charity miles

Mother and daughter hike the Appalachian Trail for Parkinson’s research

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You never know who you are until you put a really big challenge in front of yourself. That's what we're doing.”

– Susan Otten

Climbing Mount Everest is a huge accomplishment, but what about climbing Mount Everest sixteen times?

When Susan Otten and her daughter Gretja hike the Appalachian Trail this year, they’ll go up and down so much elevation, it will be as though they trekked to the top of Mount Everest, and went back down sixteen times.

“Hiking the Trail was Gretja’s idea,” Susan says. “She’s finishing up her veterinarian internship, and before taking her first job, she wants to do something big.”

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is certainly big, but for Gretja and Susan, it’s about more than just the challenge.

“My husband, Gretja’s dad, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2010,” says Susan.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is certainly big, but for Gretja and Susan, it's more than just the challenge

Since then, Susan and Gretja have worked hard to support him and raise money for Parkinson’s research. Susan is a longtime Charity Miles champion, with over 10,000 miles logged in the app — all of them for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research.

“He’s doing great!” Susan says. “Just two weeks ago, he ran his first half marathon and completed it. Gretja coached him all the way.”

Gretja herself has done thirteen marathons and an Ironman, and Susan has done three marathons and too many halves to count. They decided they needed to do something bigger.

They aim to raise over $50,000 for Parkinson’s research through their Appalachian Trail hike.

To share their story and raise donations, Susan and Gretja have started a YouTube channel. They’ll share “Trail Tidbits” — fun facts about the trail and Parkinson’s — every time they enter one of the fourteen states along the trail.

They’ve already started sharing videos to raise awareness and donations. In one video, Susan and Gretja share what happened when they hiked in Colorado over Memorial Day weekend to test their gear.

“There was a huge elevation gain and I wasn’t fully acclimated,” says Susan. “And then there was snow at the top! We didn’t have enough time to get down, so we set up camp on two feet of snow. It was a great way to test our sleeping bags.”

How did the sleeping bags do? Susan and Gretja learned a counterintuitive tip:

“We overdressed. We put pretty much every piece of clothing we had, and that doesn’t allow the sleeping bag to do what it was supposed to do. You’re kind of insulating yourself from the warmth. So we learned not to do that.”

Gretja and Susan will start hiking in Maine in July, and plan to end in Georgia in December. They’ll have to do fifteen miles a day with no rest days for five months to finish by Christmas.

They’ve already raised $5,600, and have received a lot of support. Two video editors have donated their time to the YouTube channel. Lakes Running Co. has offered a generous discount on their trail runners (Susan and Gretja will wear out four pairs of shoes each on the trail!).

“And the support at REI has been nothing short of spectacular, both at the flagship store in Denver and at the Maple Grove store back home in Minnesota,” says Susan. “Every person we have talked to has been patient with us rookie backpackers, kind and generous with their time. All this support tells us people are so good and want to help us. It takes a village and we have the best behind us.”

Susan and Gretja will also be doing interviews with local TV and on our very own Charity Miles podcast, which they hope will bring in more support for their cause.

And on top of all that, Susan and Gretja will track their miles on Charity Miles for the whole hike. That’s over 2,200 miles each for Team Fox!

A week before starting, Susan is excited to go. She’s planning for the many challenges they’ll encounter in just the first few days — big elevation gains, rocky Maine terrain, and the 100-Mile Wilderness that starts just 25 miles down the trail.

“You don't know what you don't know until you get out there,” says Susan. “What makes me choke up is that thing that Gene says: ‘You never know who you are until you put a really big challenge in front of yourself.’ That's what we're doing.”

We wish Susan and Gretja all the best of luck!

If you’d like to follow them along the trail, you can subscribe to their YouTube channel. And if you’d like to support their efforts for Parkinson’s research, you can donate here on the Team Fox site, where 100% of your donation will immediately go to fund research to find a cure.

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