By Brett Peruzzi, Contributing Writer
Scituate – Mike Davis has worn out more pairs of hiking boots than the average person.
He started doing short day hikes in New Hampshire’s White Mountains in the 1980s, and then got into long-distance backpacking a decade later as he entered his fifties. He went on to complete the Long Trail, which runs through the Green Mountains of Vermont, from the Massachusetts line to the Canadian border, and finished the Appalachian Trail, the 2,200 mile footpath that goes from Georgia to Maine, right around his 60th birthday. After completing the Appalachian Trail, he then went on to hike over 1,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from the Mexican to the Canadian border through California, Oregon, and Washington.
Four decades after those first short hikes, the 77-year-old is still hitting the trail. “I use hiking to keep in shape and be with nature in a semi-survival mode,” Davis said.
“I was a runner for years before I started hiking and backpacking, with a little biking thrown in for good measure. I’ve run two marathons, including the Boston Marathon in the mid-1980s, several half-marathons, and many, many 10K races,” he recalled. “As running started wearing my body down, I realized that backpacking could be an alternative that can be done for many more years.”
His long-distance backpacking really took off after he retired from Xerox Corporation after 34 years of service. For the next 17 years, however, he still worked part-time, at Eastern Mountain Sports in Hingham, where he put his backpacking expertise to work helping customers, sometimes as much as 40 years or more younger than him, get outfitted for their own long-distance hikes. He also taught numerous workshops for the store about selecting and using backpacking gear, and navigating in the back country.
“My memorable line to the people who said ‘I’m too old’ even when they were 20 years my junior was, ‘If Earl Shaeffer can do it at 79, you surely can’”, he said.
Shaeffer was the first person to hike the Appalachian Trail in one season, known as a “through-hike,” who then incredibly repeated the feat 50 years later.
“I still believe it’s more mental then physical,” Davis asserted.
Most long-distance backpackers either choose or earn a “trail name” – Davis is known as “Mad Mike” to the hundreds of hikers he has met over the decades, and the numerous good friends he has made.
“I tend to remember those friends by the trail section and year we met,” he noted.
“My favorite hiking partner is my friend Karen, whose trail name is ‘Rikki Tikki Tavi’. She can put up with my oddities and I with hers. The bonding with a compatible partner is a requirement to spend days and days together,” he said.
He believes finding the right hiking companion should not be left to chance. “Never plan an extended backpacking trip with someone before testing compatibility,” Davis emphasized.