U niversity of Colorado alumnus Josh Farrell expected hiking the entire 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail to be hard on his feet. He anticipated growing homesick for Boulder, and wearing holes in his hiking shoes.
He never expected to find so many new friends and acquaintances on his six-month trek across the eastern half of the United States.
"They say it's one big family," Farrell, 28, said in a phone interview from the trail. "You'll never forget the people you meet around here."
Farrell, a 2008 University of Colorado graduate, began hiking in April to raise money for Leeds School of Business scholarships and for the United Children's Fund, a non-profit that works with children in Africa.
He wanted to give back to CU because he knew a scholarship would help a real person go to college, he said. Farrell said he hopes to raise $10,000 for CU, and so far has raised about $2,600.
Farrell has worked at Pettyjohn's Liquor and Wine in Boulder since he started school at CU. He worked 40 hours each week, paying for tuition with his paychecks and still managed to graduate on time. Pettyjohn's gave him a six-month leave of absence so that he could hike the Appalachian Trail.
Ann Coppinger, who co-owns the store with her husband Chris Coppinger, rounds up her staff each month to send Farrell gift cards, funny cartoons and other goodies as part of a gift basket.
"It has taken a village to raise Josh," Coppinger said, adding that the staff at Pettyjohn's has become a surrogate family for Farrell.
Coppinger's husband Chris Coppinger and their son J.T. Coppinger flew out to find Farrell on the trail earlier this month, and spent a day hiking with him. Pettyjohn's has a map hanging inside the store with Farrell's face stuck to wherever he happens to be on the trail that day.
Farrell started in Georgia on April 13, and has since walked all the way to the southern portion of Maine. He plans to complete his journey on Oct. 10, fly back to Boulder by way of Boston and resume work at Pettyjohn's soon after. He's walked between 15 and 20 miles each day, except for when wild animals, like two giant moose, cross his path.
The moose forced Farrell to cut one day's journey short in the middle of September.
Farrell's father, Rob Oller, said he's not embarrassed to admit that he's been living vicariously through his son. The day that he left Farrell alone to begin the journey on the trail was Friday the 13th, Oller said, which made the whole experience a little creepy.
"I turned around and he was gone," Oller said. "It was like the trail sucked him up and swallowed him."
--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.