Ahwatukee Foothills resident Gary Parkinson is 1,650 miles into his hike along the entire 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail and says so far the journey has been incredible but also incredibly tiring.

“If you ever want to lose weight and eat whatever you want, hike the Appalachian Trail,” he joked. “It’s the best diet out there.”

So far, Parkinson has lost about 25 pounds. His wife, Elizabeth, said it’s the thinnest she’s ever seen him, but it’s a healthy thin. At 55, he is keeping pace with men half his age on the trail. He’s right on track to meet his goal and finish hiking the entire Appalachian Trail by Aug. 20.

While the scenery, wildlife and the culture surrounding the trail are all amazing to experience, Parkinson has been hiking about 20 miles a day for more than two months. His biggest challenge, he said, is staying motivated through the heat and humidity.

“It’s just really hard to get up every day and walk 20 miles,” he said. “When I think I’ve got about 650 miles left, that seems like a lot … To stay motivated every day is really hard, to put on sweaty clothes and start all over again every day.”

Parkinson prepared some motivation before he left for the trail on April 12. He’s funding the entire hike on his own, but he’s also taking the opportunity to raise some money for charity. Every penny that is donated while he is on the trail to help encourage him, he plans to match with his own money and divide among several local charities, including Ronald McDonald House Charities, Camp Civitan, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Home for Little Wanderers.

“It’s really humbling to have this opportunity and be in this condition,” he said. “I’m hot and sweaty and uncomfortable and tired, bugs are biting me, waah, waah, waah, but it’s nothing in the grand scheme of things for these kids, so that’s really my motivator. If I can’t do this for six more weeks — these kids are dealing with much, much bigger problems than I am. That’s very humbling for me. I just want to get it done and get some money for them.”

He has a goal of raising $10,000 from the community and he plans to match with $10,000 of his own money. So far, he has only raised about half of that.

To donate to the charities, visit AZontheAT.com. On that website, people can also view Parkinson’s daily online journal.

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