TIPP CITY — To raise awareness for Ohio’s long-distance hiking trail, Tom Helbig took a hike — a 1,400 mile tour of the state — and along the way, gained a new appreciation for the beauty of Ohio and the kindness of its residents.
Helbig, adventurer and founder of Tipp City-based Tomfoolery Outdoors, started out on the Buckeye Trail in March. Briefly put on hold to recover from a broken elbow, Helbig finished his 88-day trek in Milford, just east of Cincinnati, last week.
As he followed the “blue blazes” — blue rectangular markers painted on trees and posts along the trail — in a loop around the state, Helbig enjoyed the many different kinds of beauty Ohio has to offer.
“You travel around the Lake Erie coastline, on the east and west sides of the state you follow canal towpaths a lot of the way, and then in southern Ohio, you’re in the hills,” he said. “It’s underratedly beautiful. It’s surprising to me all the beauty that exists in Ohio.”
The trail offers a wide of variety of Ohio scenery, from small towns and cities to rugged, remote wilderness, he added.
In Miami County, the Buckeye Trail travels along the bike path through Tipp City, Troy and Piqua. Outside of Piqua, the trail passes Johnston Farm. In the Dayton area, the trail tours Yellow Springs, skirts Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, follows the Mad River into Dayton and the Great Miami River north out of the city to Taylorsville Metro Park.
An advocate for adventure, Helbig took on the Buckeye Trail in order to raise awareness for its non-profit care-taking organization, the Buckeye Trail Association. His goal was to raise funds and gain new members for the association.
“When I set out to hike the entire Buckeye Trail, it was all about raising awareness for the trail and to celebrate that we have a long-distance hiking trail in Ohio,” he said.
Many people live just yards or miles from the trail and never know it’s there, Helbig said.
Helbig mostly traveled alone, occasionally joined by friends or other hikers. He carried only a 40 pound backpack containing a hammock, a change of clothes, cooking equipment and a first aid kit. He spent three nights in a hotel and primarily camped out along the trail.
Along the way, Helbig said he met a lot of interesting characters and was the recipient of a little “trail magic” — offers of food, lodging and assistance from kind strangers.
“I can say that I had zero negative experiences on my trip,” Helbig said of the people he met along the way. “Downright generous people invited me into their homes, cooked me meals, showers, laundry. Tons of generosity and kindness.”
His advice for other prospective long-distance hikers — just do it.
“That sounds really basic, but the hardest part of it all is just deciding to do it,” he said.
The Buckeye Trail is a good place for beginner hikers to start, he said, adding that it’s easy to break down into smaller, less intimidating sections. He recommended taking the trail a few days at a time and working up to longer hiking trips.
Helbig has lived all over Ohio, including in a camper parked at Adventures on the Great Miami in Tipp City. He grew up in the Cleveland area and attended Bowling Green State University before moving to Miami County in the ’90s.
“I had a sense of Ohio, but there’s nothing like walking around the entire state to get an even greater perspective,” he said.
Helbig, a full-time adventurer, quit his job in May 2014 to launch Tomfoolery Outdoors, a recreational and event planning company that encourages people to live outdoor, active lives. He has previously tackled challenges like exploring the Great Miami River and the Bahamas from a stand up paddle board and biking all over the country.
He also organizes many area outdoor events, including the annual Canoegrass Festival at Adventures on the Great Miami, an event that’s part bluegrass music festival, part canoeing party.
For more information on the Buckeye Trail or how to support the Buckeye Trail Association, visit www.buckeyetrail.org. To keep up with Helbig’s adventures, visit www.tomfooleryoutdoors.com.
Reach Cecilia Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org.