Tim Pettingill of Lisbon Falls is taking a break from his so-called normal life and hiking the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia, accompanied by an unusual support crew.

“Most people are in transition of some sort,” Pettingill said of other hikers. “They’ve been laid off, or they’re between careers, or they’ve retired or they’re young and right out of college,” said Pettingill, himself between careers. He even encountered a homeless woman.

“I kind of got burned out on what I was doing,” he recalled. His wife, Sybilla, asked him, “Why don’t we do something a little unusual?”

He went back to school at the University of Maine at Augusta, earned an associate degree in applied science and now hopes to become a lab technician in a hospital. He had been a district care provider for an agency that works with autistic children, working in group homes for 14 years.

Pettingill, 49, planned his hike for three years and has a support crew that is the envy of other “through-hikers.”

His wife and their two home-schooled sons, Benjamin, 13, and John, 11, are shadowing his arduous days on the trail, driving ahead and resupplying him every few days. They’re making the parallel trek in a 1988 Ford Sportsmobile van, and the family stopped last week at the Long Mountain Wayside on U.S. 60 in western Virginia.

Other through-hikers call it the “blue van hostel” when they gather around to meet the family, Sybilla Pettingill said.

The top pops up and has bunks for the boys, and the back of the van has a couch, an oven and a foldout double bed, though it is lumpy, said Pettingill ruefully.

It is softer than the floors of the wooden shelters where hikers sleep, though, and beyond the convenience of having his family with him, the trip has become a family adventure.

It’s much more fun than being “trapped” in Lisbon Falls, Benjamin said, pausing from reading a history book. One of the highlights so far — “We saw a couple of female moose along the side of the road,” John excitedly recalled.

Pettingill, whose trail name is Cargo Pants, has hiked 1,300 miles so far. He has lost 45 pounds in his more than three months on the trail, including 25 the first three weeks.

“My feet finally feel great,” he said. Though he’s mindful of his knee and an ankle. “It starts to wear in ways,” he said.

He is focusing on his journey, and not whether he can find a job back home when he’s done.

“I’m trusting God that there’s a job,” he said.

Pettingill hopes to finish the trail the week before Thanksgiving.


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