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"​We decided that we were going to do something for the trail; that we were going to come visit it. We wanted to walk where he had walked, and to see what he saw."

In 2011, Danny Cramer, a.k.a. “Mile Hi,” thru-hiked the A.T. in 146 days — 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine.

This year (2016), his parents, a.k.a. Kathi and Steve Cramer covered 6,746 miles in 32 days — traveling from their home in Colorado to hike a section of the Trail in each state it passes through from Georgia to Maine. On May 11, both parties landed at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) headquarters and Visitor Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, five years apart. For Danny, the stop was a celebration; for his parents, a memorial.

Steve and Kathi at Springer Mountain
The Cramers at Springer Mountain — the couple took time off to connect to the places Danny experienced during his thru-hike by taking day hikes in each of the 14 states the Trail passes through.

To commemorate their son, who took his own life in 2014 after repeated struggles with depression, Kathi and Steve have launched the Danny Cramer Appalachian Trail Stewardship Memorial Fund. A seed pledge of $50,000 will be used to mitigate the impact of increased Trail use issuing from the recent spate of movies and books about hiking. In dedicating a plaque, now displayed in the Harpers Ferry Visitor Center, Steve said, “We believe that hike gave Danny a few more years to live, and we would like people involved with the Trail to know that they helped prolong his life a little bit; a treasure beyond value.”

Kathi and Steve Cramer hiking on the Trail, surrounded by yellow leaves.
As Colorado residents, Steve and Kathi are outdoor people, a passion conveyed to their son. “We’re runners, we golf and ski, and we camped when we were younger,” they explain. But it was Danny who caught the hiking bug, ultimately inspiring his parents’ goal to “walk in some of the places he walked” across all 14 Trail states. To this end, one of Danny’s fellow thru-hikers, Gingersnap, provided a “greatest hits” list of three- to six-mile day hikes. Springer Mountain, Fontana Dam, Max Patch, Mount Rogers, Delaware Gap, Mount Greylock, Norwich-Hanover, and many other sites provided “a glimpse of the wonderful experience the Trail was [for Danny],” the Cramers say. An email to friends describes their last hike: “Today’s Trail experience was truly magical; the scenery absolutely gorgeous! We made it to within five miles of Katahdin’s summit. We could go no further because the A.T. has not yet opened for the season…We feel a great sense of accomplishment at a beautiful place by a pond (a large lake by our standards) knowing that Danny would have enjoyed the serenity and peace.”

In the tradition of Earl Shaffer, whose inaugural thru-hike walked off the psychic distress of World War II, Danny had decided to thru-hike after a serious bout of depression during his junior year at Swarthmore College. Afterward, he returned for his senior year to graduate Phi Beta Kappa, on time, and “on budget” to quote his grateful parents. Because he had just begun work as an ATC ridgerunner, he attended his graduation wearing his ridgerunner uniform underneath his robe. He returned to Swarthmore for a teaching certificate in 2012, followed by a second season as a ridgerunner. He then joined the faculty of the New Jersey School of Conservation, where he taught middle and high school students one- to two-week custom curricula — mastering a menu of 50 topics ranging from rock climbing to history and maple sugaring, Danny received rave reviews from students and supervisors alike. He had just bested a field of more experienced candidates for a full-time teaching position at his alma mater, Denver Jewish Day School, when a final bout of depression took its toll.

The Trail was far more beautiful than I ever could’ve expected.

“My guess is that a lot of people hike the Trail to buy some time, to discover themselves, or because they don’t know what they want to do next, because they don’t know where they fit in the world,” Kathi says. Her husband adds, “It’s also an escape from the craziness of daily life. There aren’t many places you can go for that …” Kathi finishes his sentence, adding, “... that are socially acceptable.”

Just before they set off on their 14-state section hikes of the Trail, the Cramers experienced their own brand of Trail magic, starting near their home in Colorado where they received a good omen. “When we stopped at a cafe/bar in Limon for lunch, a guy at the only other table of people was apparently talking about his trip along the southern part of the A.T. In Limon, Colorado. Too weird!” they explain. A more typical example occurred when they decided to head for Hot Springs, North Carolina from a nearby trailhead. Another pair of hikers offered directions, and then followed them down, signaling every twist and turn along a labyrinth of dirt roads. Arriving in Hot Springs, Kathi and Steve strolled around town, “hikers everywhere,” before selecting a brewery for lunch. They’d just settled in when their “Trail angels” walked through the door. “So we got a chance to buy them lunch,” the Cramers explain. “We’d probably still be at the trailhead if they hadn’t helped us out.”

Although the Cramers are not planning to thru-hike, Kathi says that they will definitely be doing more day-hiking. “The Trail was serene and beautiful. You’re in the woods [for long stretches], and then get breathtaking views.” Steve confirms, “The Trail was far more beautiful than I ever could’ve expected. I knew we had a treasure in the A.T., but I didn’t know how much until we did this. Research on PTSD indicates that right-left activity like the metronome of walking can help people get through difficult memories. I felt closer to Danny than at any time since he died, in a good way; love and grief, which is another form of love.”

- This article was written by Sonja Carlborg, and first appeared in the 2016 Summer issue of A.T. Journeys.

Sandra Marra, Ron Tipton, Kathi and Steve Cramer with Danny's Plaque at ATC Headquarters

Sandra Marra, Ron Tipton, Kathi and Steve Cramer with Danny's Plaque at ATC Headquarters.

Danny Cramer

Danny "Mile Hi" Cramer

Danny Cramer at the ATC in Harpers Ferry
Danny Cramer in 2011 at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Kathi and Steve hike along a tree-lined section of the Trail. Fallen leaves cover this section of the A.T. The Cramers stop to look at some large rocks and a stream on the Trail. The Cramers pause for a warm embrace on the Trail. Kathi and Steve hike on the A.T. The Cramers navigate a rocky section of the Trail. Kathi and Steve near a small waterfall. Mostly yellow leaves remain on the trees along this section of the Trail. The Cramers enjoying a scenic mountain view near the A.T. The sun sets near the A.T.

Strengthened Capacity & Operational Excellence

Strengthened Capacity and Operational Excellence

Steve and Kathi experienced the restorative effects of hiking the Appalachian Trail through the journey of their son, Danny. As a result, they pledged to help preserve that experience for others seeking refuge in America's backwoods. Find out more about how the ATC is strengthening its ability to protect the unique A.T. hiking experience for the benefit of present and future generations.

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  1. <a href="http://www.goaescortfemales.com/">Goa Escorts</a> | Nov 23, 2017
    Thank you Mr. & Mrs. Cramer for sharing such an intimate story regarding your family.  As an individual who suffers with depression, it's not always looked upon favorably.  You truly do get to lose yourself in the beauty of the trail and it's healing powers are unexplainable.  By sharing your pain, it helps to Mile Hi's memory to always be alive and teaching others.
  2. Catherine E. Brown | Nov 09, 2017

    Dear Kathi and Steve,

     On a beautiful tree at the NJ School of Conservation today, I saw a plaque honoring the memory of your dear Danny.  Flocks of schoolchildren passed by on their way to a charming wooden bridge across the water,  talking animatedly and bounding with energy. I learned today that school budget cuts  have reduced outdoor education programs; I am hopeful that will change when our next governor takes office.  For my part, I will help to make more school leaders aware of the rich opportunities available here and critical to the preservation and appreciation of our natural world. I want you to know that Danny’s spirit lives on in this beautiful NJ preserve. B’shalom

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    Behind the sunny days, there will be rain and rain, so never lose faith, and keep walking, going to the end of your path.
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  5. Howard Reid | Dec 21, 2016
    Mr and Mrs. Cramer thank you for sharing a part of your heart and soul through your love of your son Danny with us.  It's hard to type when tears are streaming down my face as I have hiked with my son on the AT in Pennsylvania since he was 6 years old (he is now 14) and I don't think I could survive if I lost him.  Often I take him and his friends to hike the Pinnacle in Pennsylvania and then on a handful of days during the year I'll hike the 10 miles or so by myself and feel the presence of the people like Danny and Earl Schaffer who have also walked the very route that I am hiking that day.  It's hard not to find yourself and God when you are alone on the trail and I am glad that experiencing the AT has brought you some comfort as it did Danny.     SheElohim yevarach otha
  6. Stephen Simmons | Dec 14, 2016
    I live only 10 miles from the AT. My first walk on it was a hike to Cloudlands this fall on my 69th Birthday. About 3.5 miles of the trail. I have now walked about 45 miles of the trail, and have plans to walk "Great Smoky Mountain NP" this next fall. Thank you for sharing, I have a dream my Grandkids might walk a week in the summer in the near future. 
  7. Randi | Dec 14, 2016

    I, too, have a deep and personal relationship with nature. To know that Danny walked the AT and found comfort, connection and strength in it's magic and majesty helps me to feel comforted as well. Steve and Kathi Cramer are among the finest people that I know. They have funneled their grief into avenues to help others while honoring Danny. To know that they walked some of the same steps that he did, saw some of the same beauty that he did, and felt his spirit walking with them moves me beyond description. I know that this experience for them was, and will continue to be profound and beyond description.  I now to their grace and love on this planet  

  8. Kathi Cramer (Danny's Mom) | Dec 13, 2016
    Oh, my, I'm vaklempt (Yiddish for being emotional!) at these entries!  We can't ask for anything more than to have our Danny story touch a spot in the hearts of others.  If there's anything a parent could want the most under these circumstances, it's that our son won't be forgotten, that he left the world a better place for having been here and left a memory in people's minds and hearts.  These stories do that for us!  Thanks so, so much for sharing yours........it helps us all to remember that we share these very human experiences.  To Joel, I'm so sorry to hear the loss of your sweet son and hope that his memory will always be a blessing to you!  Keep hiking and supporting teaching!  To Jeff, we love that photo and wish we had it before the story broke so that it could have been included! To A Section Hiker, please take care of yourself, heal and hike on the Trail again soon!  To Scribbles, I'm sure that Danny wishes he would have met you!  I'm glad that you understand the power of walking and being on the AT as a healing place!  To Michael, I love knowing that his shelter journal entries entertained you!  I'm sure he loved knowing that as he loved writing and the power of words.  I'm so glad to know that you knew Danny and thanks for sharing your memories of him!  We treasure these so much! 
  9. Michael | Dec 13, 2016

    I hiked with Mile-Hi for a couple stretches in Virginia. Before that, I had been behind him for a while and I remember that he always had some of the best, most creative shelter journal entries that would keep me smiling for miles.

    My favorite, and I still remember this 5 years later, was a pie chart he made of "Things Meatloaf would do for Love." Of course, the two options were "Anything" represented by stripes and "That" represented by dots. The pi-chart was all stripes, as we all know. For miles afterwards, that would make me break out in random laughter. 

    When I caught-up with him, it was as if I already knew him, and I remember freaking him out by how excited I was to finally meet him.

  10. Kerry Scribbles Smithwick | Dec 13, 2016

    Hi, I'm Scribbles and I thru-hiked in 2011. I wish I had met Danny. I love that he extended his passion for the Trail by becoming a Ridge Runner and teaching kids about nature and how to care for nature.

    I totally understand the healing nature of walking. There is a book about walking describing how the human body was made to walk and how, as you mentioned, the rhythm of walking allows the mind to be free to explore. That exploration can be of the place your are in physically or mentally. Hiking the AT had been a dream of mine since I was in my teens. I was fortunate to be able to take a work sabbatical to hike. Not until I got on the Trail did I realize I had  unresolved 'issues' to work through. The totally anonymity of The Trail adds to magic. There are few places for retreat where there are no expectations except respect for the woods, it's creatures and other humans. That allows the opportunity to totally let go and feel the power of being free.

    Thanks for sharing your experience on the AT and your wish for others to be able to retreat to the woods.

  11. a section hiker | Dec 13, 2016
    Thank you Mr. & Mrs. Cramer for sharing such an intimate story regarding your family.  As an individual who suffers with depression, it's not always looked upon favorably.  We section hiked in 2013 and it was the best time of my life.  It is my desire to get back out again after dealing with a broken ankle and pancreatic cancer.  You truly do get to lose yourself in the beauty of the trail and it's healing powers are unexplainable.  By sharing your pain, it helps to Mile Hi's memory to always be alive and teaching others.
  12. Jeff Taussig | Dec 13, 2016
    Mile Hi stayed at our hostel in June 2011. Hope parents Steve and Kathi Cramer get to see this photo of their son at Green Mountain House. http://www.trailjournals.com/photos.cfm?id=621448
  13. Joel McKenzie | Dec 13, 2016
    This was a beautiful story, but a hard one to watch. My son took his own life at about the same age almost 4 years ago. I completed the trail in 2013 by section hiking it over many years. My son walked some of it with me and also helped transport me to and from some sections. He was able to reach his dream of being a school teacher before he passed. My colleagues at work made a contribution in his memory to the Trail to Every Classroom program. My prayers go out to the Cramers.

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