A sense of homelessness
Hiker Robert Messick’s long walk home lends fresh insights
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.
Robert Messick stands on the summit of Saddleback Mountain, Maine, on the Appalachian Trail in mid-August.
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.
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.