Millsaps alumnus Chris Odom completed an endeavor in 2012 that many people just dream about: He hiked the entire 2,184-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. The foundations for Chris' mental, emotional, and physical journey on the Appalachian Trail were laid during his time as a Millsaps student.
"I became involved in backpacking while I was at Millsaps," said Odom, who earned his B.S. in 1991. "It was as a student at Millsaps that I set a goal to continuously hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine."
Odom chronicled his Appalachian Trail adventure on the blog Stats on the A.T.
Completed in 1937, the trail extends between the trailheads of Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. It is rated as a moderate to strenuous hike and typically takes a full six months to complete.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy estimates that 2-3 million visitors hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail each year, with most taking day hikes and short backpacking trips. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has recorded since 1936 more than 12,000 hike completions, including thru-hikes, multi-year section-hikes, and several hundred hikes by people who have already completed the trail one or more times.
Odom can now call himself a "2000 Miler," which is a name given to individuals who complete the entire trail.
Odom, who took a sabbatical from his teaching job at George School in Newtown, Pa., began hiking on March 13, 2012 and finished 163 days later on August 22. Scattered in that period were only 22 days he spent resting and did not hike.
"Thru-hiking the A.T. is hard," Odom said. "Physically, emotionally, and mentally, the hike is frustrating and challenging. But it is also wonderful, rewarding, and beautiful. It's a lot like raising children."
During his time devoted to the trail, Odom kept up with his wife, Kathleen, and their two children, Archer and Josie, via occasional text messages and phone calls. On a few occasions he was able to video-chat with his family via Skype.
He documented his trip on the blog http://atstats.blogspot.com, where he writes about everything from encounters with wildlife to watching episodes of the T.V. show "Monk" with his son via Skype at a motel along the trail.
Like many of Odom's former classmates, Stephanie Ritcher, B.A. 1991, kept up with Odom's hike via his blog. The days on the trail were strenuous, but the hardest part for Odom was being apart from his family. "I was more worried that he would not want to be away from his family that long than he would not be able to finish the hike physically," Ritcher said.
Odom's physical preparation for the hike began two and a half years before he hit the trail. His training primarily consisted of daily workouts at a gym, but he also did many training hikes in the mountains to get his body in shape and to dial-in his equipment. He even loaded a backpack and worked out on the gym's treadmill in the weeks before his departure.
Odom's mental preparation, however, began during his time as a Millsaps student.
"I can't pinpoint one thing that Millsaps gave me to make my hike successful," he said. "But I can say that the lessons learned there - to dream big, to push through adversity, to work hard to achieve your goals, and to cultivate a good sense of humor - all helped me complete my hike."
At Millsaps, Odom focused on making the most of his education. "I knew that my four years at Millsaps would be some of the best of my life, and I think I took advantage of all Millsaps had to offer," he said. "I was the intramural student representative for four years, a resident assistant in Ezelle, and president of the Society of Physics Students and Sigma Pi Sigma (the physics honorary). I played a lot of intramural sports, rapidly fell in and out of love, and never missed a meal in the Caf."
A physics major, Odom currently teaches physics at George School in Newton, Pa., a Quaker, coeducational boarding and day school for students in grades nine through 12. He credits the remarkable faculty and staff of Millsaps College with preparing him for a successful teaching career.
"I am thankful for being the recipient of a Ford Teaching Fellowship, which helped prepare me for a career as an educator," Odom said. "I was fortunate to have a number of teachers who guided me both intellectually and emotionally. Millsaps provided tremendous opportunities for me to conduct real scientific research as an undergraduate. The College helped shape me as a person, teacher, and scientist. My professors challenged my preconceived notions of the world and encouraged me to broaden my horizons. Their impact on me was significant and long-lasting."
Millsaps political science professor Dr. Iren Omo-Bare recalls Odom as an exceptional pupil. "I remember Chris as a student of superior quality," Omo-Bare said. "His observations during class discussions were always well made, demonstrating an impressive ability to present and defend his positions on a variety of issues. I also remember him as a cooperative and congenial fellow with a commendable appreciation of various issue positions."
In addition to fond memories of faculty and staff, Odom lauds the Millsaps student body, citing the close friendships he forged over his college years.
"Certainly my time at Millsaps with close friends is what I most remember. I was fortunate to be surrounded by a wonderful and diverse group of friends who challenged and supported me," he said. "I had wonderful professors, made long-lasting friendships, and was afforded time and support to conduct research in both physics and pedagogy."
For Odom, Millsaps was the greatest educational experience that he could have hoped for, and the values garnered during his time at Millsaps provided strength for him during the most laborious sections of the trail.
"What made me keep going through the seemingly endless days of snow, rain, heat, and difficult terrain? I'm not sure," Odom admitted. "But I feel that the confidence and fortitude needed to hike the Appalachian Trail were cultivated in no small part during my time at Millsaps. And for that, I'm grateful."