This article about Matt was published in our school's paper, The Western Courier. If you would like see it "in print" click here, or you can just read it below:
ALUM FACES TOUGH HIKE
Starting this week, Matt Mason will be hiking through the wilderness of the Smoky Mountains on the Appalachian Trail. The trail, which runs for over 2,000 miles from northern Georgia to northern Maine, takes nearly six months to hike and often includes hazards such as unpredictable weather, bears and coyotes.
Despite this, Mason — a recreation, park and tourism administration major who graduated from Western Illinois University in fall of 2011 — is eager to hike the trail and utilize what he learned in his time at Western.
While he’s enjoyed the great outdoors since he was young, the idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail didn’t come to the alum until fairly recently.
“For the past two years I have seriously been considering hiking the trail,” Mason said. “It wasn’t until May of 2011 that I decided I was going to make the hike this spring.”
According to Mason, there are hundreds of shelters for the hikers and numerous towns along the nearly 2,200-mile trail, but he plans to take a slightly different approach.
“About every three (to) five days, I will come off the trail into a town to resupply my food,” he said. “A majority of my nights on the trail I will spend in my tent in the woods. Every once in a while, I’ll stay in a hostel … they offer a cheap place to stay, showers and sometimes a meal or two.”
As it turns out, Mason isn’t the only Western alumnus braving the trail. Also making the trip will be Erin Parachert, an RPTA major who graduated in 2000 and Jules Fijolek, also an RPTA major who graduates this May. Each will start hiking in June and early March, respectively. Mason hopes to meet up with a group of other RPTA majors from Western in Great Smoky Mountains National Park sometime in March.
Mason has sought to hike the trail for quite a while, and after graduating from Western he is finally taking the opportunity of a lifetime while doing something he loves.
“I’ve always enjoyed being outside and backpacking,” Mason said.
Moreover, Mason plans on combining one of the things he’s enjoyed for so long with a charitable cause.
“(Hiking the trail) has been a goal of mine since I was pretty young,” Mason said. “But I thought if I was going to try and walk over 2,000 miles, I didn’t want to just do it for myself, so that’s why I am raising money for the Chicago Fire Foundation, a non-profit run by the Chicago Fire Soccer Club. The foundation helps promote
education, environmental awareness and physical fitness to children in Chicago and the
Mason claims that his time at Western only made him want to take to the trail even more.
“I picked up some of the trail’s history in my RPTA classes, and got to take a few backpacking travel workshops with the RPTA department as well,” he said. “These classes helped me build some of the skills I will use every day on the Appalachian Trail.”