After 180 days and more than 2,000 miles, Ross Hayduk reached the end of the Appalachian Trail, completing an epic journey to raise awareness about living with HIV and support the work of San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
“It’s exciting,” said Ross. “More than anything, I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude that I was able to get through it, accomplish it, and achieve this goal. It’s really amazing.”
Ross began his journey on March 11, at the southern end of the Appalachian Trail near Atlanta, Georgia. He set out to become the first HIV-positive man to hike the trail from one end to the other. Of the 2,184.2 miles, he completed all but 100 miles, due to some minor injuries. He finished the hike on September 6, his 45th birthday, at the top of Mt. Katahdin, Maine.
“Arriving there, it’s traditional that you take a picture with the sign that’s at the terminus, so we took a whole bunch of silly pictures,” said Ross. “Even though I did most of the hike by myself, I had an opportunity during the final three days to bond with a group of six other hikers. When we got to the summit of Mt. Katahdin, the six of us finished together. It created this fantastic moment of us all celebrating our shared achievement.”
A longtime foundation supporter and volunteer, Ross has struggled in recent years with bipolar disorder and living with HIV. He wants this hike to serve as an inspiration to all people going through the same struggles.
“Many times, HIV-positive people are seen as being weak or victims,” said Ross. “But HIV-positive people can go out and accomplish whatever they want with proper health care, and proper emotional, social, and psychological support. Becoming positive is not a death sentence, and this hike proves we can achieve great things.”
Ross’ longest day was 23 miles. His hardest day came as he was coming down one of the many mountains on the trail.
“I was descending within a stream, which was more like descending within a waterfall,” said Ross. “I slipped and fell on the wet, mossy rocks. I injured my knees and broke both of my trekking poles. Initially I couldn’t get up and I was afraid I was going to be stuck there on the side of that hill. I thought I might have to quit. But I was able to get up and make it to the next town so I could heal up for a few days and get back out on the trail.”
Throughout the entire hike, on good days and bad, Ross was buoyed by the constant support of people from across the country sending messages of encouragement.
“There were days when I was hiking alone and I would start to feel isolated,” said Ross. “But if I ever got a phone signal or could connect to the internet, I would see messages from supporters and it reminded me that I wasn’t alone and people were out there rooting for me. That’s what fueled me to keep going. I knew I was never truly alone.”
Through San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s Greater Than One program, Ross created his own fundraising campaign for this special hike, and he’s still seeking contributions. The program provides him with all the tools he needs to gather donations from family, friends, and other supporters.
For the next week, Ross will be taking a break on the East Coast to recover before returning to San Francisco. He’s looking forward to sleeping in his own bed and being reunited with his dog, Oscar. He’s also looking toward the future.
“I view this as the start of ‘chapter two’ in my life,” said Ross. “It’s going to be interesting to see where life takes me at this point, because I found I have more mental, physical, and emotional toughness than I thought I had. Now I know that I can really believe in myself.”
If you’re inspired by Ross’ journey, San Francisco AIDS Foundation invites you also to create an event of your own to support our work in our community. Your special fundraising efforts will change lives, improve health, and move us closer to the day when HIV/AIDS is no more. When you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything.
Share your messages of congratulations with Ross. Has his journey inspired you? Do you have any ideas for creating your own event to support the foundation?
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