LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDKY) — Each year, more than 3 million people visit part of the Appalachian Trail, but only a fraction—about 3,000 people—conquer the trek from Georgia to Maine. Seventy-one-year-old Micheal Kookendoffer is one of those people.
The Kentucky hiker started his nearly 2,200-mile adventure along the Appalachian Trail in March. For six months, through 14 states, he navigated the mountainous terrain, passed wildlife and wild mushrooms, and met friends half his age along the way.
Pointing to one of the thousand photographs he snapped throughout his journey, Kookendoffer introduces his trail mates by their unique nicknames.
“That’s Toaster, Bandit, Bob Ross, Moose Jaw, and Chili Pepper,” he said.
The group called Kookendoffer “Stogie.”
“I have a thing for cigars. That was my one luxury item that I took on the trail,” he said. “I always had anywhere between five and ten cigars in my pack.”
Kookendoffer also carried a much larger medical bag than the younger hikers. A decade ago, he had a heart attack. Doctors inserted a stent and prescribed multiple medications. They also recommended regular exercise, which he listened to.
“It’s kind of like it’s now or never because you never know what the next year is going to be,” said Kookendoffer.
He doesn’t want to forget what he’s lived, either. Kookendoffer snapped photos of sunsets and views from what felt like the top of the world.
He also took pictures of places where many people feel their lowest.
“Everybody that quits, they tie their shoes and throw them up in this tree,” he said.
However, a look at this photo inspired him to tie his laces even tighter.
“In my mind, there was no doubt that I was ever not going to finish,” said Kookendoffer. “I always had that picture in my head of standing on the sign.”
On Sept. 25, he captured that moment.
“There was a lot of emotion involved, and looking back, I think just the fact that you did things you didn’t think you were capable of, I think that’s pretty amazing.”
Kookendoffer’s next goal is to finish a marathon.