Tom Tomczyk stands at the northern terminus of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to British Columbia in Canada. Submitted photo

NORWAY — After retiring from corporate life, Tom Tomczyk told his wife he wanted to make one of his childhood dreams come true – hiking the 2,194-mile Appalachian Trail.

“When I was a little boy, my older cousin did it and I always remembered the stories he would tell,” Tomczyk said recently from his home on Sand Pond. “It captivated me and I said that at some point I would do this trail.”

His wife, Mary DeLano, was also retired and ready to settle into a new life. She had long known about her husband’s dream. Still, she was surprised when he began to seriously talk about taking it on.

“I thought, this is the time,” he said. “Mary, was not keen on it. She did not want to start our retirement with me gone. It made sense, we needed to find a new equilibrium together. But I really felt called to do this.

“Finally, she agreed. With a whole bunch of conditions, like every month I would take a couple days off and we would take a mini-vacation,” he said. “We did that all the way up. To the extent that I could, I called her every day. And she asked that this be the one long distance trail that I hike, which I agreed to, in good faith.”

Tomczyk began his trip March 7, 2014, starting in Georgia. One of his sons accompanied him for the first week, making his start even more meaningful. He made good time to Maine, finishing atop Mount Katahdin in Maine on July 22. Returning home, his family immediately knew he was different.


Crater Lake in Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is seen from the Pacific Crest Trail. Tom Tomczyk of Norway hiked the entire 2,650-mile trail from Mexico to British Columbia, Canada. The lake is the deepest in the United States at 1,949 feet and one of the most pristine in the world. Submitted photo

“Both of my boys and Mary observed that the changes that it had helped me make were all to the good. It had taken the rough edges off my corners. To me it was a spiritual thing, but it just improved me as a person. Much more patient, more gratitude with my children and their own life choices. The saying, ‘hike your own trail’ applied to my life and helped me embrace their choices and their own journeys.

“And Mary said she was glad that I had pushed to make it happen. She could see how much it meant to me and she could see the difference. As far as she was concerned, I could do as much as I wanted of long-distance hiking.”

Since that first through-hike, Tomczyk has trekked 10,000 miles on trails that took him through Sweden, Iceland and as far away as Nepal.

He is one of fewer than 600 people who have completed North America’s “Triple Crown” of hiking: the 2,194-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine; the 2,560-mile Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to British Columbia, Canada; and the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Alberta, Canada.

Tomczyk said especially on the Appalachian Trail there is an incredible community with a special bond among hikers of different generations. He moved forward not by focusing on the goal, but on his daily progress and what would make each day rewarding.

“I’ve seen so many people change,” he said. “Not just me. You go out on this trail, you’re usually at a transition in life. For me, I was an early retiree and I kind of had to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life. For veterans of Afghanistan, as one guy said, he was walking off the war. One guy I just met at Trail Magic in Newry told me he was a hardcore alcoholic and he did the AT 11 years ago and he said he would be dead by now if it wasn’t for the trail.


“People going through a divorce or a midlife crisis, kids out of college who don’t know what they want to do. What they all tend to have in common is being open to some sort of change. That helps you get what you need out of the trail,” he said.

Tomczyk hoped the trail would help him make decisions on what he would do next in his life. What he realized when he completed it, he said, is he had already made the decision. It brought him a newly discovered sense of faith – in the trail and the power it has to heal. It introduced him to a deep passion he knows he would not know without it.

He shared an anecdote from a 70-year-old psychologist and therapist with a doctoral degree. After she was convinced to hike a section of the Camino de Santiago in Spain with her partner, she returned home long enough to close her practice and prepare to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

“She had never spent a night in a tent before she started the PCT,” Tomczyk said. “She did the entire trail. She said she believes that a long-distance hike, willingly taken, has more therapeutic, psychological value than anything she did for her patients throughout her career.

“’You learned to accept discomfort,’ is what she told me. ‘My patients come to me and they’ve been through or are in trauma. I can never change their trauma. It’s about dealing with it now. There is something about walking, day after day, surrounded by beautiful nature that is indifferent to your suffering.’”

Tom Tomczyk of Norway completes his first long-distance hike atop Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park in Maine on July 22, 2014. He started the 2,194-mile trek on the Appalachian Trail on March 7, 2014. Submittted photo

Having returned home a few weeks ago from completing the Continental Divide Trail – and the Triple Crown of distance hiking – Tomczyk is taking a well-deserved break and plotting future treks. He has promised his wife they will be shorter excursions, measured by hundreds instead of thousands of miles. But his journeys and their lessons will continue.

“What is important to me, it’s much simpler now,” Tomczyk said. “I used to be a big worrier. I don’t worry about too many things now. Little things used to get a disproportionate amount of worry and they don’t now. I only worry about things that really matter, like my family.

“For me, long distance hiking is a passion,” he said. “I’ve benefited so much, it has given me so much back. Whatever your passion is, do not be afraid to chase it. A lot of it has nothing to do with hiking, but about the courage to really do what you want to do.”

The trail continues to give back to Tomczyk, even as he is at rest. He plans to share his connections and journeys during a presentation Oct. 20, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Norway Memorial Library, 258 Main St. He will give an overview of the Triple Crown hiking trails, the spiritual and physical benefits of long-distance hiking, display the gear he uses, answer questions and hopefully inspire others to follow their passions.

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