Tale from the MST

Aug. 27, 2023

Submitted by Claudia G

I have a story I would love to share about the MST hike and my friend who hiked the entire trail many years ago before it was fully developed.  My friends’ name was Frank Cook. He made a conscious choice to drop out of modern living and live out of a backpack for the last 15 years of his life and left a legacy of plant knowledge as well as inspired many who have chosen to live more closely to this earth in his wake.  

He actually called the MST the OM trail, the ‘Ocean to Mountains’ trail, as he started out in what is known as Little Washington, to the locals, not far from Nags Head where the trail actually starts and walked through the state ending at Max Patch up in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina.

 It was a frigid morning in Feb (I don’t remember the exact year, somewhere in the early 2000’s) in Washington, NC, when I met him at his parents summer home anxiously watching him prepare himself for the long trek across the state.  He had a map, albeit rudimentary, of the trail as it had been known to hikers at that time.  Of course the trail starts in Nags Head area but because of the frigid temps Frank chose to start in Washington and stock up on trail needs and stay at his parents place to embark from.

He stated he wanted to carry less than 50 pounds and had basically a small tent, sleeping bag, a zip lock bag with matches, utensils, and various other ‘keep dry’ needs in that little bag.  He carried a water filter, dried beans/rice/granolafruit and nuts.The food he chose to take was very basic.  He was a tall and very fit guy.  Having run long distance in college, practiced yoga daily, and had already walked the PCT and treks around Africa, India, South America, and soon to walk in New Zealand, he was on a mission.  His personal mission was to meet the 500 genre of plants in his lifetime.  In order to achieve this goal he would, of course, need to walk on other continents. That is just what he did.  

As a zoology student at Duke University and a devout herbalist, having studied plants, plant medicine and in particular a strong advocate for the native plants of whatever region Frank happened to be studying/walking through, these treks were in fact multifaceted.  Many plant enthusiasts started hearing about this ‘Green Man’ as he was known, through the workings of the ‘wood wide web’, if you will.  His quests to other continents included many students, of whom, not only paid their own way but Frank’s travel needs financially were taken care of through them.  He lived by donation only, though donations came his way from various sources over the years.

Knowing his feet were going to take a banging up I chose to offer a foot massage to honor his poor feet but also to hopefully give him support and show admiration for this gallant and impressive endeavor. 

He carried a small cooking pot with a lid.  I asked what that would be used for and he stated his morning ritual would be to wake up, find the edible plant(s), mushrooms or lichen that were in close proximity and make an easy morning tea.  He had worked through finding dry wood to cook with in the morning, even if the rain had soaked the first layer he carved down to find dry wood and was successful most of the time achieving this ‘communing’ with plants each morning.

His walk took approximately 2 and a half months.  I met up with him several times along the way.  He was able to contact me when the walk brought him closer to ‘city life’ and I would meet up with him and bring pots of food I had prepared for his hungry belly.

When I first learned about Rue McKennrick and his quest to create the APT I was reminded of the explorers, the creatives, the passionate trail walkers that move with an inner core power that drives them to keep going not knowing what will come their way. It’s that inner knowing and drive that have allowed for so many of these movers and shakers to see and move forward, leaving behind a way for us all to find our way through the woods with open eyes and grow in our appreciation of the natural world!!  

I am a follower of the APT and its mission!!  I feel that trail will bring this country back into something really special, lassoing the country into a deeper appreciation of the natural wonders, plant diversity and wildlife in ways we can more fully appreciate.  Thank you for all of this work to bring it about.  So many long hours of planning and behind the scenes efforts we have no idea about really.  Though it is a lot, surely!!

AND…. If you want to see and ‘meet’ Frank Cook there are many youtube videos featuring his teachings and you may even learn some interesting facts about plants as well.  

Cheers to you on the trail!!

Happy adventures ahead!!




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