By David Brewer
As a serious hiker, local resident John Lanman won’t be remembered for his blazing speed, but instead for his persistence and determination. On Oct. 12, 2016, the High Country resident completed North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail — an 1,100-plus mile trek Lanman began in 2003.
After retiring from a career as an international tax consultant in 2001, Lanman and his wife Margaret relocated from the hustle and bustle of New York City to the decidedly more relaxed pace of Hound Ears Club in Foscoe. While the move allowed Lanman to indulge in his love of golf, it also rekindled his interest in hiking — something he admittedly hadn’t done regularly since the Boy Scout days of his youth.
Lanman began exploring nearby trails thanks to a hiking group at Hound Ears. Soon after, he began venturing into the woods with the Boone-based Chargers & Re-Chargers hiking club (now the Blue Ridge Hiking Club), where he made his initial foray onto the Boone Fork Trail section of the MST in 2003.
“And it was not with the prospect of hiking the entire (trail),” Lanman said.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) is North Carolina’s longest state trail, stretching from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean while passing through 37 counties, three national parks, seven state parks, three national forests, two national wildlife refuges, over the state’s tallest mountain and past three lighthouses on the way to the state’s tallest sand dune. In addition to hiking/walking, portions of the trail can be bicycled. At last count, only 74 individuals have completed the trail since records began being kept in 1997.
As he learned more about the MST’s unique and diverse makeup, Lanman began venturing farther afield from the High Country, initially completing much of the trail’s scenic mountain sections. He then headed to the coast, concentrating on the trail’s east end, which ends officially at the highest point of Jockey’s Ridge State Park.
Although people typically envision lengthy hiking trips ending with its participants recounting the day’s events while warming themselves around the campfire, Lanman instead managed to spend only one night camping during the entire span of his trek.
“I am by far not your typical hiker,” Lanman said. “I grew to love hiking, but I’m not a fan of camping.
“It is not the Appalachian Trail; it’s not entirely a wilderness experience,” said Lanman. “Once you get out of the mountains, you’re looking at small towns, you’re looking at agricultural lands, you’re looking at horse trails. It’s quite a diverse experience. It’s a different experience than hiking through the mountains, but it’s a lot of fun.”
In order to complete the epic series of day hikes, Lanman tacked on numerous extra miles getting to and from his car. In lieu of camping, Lanman spent many nights in nearby hotels. As the challenge of completing day trips unassisted became increasingly burdensome, he enlisted his wife, Margaret, to help shuttle him to various destinations throughout the state. She also joined him on the trail when time and conditions permitted.
“Other than putting 2,500 miles on the car and a lot of free time waiting for John, this was a true labor of love,” Margaret said. “I’m so proud of him.”
Through hiking, Lanman became involved in local efforts to add a 16-mile section of trail from Blowing Rock to Deep Gap known as the Boone Fork Bridge project. After the project’s director fell ill, Lanman became the project’s manager, seeing it through to completion in 2012.
By 2008, Lanman had not only become an avid hiker, but had also joined the Friends of the MST, (he currently serves on the Board of Directors), served on the board of the Middle Fork Greenway Association and is currently the chairman of High Country Pathways.
Kate Dixon is the executive director of the Friends of the MST, and offered high praise for her longtime colleague — both as a hiker and as a driving force in the MST organization.
“John has been one of the most important leaders for the MST in my nine years with Friends of the MST,” said Dixon. “His vision, the breadth of his knowledge about the trail statewide, and how hard he works are transformative on every project he works on. Other board members and myself greatly value his perspective and all he accomplishes.”
Despite a bum knee, Lanman took his final steps this past fall on a section of trail that stretched from the west side of Linville Gorge across Bald Mountain to U.S. Highway 221 in Woodlawn, near Marion.