Pasadena man turns hiking hobby into thriving web community

His website, midatlantichikes.com, has become a destination for outdoors aficionados

December 18, 2010|By Candus Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

If Mike Juskelis had money and Hollywood juice, he'd make a commercial about hiking complete with raging waterfalls and rocky precipices and starring Sean Connery or Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Instead, the 61-year-old Pasadena man tries to coax folks outside and onto the region's trails with his website, midatlantichikes.com.

A labor of love since May 2004, the hiking site has the feel of a bunch of like-minded souls sitting in a shelter and talking shop while waiting out a passing thunderstorm. Hardly stuffy, his topics range from best post-hike restaurants to who belongs in the hiker hall of fame.

But that's not to say the site is full of fluff. The information is as rock-solid as the granite trails of Old Rag and as bracing as a overnight trip to the Dolly Sods. In addition to basic point-to-point trail information, Juskelis includes driving directions, topo maps and photos. And he encourages hikers to submit critiques of his work.

Juskelis was a late comer to the sport. A soft-spoken man, he found his favorite pastime, fishing, gave him too much time to think about his pending divorce.

In 1997, a colleague at W.R. Grace suggested hiking. Bingo.

"At first I was content being led through the woods but found many of the hikes to be redundant and not adventurous enough," he recalled. "I wanted more."

A year into his new hobby, Juskelis stopped following and began leading hikes for the Howard County chapter of the Sierra Club. He started taking notes.

Six years later, a good friend suggested backpacking about the same time Juskelis embraced GPS technology. In May of that year, he gathered his notes from more than 30 hikes and waypoint readings and put them online. And he took on a new persona: M.R. Hyker, a sly takeoff on the Ocean City saloon, M.R. Ducks.

The site now has 240 hikes covering more than 3,000 trail miles.

His online journal, "M.R. Hyker's Latest Adventure," isn't produced in a vacuum. A social creature, he includes fellow hikers with trail names such as Single Malt, Good Golly Miss Molly, Everybody Loves Raymond and Dimitri Tundra.

All that hard work squeezed into vacations, weekends and evenings hasn't gone unnoticed. The site gets rave reviews and he's become somewhat of a celebrity whose opinion has been sought by Backpacker magazine — although he still hasn't gotten a call from Connery or Zeta-Jones.

Juskelis loves the flexibility a website gives him over what a trail guide has to offer.

"My website is dynamic. You can see that I am constantly getting input from site visitors about not just the quality of the hikes but, more importantly, changes in trail conditions," he said. "I can make a correction almost in real time on my site. You can't do that with a book."

This being the season for resolutions, I asked Juskelis what advice he would give to new hikers looking to expand their horizons.

"Start short and easy. Be prepared and hike with a friend, or better yet, a seasoned hiker," he said, adding that good footwear and a full water bottle are a must.

If walking more and getting outdoors are part of your new year's resolutions, here are some other resources to tap:

The 7,000-member Maryland Outdoor Club has many activities, ranging from easy to expert. The club, founded in 2002, sponsors outings, has monthly social get-togethers and takes on projects. You can check it out at http://www.mdoutdoorclub.org or on Facebook.

Founded in 1934, the Mountain Club of Maryland is the state's oldest hiking group. It has hikes year-round on weekends and weekdays. In the summer, the Baltimore-based organization offers some canoeing and tubing events. Members help maintain the Appalachian Trail, clearing storm damage, restoring portions of the footpath and repairing four of the hiker shelters in Pennsylvania. The website is: http://www.mcomd.org.

The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club is seven years older than MCM, but just as spry. The group tends to be more Washington-centric, but hikes led by former Annapolis mayor Dick Hillman take in Baltimore and the turf around it. The website is: http://www.patc.net.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has a number of free or inexpensive events each week and classes that help you acquire or sharpen outdoors skills. The website is http://www.dnr.state.md.us.

For advice and free seminars, turn to REI, the gear company with stores in Timonium, Columbia and College Park. Veteran hikers will teach you how to dress, what equipment to take and how to use it. There's a resource area with free pamphlets and hiking news. Advanced instruction often has a fee. Joining the co-op means discounts on classes and an annual dividend check based on purchases. The website is http://www.rei.com.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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