mes­sick said. “I don’t have a per­ma­nent home, and I don’t have much of a shel­ter. I was sleep­ing in a ham­mock sys­tem, but work­ing to­wards the goal of light­en­ing my load, I’d sent that home, so I just sleep un­der a tarp to keep the rain off.”

Mes­sick said one ex­pe­ri­ence in par­tic­u­lar sharply fo­cused the home­less­ness is­sue for him.

“Early in my hike, it had rained pretty heav­ily one day, and a lot of my gear was wet. I got to a mon­u­ment (in) a park on the trail, and the sun came out, so I took ad­van­tage of that to spread out all of my gear to try to get it to dry out in the sun,” Mes­sick said. “Then I also fig­ured I’d go ahead and cook my meal to wait for that to dry.”

“A bus­load of tourists showed up, and I’ve got all that stuff spread out, and it was all my worldly pos­ses­sions, and I’m sit­ting there eat­ing this meal, and I def­i­nitely felt like a home­less per­son at that point,” he said.

“The hike has also given me a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion for what’s re­ally es­sen­tial and what isn’t,” Mes­sick said.

Mes­sick has seen spectacular vis­tas and ex­pe­ri­enced the ex­tremes of weather. But the high­light of his trek has been meet­ing peo­ple from all over the world and from all walks of life.

He’s met ec­cen­tric char­ac­ters like a hiker out­fit­ted in a re­pro­duc­tion World War II Japanese mil­i­tar y uni­form and an older man who started out with a 72-pound pack that con­tained ma­chetes, a cow­boy duster coat and 10 pounds of mar­bles for his sling­shot.

“I’ve met some peo­ple who are home­less or were close to it on the trail, so they’re not typ­i­cally the through-hik­ers. They’re just peo­ple look­ing for a place to hang out and stay,” Mes­sick said, “The home­less on the trail are more preva­lent in the win­ter months when the hik­ers are gone. They al­most kind of come in and take over the shel­ter. I had heard of it, so it didn’t sur­prise me.”

The home­less hun­ker down in the three-sided shel­ters pro­vided to hik­ers on the trail, es­pe­cially in the win­ter. “State parks are a lit­tle more friendly to the home­less,” Mes­sick said.

Vet­er­ans who “rep­re­sent a large num­ber of the home­less, un­for­tu­nately” live in the woods as whole com­mu­ni­ties, Mes­sick said.

“(This ex­pe­ri­ence) has given me the op­por­tu­nity to raise some con­scious­ness about home­less­ness,” Mes­sick said.

“We don’t think of home­less­ness in (this) com­mu­nity, but a sur­pris­ing num­ber live here,” he said. “We have more ru­ral home­less­ness here as com­pared to the cities where it’s more ob­vi­ous with peo­ple hang­ing out on heat­ing grates or over­passes.

“The home­less here may be stay­ing in barns, or in cars if they have a car,” he said. “The Tal­bot In­terfaith Shel­ter work­ing on a project to cre­ate a model for ru­ral home­less shel­ters. It’s def­i­nitely an is­sue.”

TIS, a vol­un­tary in­ter­faith­based ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tion in Tal­bot County, is the only shel­ter in the county that is able to ac­com­mo­date home­less fam­i­lies, said Julie Lowe, Tal­bot In­terfaith Shel­ter’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

Lowe said Tal­bot In­terfaith Shel­ter has two main goals; the first is to pro­vide safe, tem­po­rary shel­ter to res­i­dents, in­clud­ing men, women and chil­dren who lack ad­e­quate hous­ing opportunities on the Mid-Shore; the sec­ond is to raise aware­ness of ru­ral home­less­ness lo­cally.

Mes­sick will pick up the third, 570-mile leg of his ad­ven­ture in Ben­ning­ton, Vt., on Sept. 18. His plan is to fin­ish his through-hike “by the end of Oc­to­ber, but I may have to go back out at the end of Novem­ber,” Mes­sick said.

He already has talks sched­uled when he re­turns. One pre­sen­ta­tion is sched­uled for Nov. 16 at the Tal­bot County Li­brary in Eas­ton, and the next is Nov. 18 fol­low­ing a Family Fun Walk in Ox­ford.

To do­nate to Mes­sick’s cause or join him for a por­tion of the trail, visit tis.net­work­for­good.com. Fol­low his jour­ney on Face­book at @on­theAp palachi­anTrail, on Twit­ter at @robertmes­sickat, on In­sta­gram at @robertmes­sickon theat or fol­low his trail jour­nal at www.trailjour­nals.com.

For more in­for­ma­tion about TIS, to do­nate or to vol­un­teer, con­tact Tal­bot In­terfaith Shel­ter at www.tal­bot­in­ter faithshel­ter.org, vol­un­teers@ tal­bot­in­ter­faithshel­ter.org, 410-690-3120 or find Tal­bot In­terfaith Shel­ter on Face­book.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Robert Mes­sick stands on the sum­mit of Sad­dle­back Moun­tain, Maine, on the Ap­palachian Trail in mid-Au­gust.

GRAPHIC BY JAYME DINGLER

This graphic shows Robert Mes­sick’s progress hik­ing the Ap­palachian Trail, beginning at Springer Moun­tain in Ge­or­gia to Boones­boro, Mary­land for the first leg. Mes­sick picked up the sec­ond leg of his trek in Ben­ning­ton, Ver­mont, north to Mount Katahdin, Maine. The third leg will be­gin on Sept. 18 in Ben­ning­ton, south to Boones­boro.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Robert Mes­sick washes his hik­ing clothes with lake wa­ter in late Au­gust at White House Land­ing near the Maine 100 Mile Wilder­ness of the Ap­palachian Trail.

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