NC man hiking for children’s charities stops in Elizabethton

Published 8:30 am Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Contributed Photo  South of Elizabethton, Claxton takes a rest on his journey to Maine.

Contributed Photo
South of Elizabethton, Claxton takes a rest on his journey to Maine.

Hikers from around the world pass through Carter County nearly every day during prime Appalachian Trail hiking season. Some are seeking adventure, and some are hoofing the 2,190 miles for a cause. On Tuesday night, a thru-hiker on a mission for youth in North Carolina and Honduras made a stop in Elizabethton, approximately 425 miles into his journey.
After biking across the country in 2008 and raising $71,000 for a scholarship in the name of his late mother, 60-year-old Steve Claxton is on another trek, but this time, he has two goals in mind. Currently, his completion of the trail is valued at about $44,000 for the two southern Appalachian organizations.
He set out to thru-hike the trail in Georgia on February 22 to raise money for his local chapter of Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS). At about 160 miles into the hike, near Robbinsville, North Carolina, he had a rather timely encounter.
Claxton is an outfitter that guides people fly fishing and camping in the backcountry of the Great Smoky Mountains, and in his off-season, he shuttles hikers into town. Because of this, his phone number was listed in the AT book near his hometown of Robbinsville.
He received a call from hiker Ronnie Dillon, and though Claxton was thru-hiking, he was nearby on the trail.
Dillon was carrying a satellite tracker, measuring the miles on the Hike for Honduras to benefit Friends of Barnabus (FOB), a medical non-profit for children in Honduras. The original FOB hiker, Kyle Kirby had injured both knees at just over 100 miles into the hike, at which point organizers sent a call to arms for people to continue the hike. The trail has to be completed for FOB to receive all the funds pledged, so Dillon resumed where Kirby had come off the trail to take medical leave.
After calling for a shuttle, Dillon happened to notice Claxton was on the front page of the community newspaper for his BBBS fundraiser Hike for Hope and saw that his trail name was Mustard Seed, a Biblical reference to Matthew 17:20.
“He called me back and asked if I would consider hiking the tracker to Maine,” said Claxton. “He explained that the fellow doing the hike had injured both knees in Franklin and said he would be taking the device to Robbinsville. He explained the cause and organization and I told him I would be honored to.”
Dillon netted 40 miles for the cause, when Claxton took the “baton.”
Claxton’s hike has gained global support with donors in Italy, Germany, California, Maryland and other places contributing to the cause.
Additionally he said he has numerous supporters planning to hike sections with him, and some are holding their own fundraisers.
His BBBS hike will fund his local chapter in Swain County, of which he has been a member for 12 years. He also plans to use the funds to start a branch nearby in Graham County.
“I’ve seen so many kids’ lives turned around by this program,” he said.
He has served as a coordinator, a big brother, and currently as a member of its advisory council. The benefits for young people that participate are life-changing, he said.
“I had a little brother who was a destined dropout,” said Claxton. “He turned around and will graduate this year. School has been a real effort, but he’s now talking about enrolling in community college. He went from a statistic to a high school graduate with college plans.”
Claxton hopes to gain increasing support along his route, as he did on his bike ride across the country. With the funding, he said his local BBBS program will be able to provide more resources and experiences to the little brothers and sisters involved, which he said are opportunities they would not have otherwise.
He said raising money locally is very challenging, due to the economic climate there.
“It’s a very, very poor county, so raising funds for a poor program like this is quite difficult,” he said. “We don’t have the industry or the clientele of donors that are wealthy that could support us so we’ve got to get out and beat the bushes and make it happen.”
His goal is to expand the reach of BBBS to neighboring Graham County, after seeing more than a decade of success in his home county.
Claxton said children have little access to positive recreational opportunities like theaters or bowling alleys, and many do not have anyone in their lives taking them hiking or teaching them how to fish.
Typically, he said the “Littles” grow up in a negative family environment, and that having a big brother or sister who really and truly cares for them can be all they need.
“With my little brother, once he got older, he started working with my business and he would help me at camp and would help me get firewood and set up and take down camp, so he’s earning an outdoor skill that he would never have been exposed to,” said Claxton. “He had never been to a movie, and we went to a movie. We’re trying to offer them things that they’re never going to get to do otherwise.”
These types of activities, and many of what would be hopes and goals, appear to be out of reach for BBBS youth. His Hike for Hope is the means he found to make those dreams realities.
“I thought, ‘I did it with my bike ride; I can do it with this,’” Claxton said. “I thought, ‘here’s a way I can make this work and get another program started in a county that desperately needs it.”
Though he hikes for a living, the hike has not been forgiving. Near Newfound Gap, he hiked six miles on a solid sheet of ice without crampons, and said the ice spanned about nine miles total.
“There were a couple nights where it was just plain old miserable, but I got through it,” he said. “It was an experience.”
More than 1,500 people are following his trek on Facebook, and many have personally thanked him for allowing them to see the trail through his eyes. He said some are physically unable to hike the trail, but through his experience, they can grow with him.
He posts footage of scenes like Watauga Lake, Laurel Falls and even a video of a crackling fire with the sounds of owls and coyotes in the background.
“People commenting on social media everyday say it’s something they’d physically never be able to do, but through me they are able to,” said Claxton. “In addition to raising funds for Friends of Barnabus and Big Brother Big Sister, it’s taking people on the journey with me. I want people to share what I’m enjoying and to feel what I’m feeling everyday.”
Contributed Photo Claxton captured this view over Watauga Lake from the Appalachian Trail on his journey North.

Contributed Photo
Claxton captured this view over Watauga Lake from the Appalachian Trail on his journey North.

Some have been so inspired by his story that though they have little to give, they have made contributions.
“Those are the ones that touch me the most,” said Claxton. He mentioned one elderly woman who gave him a ride and said he knew she couldn’t afford to give, but she gave him $5.
“I’ll carry that with me to the end of the trail because it meant so much to me,” he said.
To donate to BBBS of Swain and Graham Counties, visit or mail checks with “Hike for Hope” on the memo line to Big Brother Big Sister, 121 Sam Cove, Robbinsville, NC, 28771.
The fundraising goal for FOB is $50,000, and that money will help cover the costs of medical training and education for health teams in Honduras to better provide specialized pediatric care. To make donations to FOB, visit
Claxton said he looks forward to meeting the team FOB team in Damascus, Virginia in a few days. He has met none of them in person and said he does not know whether he, a team or other hikers will carry the satellite device all the way to Maine, but that he will be happy to because it is his destination as well.
To track his progress, follow him on Facebook, or visit

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