December 4, 2021

Adventurer and author: Get outside whenever possible

Katie Keyser/contributing photographer

Jeffrey Ryan of Portland, Maine, takes a moment at SUNY Cortland’s Corey Union on Friday, after his talk on “Embracing Life Through Outdoor Recreation.”

This story appeared in the November 14, 2017 edition of the Cortland Standard. To become a subscriber, email us, or call us at (607) 756-5665. Back issues available by request.

Outdoor adventurer Jeffrey Ryan told SUNY Cortland students to make getting outdoors a priority — no matter what.

“People think you have to take six months off of work to do a great adventure. There are other ways to get there. You need to be creative,” he said.

The Portland, Maine man has been trekking the outdoors for 30 years now. He hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in a six-month period, then took 28 years to complete the Appalachian Trail, one length per year.

“I made it a priority to figure out how to get out of the cubicle and set goals to do that,” said the former catalogue writer for L.L. Bean.

“Embracing Life Through Outdoor Adventure” was his topic at Friday’s 67th Annual Cortland Recreation Conference, one of many sessions over two days at Corey Union.

For the Pacific Trail trek, Ryan was one of 17 who started in 1983. Seven completed the trail. Between April 1 and Sept. 21, he slept on a bed just once. One of the highlights was hiking in Washington State and seeing three volcanoes, side by side. One, Mount Saint Helen, had exploded in 1980. He has since climbed it, photographed it after its eruption and has watched the area regenerate through the years.

Ryan worked on climbing Maine’s 50 highest peaks, going for short jaunts, while working at L.L. Bean.

“I set goals to do that. I needed this time outside to be creative,” Ryan said. “You have to refuel. A lot of professions are about give, give, give. But you need to refuel the soul.”

Ryan was getting press for his exploits and in 1985, the information technology department of a Hartford Insurance Co. in Connecticut, wanted him to help plan a climbing trip up Mount Katahdin in Maine, via the Appalachian Trail.

It was the beginning of a 28-year adventure. He and Wayne Cyr, a fellow on that first trip, would later became companions, taking the 2,100-mile trail that spans 14 states in segments.

Cyr and Ryan would meet at a point in Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania or Maine, and just go for three day jaunts.

“I barely knew Wayne when we started,” he said. The two are opposites. Cyr is analytical, introverted and has a plan. Ryan is extroverted and likes to go with the flow.

“We hit bumps in the road,” he said. But the two had much to offer each other.

“Perseverance is the most important thing,” Ryan said. “There are days you get up sore. You have a big climb. You worry if you will be able to get up the mountain. You go. You do. And it may be chanting “One-two, one-two, one-two,” as you walk. And you are going up.”

And the weather is always changing, he said.

There are “trail angels” along the way, the fellow who puts 12 gallon jugs of water along the trail in North Carolina, during a 28-mile stretch with no water, because of a drought.

Or the person who stops when Ryan is broken down in his vehicle, and the fellow, who has the same car, says “Come over to my house, I’ll fix it.”

Ryan was always mulling over five issues on his walk: What is the weather. What is the status of food and water? Where is Wayne? “I walk fast and he doesn’t. We rarely walk together.” How far to go tomorrow? Where are we in the plan?

Photo provided by Jeffrey Ryan

Jeffrey Ryan’s “Appalachian Odyssey” book cover.

He wrote “Appalachian Odyssey,” after he finished the trail in 2013. It came out in July 2016. He also wrote “Blazing Ahead” about Benton Mackaye and Myron Avery and the rivalry that built the Appalachian Trail.

Now he’s been traveling around book fairs and L.L. Bean stores, speaking about his book, his adventures and the need to be outdoors.

“I’m in the process of planning a couple of trips,” said Abby Merz, outdoor recreation student. “I will try to review them and put them in action.”

“It came at a perfect time in my life,” said Court Pineiro, outdoor recreation major.

“I am doing an internship in the spring and graduating. I really want to go on a trip,” he said. “He’s right. A short trip is a doable goal. I can start doing stuff I love.”