For local couple, hiking’s the thing

Dodging snakes, bathing in cold springs, and hiking up nearly vertical trails on your wedding anniversary, several miles from the nearest town, all while carrying 40 to 50 pounds of equipment.

That doesn’t sound like an anniversary trip most people would get excited about.

But Warren residents Bernadette and Ronald Sweet are not most people.

Ronald, a sergeant in the U.S. Army on active duty, currently deployed in Afghanistan, and Bernadette, a sergeant in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, share a passion for hiking that has taken them all over the eastern part of the country.

The couple has enjoyed hiking on everything from Warren County’s own portion of the 4,600-mile North Country Trail, which will become the longest National Scenic Trail in America when completed, to the Foothills Trail located in North and South Carolina. The couple has already begun to make plans for their next conquest: the 115.4-mile Bartram Trail that stretches through the mountains of northern Georgia into North Carolina.

In celebration of the couple’s anniversary as well as their birthdays, all of which fall on Oct. 24, the couple traveled to North and South Carolina last year to hike the Foothills Trail. After completing the 76-mile journey, the Sweets were presented with the Peregrine Award, a patch given to hikers who finish the entire length of the trail. While some choose to do the trip in sections, Bernadette and Ronald completed the trip in just nine days, an average of 8.5 miles per day.

“The waterfalls,” recalled Bernadette, “they were the best part of the whole trip, especially Virginia Hawkins Falls.”

The popular trail runs from Oconee State Park to Table Rock State Park, crossing over the Joacassee Gorges and over the highest peak in South Carolina, Sassafras Mountain which stands at 3,533 feet above sea level.

According to the Sweets, while hiking the trail, they encountered Heyward Douglass, who has been instrumental in the Foothills Trail Conference, a producer of the Foothills Trail Guidebook, and the name-giver of the Peregrine Award because he hiked the Appalachian trail under the name ‘Peregrine.’ Bernadette also mentioned meeting a man who had been struck by lightning several times in his lifetime.

Hiking isn’t just a recent hobby the two have taken up since meeting. According to the Sweets, hiking offers a great way to keep in shape for their physical tests they must take each year for the military and for Bernadette, hiking runs in the family. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Movinsky, completed the Appalachian Trail in 2004 under the names ‘Deadman Walking’ and ‘Lovebug’ and can be found on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy list of 2000 Milers.