Fire tore through Stephen Martelli’s home in 2006, and a few days later the Auburn Fire Department gave him the go-ahead to go inside. He saw his hiking stick leaning in the corner.

“I went to grab it, thinking, ‘At least I have something,'” he said. 

The stick was given to him in lieu of payment for shoveling snow for a man.

“He did not have the $10 fee and told me to take his hiking stick instead,” Martelli said. “‘Keep this stick on the trail,'” he said the man instructed him.

Martelli honored the request by hiking the Appalachian Trail over four summers: 350 miles the first summer, 413 the second, 516 the third and 889 miles the fourth in 1999. He documented that trip with 32 rolls of film. 

When he went into his burned home he touched the stick and it disintegrated.


“It turned to ash. That’s when it all sank in. It’s all gone,” he said. “The photos were gone too. That started the seed to go again.”

Eight years later, Martelli is going back to the trail. He’ll set foot on Springer Mountain in Georgia on March 20, planning to make the 2,186-mile hike in 150 days. 

“Why? Because it’s there,” he said. His trail name is “Grizzly Bear.”

“The Appalachian Trail is the world’s largest think tank,” he said. “The AT gives you six months of learning who you are and what you want to do with the rest of your life.

“I’ve always enjoyed being out in the woods, away from civilization. I find it relaxing,” the 62-year-old former iron worker said. “Because the job I did was so noisy, the peace and quiet is comforting.”

Martelli said 3,500 hikers start the AT each year. Only 350 finish. 


“The first week is my vacation week. I will look at birds, look at trees, chill, no stress,” he said. “Four to six miles a day.”

The pace will give his body time to adjust to the terrain and 35-pound backpack. 

“I will start kicking it up to eight to 10 miles a day at Neels Gap,” Ga., about 30 miles in, he said.

He made the final decision to hike the AT again two years ago and since then has walked up and down streets around his home to prepare.

“I walk three to seven miles every day in New Auburn,” Martelli said before he left for Georgia by bus on March 6. 

His meticulous planning took place at the Auburn Public Library. He used the library’s computer lab to lay out every aspect of the trek. He created documents that describe in great detail where he will pick up food, supplies and the “bounce box” that will follow him up the trail by mail. 


The box will contain a phone charger, nail clippers, rubbing alcohol and other items he’ll will need but does not want to carry on his back. 

“I will be in and out of town every three to seven days,” he said. 

Children will track his progress by putting pins in an AT map in the APL children’s room. They recorded his weight and his waist, biceps and thigh measurements to compare when he returns to Maine.

“I plan to lose 20 to 25 pounds,” Martelli said. 

“Education is very important to me,” the former Boy Scout said. “Kids don’t go outside to play as much as they should. This is one way to expose kids to hiking,” he said about his involvement at the library. 

One child asked him about meals.


“One hot meal a day. Everything else is cold,” he answered. He said washing dishes is unheard of along the trail.

“They say you eat three pounds of dirt in a lifetime. I would say a hiker eats five or six pounds in a lifetime,” he said.

“This trail is an eye opener and the reason why is because you learn to relate with people on a different level,” he said. “Hiking the AT is a confidence builder. It’s about self reliance, problem solving and making good choices.

“I have met CEOs, chemists, helicopter mechanics, people from all walks of life, people from all around the world on the trail,” he said. 

“There are stories up and down the AT the whole way. Some days are like a soap opera,” Martelli said of the drama that unfolds along the trail, which passes through 14 states. 

Martelli spoke about “trail magic” — people passing out food near road crossings and motorists willing to give through-hikers a ride into town when they need one. “Hikers are part of a brotherhood,” he said. 


Martelli has a special motivation to reach his destination in 150 days.

Five months after fire destroyed his AT keepsakes, his father died.  He plans to reach the end of the trail on Maine’s Mount Katahdin on his father’s birthday. 

“That’s my goal — Aug. 21. My father would have been 97 years old if he were alive today and that is my birthday present to him.”


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