A journey of 2,000 miles begins with a single step
By Teresa K. Weaver
After a year of talking the talk, Loyal Mehnert has devoted himself to walking the walk – literally.
He’s about 700 miles into a 2,175-mile hike of the Appalachian Trail, part of an extreme fundraising adventure for Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Follow Loyal Mehnert’s trek online
“Most of the time I’m by myself,” Mehnert said of his journey so far. “I run into other hikers, but 99 percent of the time, it’s just me and bugs and the occasional bear.”
Mehnert, who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, spent 2007 as the national media spokesperson for Thrivent Builds With Habitat for Humanity. He traveled across the United States, encouraging people at every stop to get involved and make a difference in their communities and in the world beyond.
“I had an epiphany about halfway through the year,” Mehnert said. “I was really getting people enthusiastic about volunteering, but I hadn’t really volunteered myself yet. I thought I was being a bit of a hypocrite.”
As soon as his contract ended in the fall of 2007, Mehnert headed to Biloxi, Mississippi, and signed up as a volunteer with the Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“That’s when I really saw how volunteering is so important,” he said. “And there’s so much work yet to be completed down there.”
Mehnert made another trip down to Biloxi last year to help build houses, but this year he has stepped up his contributions of time and energy. In the spring, he set out to hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. For each mile hiked, Mehnert is asking for base donations of a penny. Assuming he completes all 2,175 miles of the trek, that’s a donation of $21.75.
Last week, Mehnert had to take a break from the trail, but for a good reason: He was among 30 people honored as “All-Stars Among Us” at Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game in St. Louis, Missouri. Mehnert was nominated for the honor by his girlfriend, and got the call that he was one of 90 finalists somewhere on the trail in Virginia.
After more than a million people voted, Mehnert was chosen to represent the Milwaukee Brewers at the All-Star Game, where all five living U.S. presidents – Obama, Clinton, both Bushes and Carter – paid tribute via video to the 30 honorees and to the spirit of volunteerism.
“It was an incredible experience,” Mehnert said.
To make a contribution, visit the Web site of Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast: http://www.hfhmgc.org
Mehnert, 32, graduated from film school at Columbia University and spent the past 10 years in the field of public relations and marketing. For the past couple of years, he has been developing “The Everyday Journeyman,” an adventure blog that he hopes to eventually turn into a TV show for a cable network.
A typical post: “Woke up to a 6-inch long beetle chewing on my leg!”
His first “Everyday Journeyman” trek was a 4,200-mile pledge drive from London to the West African coast. He raised about $4,000 for infrastructure improvements in the Republic of Gambia.
Having taken the All-Star break, Mehnert plans to return to the Appalachian Trail at the end of this month, resuming his quest to raise money and public awareness for the Mississippi Gulf Coast affiliate’s continuing work to rebuild after Katrina. On a pace of about 17 miles a day, he hopes to reach the end of the trail in October.
And he’s already planning his next adventures – a little mountaineering, maybe a long-distance bike ride.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Mehnert said. “ ‘The Everyday Journeyman’ is really about getting everyone – people of all ages and backgrounds – interested in making positive differences in the world.
“I think so many people are nervous about taking that first step,” he said. “I just want to get the message out about what people can do.”
Teresa K. Weaver is a senior writer/editor at Habitat for Humanity International, based in Atlanta.