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Take a Hike

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EXECUTIVE: Mireya Eavey, 55, is the Sarasota area president of the United Way Suncoast. Eavey directs the organization's programs in Sarasota and DeSoto counties and is also executive director of local workforce development organization CareerEdge Funders Collaborative. CareerEdge was brought under the umbrella of United Way Suncoast's Sarasota services after Eavey took on her position there.

DIVERSION: Hiking the Appalachian Trail in separate trips. Eavey started this endeavor two years ago, and hikes the trail in sections whenever she can escape the demands of her job. “It detoxifies my brain,” she says. “Even though it's probably one of the hardest things I've ever done, it's one place I can go where I don't think about work.”

SPOUSAL SUPPORT: Eavey's husband, Andy, joins her on the hikes, even though he may not be as passionate about it as she. “On our trip over Thanksgiving he forgot the tent,” she says. “As soon as he realized he forgot it, he said, 'We'll just go home.' And I said, 'Oh no we're not.' We had to buy another $300 tent. But he enjoys it once he's out there.”

GETTING IN SHAPE: Eavey has been active her entire life. She takes spin classes, rides bikes and works out at Jaco's Boxing and Fitness in Sarasota. “You really do need to do some training before you do this, because it's strenuous,” she says. She carries about 30 pounds of supplies on her back and traverses some rough terrain. “I'm short, and some of the rocks I have to climb over are half my body size,” she says. What makes it all worthwhile? “That feeling of accomplishment when you've gotten it done and make it to your end point,” she says.

STEP BY STEP: Eavey hiked her first portion of the trail during a trip to North Carolina. After getting inspired, she and her husband decided to go back to the beginning of the trail in Georgia and start from there. On their next trip — likely in April — they'll have about nine miles remaining in Georgia before they cross into North Carolina. “That's going to be an exciting milestone for us,” says Eavey.

MAKE A PLAN: “The planning is sometimes just as much fun as when you're out there,” says Eavey. “You're planning how many miles you're going to walk a day, where you're going to get water.” Eavey's own plan: to hike the entire trail in her lifetime. Once she retires, she envisions spending a month at a time on the trail rather than just the weeklong trips she's been squeezing in.

THE RIGHT GEAR: Sarasota outfitter Environeers has been Eavey's go-to spot for equipment. “They'll give you advice to buy these boots over those,” she says. “And you have to have good hiking boots. Your feet are the one thing that have got to be comfortable, or you'll have a miserable trip.” She's also a huge REI fan. “When I walk into an REI store, for me it's like walking into a candy store,” she says.

CHALLENGES AFOOT: Blisters and a twisted ankle are some of the things that have slowed Eavey down along the way. “Little things can go wrong very easily,” she says. Hiking Unicoi Gap also worked her over. “For the first time I think I had some tears, and I asked myself what I was doing,” she says. “It was so difficult that I will never forget it. The rocks — it was endless.”

LESS IS MORE: It didn't take long for Eavey to learn what she truly needed for her hikes. “When you first start off, you think you have to have everything,” she says. “But every trip you shed something out of your backpack as you realize you can live without it.” She's found she's started thinking that way at home too. “We work so hard and we strive to have all these things,” she says. “But when you go hiking you want to have as little stuff as you can so you can enjoy your hike. You realize that happiness is not material stuff. It's that feeling you get from experiencing life.”


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