A Worcester man has become the first person to complete the Otsego Octet Winter Challenge, and he did in one day.
Tom Walsh, 63, started the 12 trails at 5:30 a.m. Monday, March 8, at Arnold Lake State Park in Milford and finished about 11 hours and 21 miles later in Fortin Park in Oneonta.
“I am a hiker. I generally hike every other day,” Walsh told The Daily Star on Tuesday, March 9. “I thought if I could help promote the trail, it would let people know what a great resource we have here.
“It’s just something people can do for free,” he continued. “Trails and state parks are a great resource for the community and many people don’t even know they are there.”
Although he usually hikes for about four hours a trip, Walsh said he has experience doing longer hikes. Last summer he hiked the 357-mile Long Path, which travels from outside of New York City to Altamont in Albany County. Walsh said it took him 34 days, and his longest day hike was about 18 miles, close to what he expected with the Otsego Octet.
“I missed a few trails and a few of the trails are actually longer than they are listed as being,” he said. “It ended up being a couple of miles longer than I expected.”
Walsh said he wore snowshoes on some trails, spikes on others. He carried about a 20-pound pack of hiking gear just in case he had problems, he said, but the trails were well trod and he did not experience any issues. He planned his route ahead of time and drove himself from park to park, averaging about 15 minutes of rest and driving between each hike.
Walsh said he uses an app called All Trails GPS to map and record his routes. It worked along most of the route and recorded him climbing 2,300 feet in elevation throughout the day. However, he said, he did not get service in Gilbert Lake State Park in Laurens, so he could not map the entire challenge.
The Otsego Octet started in February and runs through April 30. The challenge is sponsored by Otsego Outdoors, which is a joint venture sponsored by Otsego 2000, the Otsego County Conservation Association and the Otsego Land Trust.
Participants who complete eight of the 12 trails, which are in 11 locations around Otsego County, are given a commemorative patch.
“One thing that drew me to this challenge was that patch,” Walsh said. “They have this really cool patch, and when I saw it, I said, ‘I want that patch.’”
A cancer survivor who used to work in the press room of The Daily Star, Walsh said he views hiking as a metaphor for life.
“Mostly I hike with a purpose, because hiking is part of my physical regimen,” he said. “But, you know, sometimes you are hiking with your head down, just trying to get it finished and you miss the beauty around you.
“I compare hiking to life,” he continued. “You can pause or you can slow down from time to time and look around and see what is going on around you.”
When he hiked the Long Path, Walsh said he used it as a fundraiser. He raised almost $5,000 last summer, splitting the donation between Bassett Medical Center and Tunnels for Towers, which helps wounded veterans and first responders.
Not long after that hike, Walsh said, he joined a Facebook group for hikers called Unique Trees. He said the site helped him realize that enjoying the scenery was an important part of his path.
“It got me to slow down and appreciate things more,” he said.
Monday, Walsh said he enjoyed the first part of the hike the best. He was at Arnold Lake when the sun came up and although it was about 4 degrees Monday morning, he said he had good weather.
“It was a gorgeous day,” he said. “It was just so beautiful with the sun rising at Arnold Lake. I am glad I got to experience it.”
Walsh said he was sore after walking all day, but he is already planning his next big hike, which will likely be another fundraiser this summer.
“I am always looking for a new challenge,” Walsh said.
In the meantime, he said he hopes to spread the word about the outdoor activities close to home.
“We have access to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world,” he said. “People don’t understand that.”
Go to www.otsegooutdoors.org for more information.
Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7218.