Local man takes on ending Alzheimer’s by walking Appalachian Trail

By Peggy Mackenzie

Bruce Musser at one of many vista points on the Appalachian Trail

Bruce Musser started hiking the Appalachian Trail on Sept. 3 when the air was mild, the fall leaves were still beautiful and the sky was blue. Having retired early just three years ago, Musser invited his recently retired cousin Bill Nash to join him on a long-held bucket list objective – to hike the Appalachian Trail. Musser also contacted the Alzheimer’s Organization knowing that every fall, they have an annual Alzheimer’s Organization awareness Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Both of Musser’s parents suffer from Alzheimer’s. He wanted to use the hike to raise funds in their names. Musser is the son of Glen Musser, who, local residents may remember ran the State Farm agency on Court Street in Lewisburg for many years.

Taking on the Appalachian Trail is a real challenge for even a dedicated person, but Musser knew this was a hike that’s about more than the beautiful views or the challenge. Musser and Nash began the Trail in Georgia, hiking 10 to 15 miles a day. Sometimes they traveled separately. Nash got the nickname “Ash” because he’d travel faster and have a fire ready when Musser arrived. Often, hikers heading south would meet Musser, nicknamed “Spruce,” and give him messages from “Ash” up ahead, like a telegragh system. He’d hike a few days and then go back to visit his parents and his wife, Pam, before meeting up with Nash again on the Trail.

The Trail gets millions of visitors a year, and Musser’s experience, as a first timer, is no different. It can be grueling when your feet are asking for relief, he said, but knowing you’re doing something meaningful to honor those you care about can revitalize one’s stamina and determination. Besides fulfilling a challenge you’ve given yourself, the reward is bigger and lasts a lot longer.

Plus, Musser says, “There are ‘Trail Angels’ out there, people who help you out with offering food, rides to town, laundry facilites and showers.” That kind of support – kindness and generosity – can make all the difference for hikers. In the same way, Musser said, the Alzheimer’s Association provides support and hugs to those family members and friends who have loved ones suffering from the disease. Alzheimer’s has been termed “a very lonely disease,” said Musser. “It can be pretty stressful.”

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly, and in time, become severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation or respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues.

The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. They work on both national and local levels to provide care and support for all those affected by Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is held annually each Fall in more than 600 communities nationwide, and is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research.

If you’d like to support Bruce’s funding efforts, http://act.alz.org/goto/ATwalker4Alz  is the direct link to Bruce’s page. His goal is to get to $2,194, the number of miles he will travel on the Trail – at one dollar per mile. So far he has funded $917 and has covered more than 800 miles from Georgia north to Rt. 60 in West Virginia. He said he will head east on Rt. 60 toward Lynchburg and the Blue Ridge Parkway next. As the winter weather moves south, Spruce and Ash will likely resume the hike next June/July to reach Maine’s highest mountain at the end of the Trail. “May the forest be with you,” he says.