Andrew Crosby has fond memories of hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail with his father as a young boy.
Andrew Crosby was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 16 and was told he could lose the ability to walk by the age of 30. He was prescribed high-dose medication for his condition. But Crosby decided to use his fear of rheumatoid arthritis to focus on the things that brought him the most joy. In the following decade, he devoted himself to pursuing his favorite activities - hiking and climbing. There were times when his back and joint pain worsened. He never let the pain deter him. "I don’t let this disease stop me from anything," he said. As reported by USA Today, this is when Crosby embarked on a journey to hike the Appalachian Trail. "That was when I decided I was going to hike the Appalachian Trail," he said, "and nobody was going to tell me no."
Last year, on March 9, Crosby began his journey to complete the 2,200-mile, 14-state hike from Georgia to Maine. He sustained the 5-degree cold, 105-degree heat, and a near-death encounter with a pack of coyotes. "We’re talking 5 or 10 feet away," Crosby said about the coyotes. "I was so scared. I almost fell on my bum. Before I could make a sound, they were halfway through the forest, running and yipping." As a young boy, the Middletown resident hiked a section of the trail in Pennsylvania with his father, Raymond Crosby. This was when his love for the outdoors awakened. However, his father, a former construction worker, passed away in 2015 after a roof collapsed during demolition in Berkeley.
When Crosby traversed the stretch of trail which he did as a young boy, he felt as though his father was watching over him. "I think tears are raining down from heaven right now," Andrew said. "Being out there for so long, I felt connected to him. I knew he was looking out for me the entire time. He always had my back." But no one completes a hike without bruises and blemishes. Crosby suffered severe splits below his knee and sustained two broken ribs in a mishap. He walked over 30 miles a day over the terrain and switched between four pairs of shoes. Ken Lewaine, a family friend who thru-hiked the trail in 1982, spoke of Crosby's journey on the Appalachian Trail. He says it is a "grueling, long-term pilgrimage" that becomes a way of life.
"You have to deal with a broad array of experiences and emotions that test your mettle, your strength of character, your resourcefulness, your willpower, and your heart," he added. Crosby wore sunglasses for quite sometime after the sun strained his eyes during the hike. He also said that his attacks of rheumatoid arthritis seemed to have reduced after the journey. "I haven’t had an episode since completing the trail — not one," he said. "No eye pain, no back pain, no days I can’t walk."
He believes nature can be a true healer of all physical and mental ailments. "My body, I would say, is probably 25% to 35% healthier than what it was before leaving," he said. "Walking like that every day just really grinds arthritis away from the gears. I feel I’m healthier now, and I don’t want to go back to where I was before leaving."
Crosby wishes to traverse the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,600-mile hike from Canada to Mexico, in July. He is trying to test his limits and see how far his body can take him, and we hope he comes out unscathed. "I want to be an inspiration to other people who don’t think they can do these things," he said. "I was doubted my whole life. Who thought I could walk 2,000 miles after I was told I could be in a wheelchair by the time I’m 30?" He also sends a message to everyone, saying, "I want to be inspiring to people who have dreams but don’t think they can accomplish them."