HEISER: Yorkers to get up close look at determined young hikers on Saturday


Most will walk, a few will jog, and not all will finish.

But everyone who participates will stretch their physical and mental capacities to the limit.

Endurance and determination will be tested over 40 grueling miles.

Most remarkable, however, is that the majority of the expected 75 competitors will be under the age of 16.

And it will all end in York on Saturday.

That's when Boy Scouts of America Troop 35 out of Baltimore will hold its 51st annual 40-mile hike.

The event normally starts in the Baltimore area and finishes 40 miles away at target destinations such as Gettysburg, Frederick, Annapolis or Washington.

This year's event starts at 6 a.m. in Monkton, Maryland, on the North Central Railroad Trail. It will proceed north to the Pennsylvania line, where the trail becomes the York County Heritage Rail Trail, which will eventually lead the hikers to downtown York. The route then leaves the trail and continues north through York for five miles to the finish at the Weightlifting Hall of Fame at York Barbell.

Those who have the fortitude to finish in 13 hours or less will earn a custom York Barbell-inscribed brass-plated trophy.

That award seems completely appropriate, since those who finish will have displayed a spirit worthy of iron men or iron women.

It should also dispel the notion that the youth of today lack grit.

In fact, that's how the event started back in 1963. President John Kennedy criticized the youngsters of that era for growing "soft" and out of shape while watching TV.

In response, Troop 35 scout master Carl Zapffe challenged his scouts to prove their mettle by completing a 40-mile hike. Of the 55 scouts who participated that first year, only one completed the full 40 miles.

In contrast, a record 65 percent completed last year's hike from Baltimore to Annapolis. Typically, about 50 percent of hikers complete the route. Since its inception, more than 2,000 hikers younger than 18 have completed the event.

While most of the participants are Troop 35 scouts, guest hikers of all ages are welcome. The 2015 hike director, Dr. Charles Edwards II, estimates 25 percent of the hikers this year will be parents who want to encourage their kids during the arduous trek.

It's truly an event for young and old alike. Last year's event featured the youngest-ever finisher (Julianne Dawn) at 5 years, 10 months. Also last year, Ross Burbage completed his 43rd consecutive hike. He started competing as a scout and hasn't missed a hike since.

Edwards started competing when he was 11 and won the event twice as a teenager. He still holds the record time of 5 hours, 23 minutes. He now walks with the younger and slower hikers to offer encouragement and inspiration.

"While (the hike) is a remarkable tradition that builds memories and relationships, it is also much more," Edwards said. "The hike is a unique opportunity for kids to take on a formidable challenge, push themselves to the limit and exceed far more than they felt possible. The self-confidence and growth in self-esteem that come from participation in the 40-miler stick with them and are readily applied to other challenges in life. Especially for those who approach the challenge over several years, it becomes a defining part of who they are. Success is doing your best, whether you finish or not. Countless many kids have been so influenced by the 40-miler that they use it as a topic for their senior speeches or college admission essays."

Edwards couldn't be more right.

And, it turns out, John Kennedy couldn't have been more wrong.

Youngsters in 1963 weren't "soft." It turns out they just needed the right challenge to prove their toughness.

It's a toughness that has continued to be on display for the past five decades.

And on Saturday, the folks here in York County can get an up-close-and-personal look at some of the toughest youngsters they'll ever get to see.

— Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.

Coming up

What: The 51st annual 40-mile hike sponsored by Boy Scouts of America Troop 35 in Baltimore.

When: Saturday.

Where: The event starts at 6 a.m. in Monkton, Maryland, at the North Central Railroad Trail. It proceeds north to Pennsylvania, where the trail becomes the York County Heritage Rail Trail. The hikers stay on the trail until reaching downtown York. Hikers then go five more miles in York before finishing at the Weightlifting Hall of Fame at York Barbell. An awards ceremony will be held at York Barbell, with dinner at 7:15 p.m. and an awards ceremony at 7:45 p.m.

Who: Hikers of all genders and ages are welcome, but the majority of the expected 75 hikers are scouts from Troop 35.

Information: Registration for the event is open until Thursday. For information, contact Dr. Charles Edwards II, the hike director, at (443) 676-3757 or at caedwards20@gmail.com. Parent participation as a volunteer is required of all youth hikers. Hikers younger than 10 must have a parent hiking with them.

Awards: All hikers who finish in 13 hours or less will receive a York Barbell-inscribed brass-plated trophy. Other individual awards also will be handed out.