“I want to live long enough to be like you.”
This is a statement most of us would love to hear someday. Not only does it indicate you have lived a long life, but it shows you’ve lived a good, full one as well—one that has impacted others.
For Dale Sanders, this type of praise has become common, and for good reason. At 82 years of age, Dale is the oldest person in the world to have canoed the full length of the
Mississippi River and the oldest person in the world to have hiked the entire 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, the longest hiking-only trail in the world.
In 2015, Dale received worldwide attention for setting out to canoe the Mississippi at age 80. His goal was to raise money for Type 1 juvenile diabetes, an autoimmune disease that affects his great niece. He accomplished this challenge in 80 days of paddling and raised over $23,000 for the cause. A film called “Source to the Sea” traced his journey.
Though this first world record is astonishing for most to imagine, Dale didn’t stop there. This past year, he decided he was going to hike the Appalachian Trail.
“I wanted to give it a try,” Dale says. “I doubted I could complete it. 1 in 5 young folks complete it, so what was my chance at 82 years old?”
Age was against Dale, but paddling had motivated him to try something else, and the Appalachian Trail had been on his bucket list for a long time. Born and raised on a tobacco farm in Kentucky and having worked 50 years in parks and recreation, Dale had an advantage that few have today: being accustomed to the outdoors. “Being active my whole life helped. I wanted this one thing I didn’t have,” he admits.
Dale began by hiking short distances of the trail in January 2017 and set out to complete it in April. He learned early on that lightening his load as much as possible was key to his success. He was able to get four days’ worth of supplies down to 23 pounds.
During the first half of the trail, Dale only ate energy bars and trail mixes. When he rapidly lost weight and realized he was losing muscle, he knew he would not make it if he didn’t take better care of himself. From then on, Dale was careful to eat plenty of carbs and proteins to replace the calories he lost walking. He created a system where he could trade car keys with other hikers going in the opposite direction and kept plenty of food and water in his vehicle.
Being healthy played a huge role in whether or not Dale would complete the trail, but taking care of himself mentally presented its own separate challenges. Dale worried about loneliness and being accepted by the other hikers.
Although the majority of people hiking the Appalachian Trail are young college graduates, Dale was not an outcast by any means. “No question about it—recognition, respect, and encouragement—I received these from the other hikers,” he says. Known as the Grey Beard Adventurer, Dale was a legend on the trail, and people were enthusiastic when they crossed paths with him.
Dale impacted those he met and encouraged them in living healthy, active lifestyles and to not give up on their dreams. In turn, the other hikers praised Dale for his determination and found him a rare source of inspiration.
On Oct. 26, Dale’s wife and the rest of his family joined him in hiking the last mile of the trail, finishing at ATC Headquarters, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. He celebrated this new victory and second world record by doing a victory dance.
“It’s a little sad [now] because I enjoy early morning hikes. There’s a feeling of sadness knowing I don’t have to wake up at 4 am to hike, that it’s over,” Dale admits. Yet, he’s already thinking about possibilities for his next adventurer.
To learn more about Dale Sanders, visit: greybeardadventurer.com or Facebook.com/fdalesanders
By Susanna Lancaster