A 67-year-old hiker whose trail name was “Buffalo Bobby” suffered a fatal medical problem Thursday along the Appalachian Trail just 20 miles before he would have finished the 2,180-mile route for the third time.

Robert Yerike, a free-spirited retired truck driver from Brick, N.J., called his son, also named Robert, on Wednesday. He was feeling good, eating a hamburger, had gone for a swim and wanted to make sure that someone turned on the water in his house. He said he would be home Sunday.

The Maine Warden Service told Yerike’s grown children that he apparently had a stroke along the trail Thursday, the children told The Associated Press.

Another hiker, who found Yerike unresponsive, walked two miles to get cellphone service to summon help. Yerike then had to be carried two miles out of a rugged area known as the “100-Mile Wilderness” because bad weather made a helicopter rescue impossible.

He died that night at Millinocket Hospital. Three of his six children drove to Maine late Thursday, where they met with wardens and identified their father.

“He looked strong; he didn’t look sick. He looked strong and happy,” said his daughter, Julie Cardoso. “There’s no other place that this man would rather be than on the trail.”

The official cause of death wasn’t available Friday. The state Medical Examiner’s Office did not do an autopsy, and a local examiner reached no immediate conclusion, officials said.

Yerike was a former Army paratrooper who took up hiking about eight years ago after retiring from truck driving.

He made his first Appalachian Trail “through hike,” as such journeys are known, in 2003. He lost more than 40 pounds despite eating as many as six meals a day. He told The Asbury Park (N.J.) Press that he didn’t plan to become one of the rare hikers to complete the trail more than once.

But by 2008, he changed his mind and hiked it again.

He set off on his third six-month hike this spring from the traditional starting point on Springer Mountain in Georgia.

He set off alone but met up with other hikers along the way. This time, his trip took him through the torrential rains of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

His family talked to him on the phone and followed news about him on the blog of a hiker with whom he sometimes traveled. Photos of him were posted on the blog from the day he died.

Family members, including eight grandchildren whose pictures were always on his cellphone, were excited that they would finally see him again after half a year.