Baxter State Park, Maine Ne'er let it be said that Andrew Uterhart couldn't finish what he started: At age 81, last month he fulfilled his dream of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail.
It doesn't matter that it took nearly a half-century.
"When I started up the trail, I sort of cried a little," said the white-haired retired dentist from Kentucky. "I'm a little sentimental. I guess it was the idea that I was completing something. It was my last hurrah."
With his backpack slung over his shoulders and a hiking stick in each hand, Uterhart climbed Mount Katahdin on July 15, reaching the mile-high summit around mid-afternoon in fog and heavy rain.
Uterhart started camping and hiking along the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail at age 33 with his wife, Marion, in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Then their busy lives got in the way.
Uterhart started a pediatric dental practice in Lexington, Ky., and was doing public health work on the side. His wife taught at a nursing school and later became its director.
Uterhart, who calls himself a "section hiker," would complete a portion of the Georgia-to-Maine footpath whenever he could find time, often accompanied by his nephews, who love to hike.
"We would go together for a long weekend or for a week here and there," he said.
After his latest trek, Uterhart's clothes were still damp from the rain as he returned to Katahdin Stream Campground in the early evening.
Uterhart noted that lightweight camping gear and cooking equipment were not available when he first set out on the trail.
"I had an old Army bedroll. Marion made a cotton inner lining because they were all wool. I had an old iron fry pan that was much too heavy," he recalled.
For the past 19 years of his retirement, Uterhart has worked as a volunteer for national parks across the country, including the Badlands National Park in South Dakota and the Isle Royale in Lake Superior in Michigan. Also, he is a volunteer for the U.S. Forest Service.
A survivor of colon and prostate cancer, Uterhart said his hiking days are far from over. He said he has been thinking about remodeling his Lexington home, but is more tempted to hike the Long Trail, which runs the length of Vermont.
"I hear it's a lot easier than the Appalachian Trial," he said.