Jim Gregoire ’69 has been an avid, long-time supporter of Princeton AlumniCorps, sitting on our board from 1996 to 2008. In 2006 he attained the distinction of being the first non-’55er AlumniCorps Board President. During his tenure on the board the finance committee managed AlumniCorps’ endowment, helping to ensure the stability and long-term health of the organization. Jim is also committed to Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS), where he’s a current board member and past board chair. However, in addition to mobilizing Princetonians for the public good, Jim has another passion: hiking. He walked the 2,175 mile Appalachian Trail over the course of 11 years. “When my wife Jane and I got together, I was finishing the Trail, but I told her I wanted to do something bigger and more grand. I said, ‘I think I want to walk across the country!’ ” Fortunately for Jim, Jane said yes both to marrying him and to his hiking aspirations. Jane has been a true partner in Jim’s endeavors. She keeps their network of friends and family abreast of his adventures via blog posts which she writes based on their daily conversations (jim-fall2017.blogspot.com). She also meets Jim at different points on the hike route to give moral support and provide transportation. On his trek across the U.S., Jim would fly or drive to his starting point, then complete a portion of the hike over the course of several weeks. True to his declaration to Jane, Jim walked across the country, from Portland, ME to Washington State. That feat took 300+ days over the course of eight years and was completed in 14 segments. More recently, in October Jim completed his third major milestone: He walked 2,490 miles over 156 days from Key West, FL to Lubec, ME. He started this hike in 2014, hiking from the southernmost point of the East Coast to the easternmost part of the country on the Canadian border.
Why hiking? After reluctantly abandoning long-distance running in the late 1990s due to worn-out knees, Jim took up long-distance hiking because “every day on a trail is an adventure. Anything can happen, from skies opening up and soaking me, to wildlife like otters frolicking by.” Some sections of a given route are risky, forcing him to hyper-vigilantly watch each oncoming car and truck. It’s all worth the risk to him: “I see parts of the country I’m not familiar with. I got to walk across over 70 bridges in the Florida Keys, an area now devastated by this September’s Hurricane Irma.
Perspective on humanity: Jim has gotten insights into human nature while on his hikes.
“I met people who were so generous. I’d wander into a town late in the afternoon, and I’d go into the local bar & grill and order a beer. I’d start talking to the bartender and soon everyone would engage and give me advice about where to put up my tent. Not a single person has done me ill. You get such a different perspective on people when you’re talking one on one about the basic necessities of life. One couple in upstate New York even allowed me to stay in their little cabin for three days to rest my blisters. They’d pick me up and bring me to their house so I could take a break from carrying my backpack.”
Appreciating nature: Jim saw pieces of America that aren’t easily accessible by car. “I did the Lewis and Clark trail, and I could just see the history. I finished the trip along the Columbia River on the Washington/Oregon border, which is where Lewis and Clark terminated their exploration of the Louisiana Territory.”
Jim says he has been blessed with extraordinary good fortune on his hikes, “I was never sick, and I was never depressed [conditions that can hamper a long-distance hiker]. I never had a problem with animals, despite tenting out most nights. My closest call was crossing Glacier National Park in Montana. I saw a bush wiggling and I knew it was hiding a grizzly bear. After I deliberately made a noise, the bear came out of the bushes and stood on his hind legs, 10 feet tall!” Luckily for Jim, the bear eventually moved enough off the trail so Jim could continue his hike unharmed.
After Jim got to the Canadian border in Downeast Maine, Jane posted on Facebook: “I am blown away by my husband’s dogged determination when he sets a goal.” Jim’s determination blows us away too. We are honored that he chooses to expend some of it on Princeton AlumniCorps!