Art Donovan’s mother has wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail since 1968.
Now turning 91 this year and suffering from Alzheimer’s, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes mental deterioration, it’s a dream she will never realize.
Instead, her son has embarked on a journey to do it for her and everyone else who is living with Alzheimer’s.
Donovan, 62, a retired UF professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, began what could be an eight-month journey along the entirety of the Appalachian Trail to raise money and awareness for his mother’s disease. He began his 2,190-mile trek on Feb. 28 in Georgia and will conclude in Maine, he said. Donovan is asking people to contribute one penny for every mile he walks. As of press time, he has raised $1,296.
“I’m doing it for her and all those people in the future who could get this disease,” he said.
Despite all his preparation, like researching the trail, hiking around Gainesville and dehydrating food that his wife, Patti Gordon, mailed him along the way, nothing could prepare him for the grueling reality of the trail, he said.
Half the days are beautiful; the other half he hikes through rain or snow. Some nights when he stops to record the day in his trail journal, his hands are too frozen to write, he said. So he records the entry on his phone to later transcribe.
Armed with mementos like his wife’s wedding ring and his “Art Donovan’s never quit playlist,” he manages to put one foot in front of the other for as many as 14 miles a day, he said.
Along the way, he sees college students, senior citizens and newlyweds, he said. The like-minded people and stunning views help him stay motivated.
“You look up and there’s an unbelievable vista — just incredible,” he said.
His wife has been his biggest supporter since he began, mailing him food and care packages every five days and tracking his progress through a GPS. She misses their daily conversations but knows the weight of the disease drives him.
“I’ve just seen it just take people’s loved ones away. They’re there, but they’re not there. It’s very sad,” she said.
Sydney Modrow, 21, a UF neurobiological sciences senior, watched the disease affect her grandmother’s life when she was growing up.
“I watched the whole progression, and it was just so sad,” she said.
Modrow is thrilled to see someone going to such great lengths to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s.
“I think it’s like the perfect way of raising awareness by also doing something that is battling Alzheimer’s,” she said.
Donovan, 62, a retired UF professor, is enduring what could be an eight-month journey along the Appalachian Trail to raise money and awareness for the neurodegenerative disease Alzheimer’s.