When Ballston Lake native Blake Robinson set off on the Appalachian Trail more than a decade ago he had no idea that he would come to spend much of his life chasing the next trail.
That first thru-hike was merely a lark. Something to do after he’d graduated with his master of business administration degree in 2007.
“I was trying to think of what would go well with an MBA and somehow I concluded that hiking the Appalachian Trail would be a good balance. So I did that with close to zero experience hiking or backpacking,” Robinson said during a recent interview.
He’d gone on a few short hiking trips to the Adirondacks as a kid and during his time at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, where he graduated from in 2000, but never completed an extensive hike.
“I had no idea what I was doing. I had this enormous pack, I was carrying way too much stuff. But it was just amazing. I loved every second of it,” Robinson said.
Since that first thru-hike, he’s hiked more than 5,000 miles on the Appalachian Trailal one and has also completed the Pacific Crest Trail, the Colorado Trail and many others.
Most recently, he’s been hiking his way through 50 National Parks across the United States, connecting them all on a 20,000 mile-long hike.
A map of Robinson’s proposed walk. (Provided)
It’s a project he’s calling Walk The Parks, which he started in 2017 after quitting his job at a ski resort in Aspen, Colorado, where he lives most of the year. His plan was to start with Yellowstone National Park and hike or bike to the rest of the parks on his list over the course of three years, documenting the journey through his website (walktheparks.com) and through social media.
“I did a 3,000-mile hike from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon [and] I connected every National Park in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, into Nevada,” Robinson said.
However, he sustained a severe knee injury during a bike ride to Key West, Florida and had to take a few months off of intense hiking to heal.
“For a while, I was like ‘I’m a failure. I really thought I was going to do this whole thing in one shot,’ ” Robinson said.
By the time his knee had healed, his timing was off and hiking in Florida was nearly impossible.
“You really have to time Florida correctly because you only want to be there in the dead of winter. Any other time, you’ll be walking through thunderstorms and way more water and swamps than there already are,” Robinson said.
Instead, he adjusted his route and took to the Appalachian Trail, which connects to some of the National Parks on his list. In 2018, he completed his second thru-hike, with a much lighter pack than the first one during which his pack earned him the trail name Deluxe. On the second thru-hike, he also encountered some severe weather.
“It was the rainiest May on record in the state of Virginia and in Shenandoah National Park, there was flash flooding. It was like the mountain became a stream. I remember holding my tent down because I just felt the [stream] go underneath it,” Robinson said.
To follow along with the journey visit walktheparks.com.
It didn’t dampen his consistently upbeat attitude, which shows through not only in the enthusiastic way he speaks about the trail but in his posts on social media, where he posts videos taking viewers through his own journey. He also interviews other hikers that he meets along the way.
“I could spend my whole life hiking the Appalachian Trail over and over, honestly. It’s my favorite place in the whole world. I love it because that trail specifically attracts so many new people and there’s that green energy that is just awesome. People are just so blown away. I love to be around that,” Robinson said.
After hiking the parks along that trail, he headed for the Grand Canyon National Park, spending several weeks hiking through it.
“I just love the Grand Canyon. When I went, I left the Arizona-Utah border with a ton of food, [but] there was no real water sources at all. There was [an] 80-mile section and there was [one] business 40 miles in. On the doors, it said, ‘Sorry you’ve reached us on one of only three days a year when we’re closed.’ I had to knock on all the doors, but eventually, I found a maintenance guy to give me water,” Robinson said.
After spending much of 2017 and 2018 hiking his route, Robinson took a break and decided to go back to work in Aspen at a ski resort along with a few other odd jobs to save up more money.
“Most of my free time, I try to work as much as I can to save money. It’s interesting how many people I meet that think that I’m wealthy but that is not the case at all. I just really try to live a super simple life,” Robinson said.
He worked through the ski season before heading to the parks in southern California in 2019.
“I went up to the [Redwood National Park]. Then I hiked the full Pacific Crest Trail; there’s several national parks along the Pacific Crest Trail in California,” Robinson said.
Along the way, he interviewed many hikers, asking them about their stories and passions, the challenges they’d met on the trail and why it was all worth it. He posted the videos on YouTube as a way to document not only his journey but others as well.
“My first trip I spent slightly over 500 consecutive days out. Then I spent about 175 last summer. All in all, I’ve done about 10,000 miles so far. I’ve visited 30 National Parks so I have 20 more to go,” Robinson said.
His hope is to complete the rest of the parks in the coming months, which will bring him back to the Capital Region, where he planned to speak at local schools and local libraries.
“I will say that the world has changed pretty dramatically in the last week or so. My original plan was to start on May 1st, hit up a couple of parks that really have no trails that go near them, like Hot Springs Arkansas,” Robinson said.
But with the spread of COVID-19, his plans are tentative. While people in New York State have been encouraged to get outside and explore local parks, hiking across multiple states might not be advisable, as there’s a chance that hikers could become carriers of the virus and bring it to other towns that they visit. In the last two weeks, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has asked all hikers to stay off the trail to mitigate the spread.
However, even if he has to delay the project, he’s sure to be back on the trail as soon as possible. His passion for hiking and being outdoors is in part what drove him to start Walk The Parks and it hasn’t subsided since then.
“Someone went through this exercise with me, it always stuck with me. They asked ‘If you were a billionaire with no restriction on money or time, or if you only had five years to live, what would you do with your life?’ I was really asking myself that and when I was on the Appalachian Trail and then the thousand-miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, I was like ‘How can I do this more?’ I think my answer to the question is I would be in the wilderness and spending all this beautiful time outside. I just find something about walking is just amazing,” Robinson said.
“The reality is you only live once. . . . You always hear ‘Chase your dreams, follow your heart.’ I want to listen to that. . . . . I feel like I’ve found something that I really love so I should just keep doing it. Why wouldn’t I?”
Walk the Parks: by the numbers
- 675 days spent hiking between July 25, 2017 and October 8, 2019
- 19,502,711 steps taken
- 9,115 miles hiked
- 483 miles biked
- 1,500,031 feet of total elevation gain
- 30 National Parks visited
- 20 States visited
- 14,329 feet – highest point reached at Mt. Elbert, Colorado
- 15 Days – longest stretch without a shower
- 35 miles – longest day
- 60 miles – longest stretch between water
- 10 days – longest time between resupply points