Man Hikes Appalachian Trail to Raise Awareness for Addiction Recovery and Cancer

By May Wilkerson 08/21/15

Phil Valentine has been hiking to raise awareness since March.

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Some people tackle the challenges of sobriety with a pint of ice cream and a Netflix account. Phil Valentine has taken a different approach.

The Connecticut man, who is in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction and also beating cancer, decided to hike 2,200 miles through the Appalachian Trail to raise awareness about both.

Valentine, who is the executive director of the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR), has been sober for 27 years and is a major figure in his local recovery community. He began his trip on March 19, five years to the day after he was diagnosed with stage four tongue cancer. He says the idea first came to him in a dream.

“It was really a calling, as I was healing from the treatment from cancer, to walk the Appalachian Trail, and my first response was, ‘The whole thing?’ And it was. 'Yes,’” he recalls.

His aim in completing the hike was to bring attention to recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and cancer, and to inspire hope in others who are struggling. In the past five months, he had walked 1747.1 miles, at the time of this article. “I can’t believe I have done that,” he said. The trip has also been beneficial for his health. Since starting out, Valentine has lost 50 pounds and no longer needs blood pressure or cholesterol meds.

In addition to the physical challenges, Valentine’s journey has tested his recovery. He said he has been offered booze and pot by people he’s met on the trail, but has not been tempted. Since kicking his addictions to cocaine and alcohol 27 years ago, he has built a life, gotten married, and had five kids. Oh, and he beat cancer. Using drugs or alcohol could cost him everything, he said.

At certain times during the trek, he battled fatigue and blisters and felt "stupid," he said. But 444 miles from his final destination, Maine’s Mount Katahdin, he said he’s never felt mentally or physically stronger. “And here I made it all the way to the end of Vermont,” he said. “Hard to believe.”

To follow the last leg of Valentine’s journey, check out his website, Twitter and Facebook, which he updates with photos and videos, using the tag #AT4recovery. It almost makes you want to get up off the couch.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.