Biddeford resident Chris Jones reflects upon his hike spanning the length of the Appalachian Trail at Mount Katahdin and raising $12,000 for mental health awareness and research in the process. COURTESY PHOTO/Chris Jones

BIDDEFORD — If you ask Chris Jones what he’s been up to lately, he’ll tell you that in every walk with nature, one receives far more than they seek, and in his case, a whole lot of people are going to benefit from what he’s accomplished in 2018.

Jones, 25, is a 2011 graduate of Biddeford High School who went on to earn a degree in marketing from the University of Maine. While at a crossroad about in which direction he wanted to take his career earlier this year, he decided to take some time and pursue one of his passions, hiking, and in a big way.

Starting on April 10, Jones set out to hike the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine and he completed the journey Sept. 22. In doing so, Jones walked on behalf of the “Hike for Mental Health” organization and through pledges, he raised $12,000 for the nonprofit group.

“I had wanted to do it for a few years,” Jones said. “I grew up hiking with my mother and father and sister and had spent one summer hiking in Denali National Park in Alaska. I decided to raise money through my hike because the ‘Hike for Mental Health’ group puts the money to such good use for mental health research to find a solution and for trail maintenance. I never expected to raise that much money, it’s just amazing and was an amazing trip.”

The trip spanned a distance of 2,185.9 miles and covered all types of terrain from rocky hills to lush forested lands.

“I had so many great experiences along the way,” Jones said. “You meet a lot of great people on the trail. Everyone has the utmost respect for one another and we all try to help each other out along the way.”

Besides some of the most scenic and picturesque terrain in America, Jones encountered wildlife up close and personal and endured a wide range of weather conditions.

“I saw several bears, one was a mama bear and her cub, I also saw a lot of deer, owls, birds, a Pine Marten which is a kind of weasel, and a Saw-Whet owl,” he said. “I started in April so I would avoid a lot of snow, but I did walk through some light snow in Georgia and a lot of rainy days.”

To make the entire journey, Jones said it’s best to be in good health. Although many hikers who walk the entire Appalachian Trail report losing weight, Jones says he actually gained a few pounds while making the trip. During each day, he’d cover about 13 miles and most nights he slept in a tent under the stars outside.

He said his favorite part of the trip was the breath-taking scenery once he reached New Hampshire and Maine.

“One spot that blew me away was Bigelow Range Preserve in Maine,” Jones said. “It was spectacular with lakes for miles and gorgeous mountain vistas without houses or communities in sight.”

He said his least favorite part of the hike was in Pennsylvania.

“It’s so rocky there,” Jones said. “You have to go slow and be careful not to slip on all of those rocks.”

For the final 120 miles of the hike, he was joined by his father, Mark Jones, who said the entire family is so proud of Chris and his philanthropic efforts to help others through his journey.

“We’ve always been a family that helps others and this was important to him,” Mark Jones said. “I can’t begin to tell you how many people this has resonated with and how many people have posted on his webpage thanking him for bringing greater awareness to mental health issues. Some 25 percent of Americans struggle with anxiety and mental health issues and it’s just amazing how many people it touches.”

Tom Kennedy, the co-founder of “Hike for Mental Health,” describes Chris Jones as “an amazing kid.”

Kennedy said that his contributions will not only help researchers in their quest to find a solution for mental illnesses, but also will benefit future hikers of the Appalachian Trail and other hiking locations.

“He’s going to help an awful lot of people,” Kennedy said. “I wish we had 100 of him on the trail every year.”

According to Kennedy, 80 percent of proceeds donated to the “Hike for Mental Health” are used by scientists from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation and another 10 percent is given to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for trail upkeep. The remaining 10 percent is donated to the Pacific Crest Trail Conservancy.

Those wishing to make donations to the all-volunteer “Hike for Mental Health” organization may do so by visiting www.hikeformentalhealth.org.

Along the trail, Chris Jones never wavered in his desire to complete the entire walk.

“If I had to sum up the experience in three words, my title would be ‘A Beautiful Grind,” he said. “There are days when you’re out there and it’s raining and you don’t want to be out there. But that is balanced out by the people that you are hiking with and the sheer beauty of the trail. Going into it you have to have the right mindset and it comes down to whether you want to grind it out for five months or not.”

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 or by email at [email protected]

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