Micah and Keeka Grant-Tomlinson have been determined to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) together for years. In fact, it was on their very first date that they discovered they shared the dream of attempting a long thru-hike. They have also had the opportunity to work for MANNA FoodBank, where they have been immersed in a culture which strives tirelessly every day to meet the growing need for food across Western North Carolina. Having been a part of this work, they came up with the idea to have their thru-hike of the AT serve as a fundraising opportunity for MANNA FoodBank.
Micah grew up in Michigan, but he and his family would often visit his Gramma in Franklin, NC, a proud AT trail town just north of the Georgia border. Micah remembers the first time he set foot on the trail. His dad stopped at an unassuming pull-off as the family was driving through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Mom and Dad and the five Tomlinson siblings hopped out of the mini van and there, right next to the road, was a white blaze. When Micah and his family had walked down the trail a little ways when his dad proclaimed “You know if we were to keep going down this trail, we would end up in Maine!” As a kid, Micah had no idea how far Maine was, but he did know that he wanted to go! And so a seed had been planted.
Some years later, Micah’s love for the outdoors would lead him to pursue a degree in Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management at Northern Michigan University (NMU) in Marquette, MI. It was during this time that he discovered another long trail: the North Country Trail (NCT). The NCT goes all the way from Vermont to North Dakota and is over twice as long as the Appalachian Trail. While living in Marquette, Micah hiked several sections of the NCT in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and fell in love with the trail.
After college, Micah took a NOLS Outdoor Educator Semester (OES) in the Rockies. The OES involved 90 days of expedition living and experiential learning. While participating in this course, Micah went backcountry skiing in Teton National Forest, Canoeing through Desolation Canyon, backpacking in the Dirty Devil Basin of Utah, and climbing in Split Rock and Sinks Canyon in Wyoming. Micah learned not just how to survive but how to thrive in these environments. He also gained experience in teaching outdoor living skills and environmental science in an outdoor setting. It was during this course that he decided that he wanted to be a NOLS Instructor and Outdoor Educator.
In 2013, the Appalachian Mountains called Micah back home, and he found himself living in Asheville, NC. It was while living in Asheville and working as a Wilderness Therapy Guide that Micah met Keeka. On their very first date, he shared with her his aspirations of thru-hiking the NCT and she shared with him her dream of thru-hiking the AT. As their relationship grew, they began talking more seriously about thru-hiking a trail together.
In 2016, Micah took the NOLS Professional Instructor Course and spent two weeks in the Wind River Range in early spring, an area in Wyoming which still feels a lot like winter in May. He gained knowledge and experience teaching leadership curriculum and risk management in the backcountry. After completing the course, he was hired as a NOLS Instructor and led trips in the Wind River Range and the Adirondacks in New York. Micah also led trips for the National Center for Outdoor and Adventure Education (NCOAE) based in Wilmington, North Carolina. In between NOLS and NCOAE contracts, Micah continued to work for Wilderness Therapy programs in Idaho and Western North Carolina.
Micah was looking for a change in 2018 and was encouraged by Keeka to apply for a job at MANNA FoodBank. In January of 2019, he became the Volunteer Manager at MANNA, where he quickly fell in love with this incredible community of volunteers and staff. He learned a lot about food insecurity, the cycle of poverty, and the growing number of people in our community struggling to get by. He is so grateful for all of the incredible members of the MANNA community who work tirelessly to help put food on people’s plates. Micah is glad to have had the opportunity to be a part of this work, and even though he is leaving MANNA, he will not stop fighting to end hunger. He will continue to look for ways to combine his love for the outdoors with his passion to support neighbors in need. Micah hopes that the Hiking for Hunger Project is just the beginning.
Keeka’s Appalachian Trail dreams started to take form when she was eight years old. While on a picnic with her dad at Harper’s Ferry, she found herself very interested in the people passing through town with oversized backpacks. Her curiosity mounting and unable to contain her rambunctious 8-year-old self, Keeka blurted out while pointing emphatically “Dad, who are all these people walking around with these ginormous backpacks on and why are they walking around with ski poles and why do they smell funny?” Identifying the individuals in question, Keeka’s dad responded “Ahh, yeah- those are probably people hiking the Appalachian Trail!” A look of puzzlement on her face, Keeka asked “What’s an Appalachian Trail, Dad?” “It’s a trail that starts in Georgia and goes all the way up to Maine, Keek!” “Woah!” The seed had been planted.
Over time, the goal of thru-hiking the AT would evolve into Keeka’s longest-held dream. She has spent the past two decades dreaming about this adventure, so much so that over the years she has pursued various experiences to help develop and hone her outdoor living skills. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, Keeka spent the summer of 2015 working for a Wilderness Therapy program located just outside of Asheville, NC. It was while working there that she met Micah and they discovered their shared dream of thru-hiking.
In early 2017, Keeka took on a three-month long Spring Outdoor Educator Semester (OES) with NOLS and gained more knowledge and skills that would help bolster her thru-hiking goals. During the semester, she acquired several certifications, including Wilderness First Responder (WFR) and Leave No Trace (LNT) Master Educator. Comprised of different sections, the OES exposed Keeka to an array of outdoor living situations. She spent time in the Wyoming Range in the dead of winter, traveling on skis and building and living in snow shelters. After that, it was off to the Green River in Utah, where she and her cohort partook in expedition canoeing. For a month, she backpacked in the desert environment of Escalante National Monument, where she experienced canyoneering for the first time. The semester ended with a climbing section in which Keeka was able to try her hand at both sport and traditional climbing in Sinks Canyon and Split Rock Mountain in Wyoming. In addition to graduating from the OES with more experience in the technical skills involved in outdoor living and survival, Keeka also left with more confidence in teaching said outdoor living skills to others. Feeling motivated and excited to apply these newly acquired skills, Keeka jumped into a instructor role with a company called Adventure Treks. For that summer of 2017, Keeka helped to lead trips for teens in the Pacific Northwest.
Later on in the Fall of 2017, Keeka joined an AmeriCorps program based in Asheville, NC called Project P.O.W.E.R (Putting Opportunity Within Everyones Reach). Run by Children First/CIS of Buncombe County, Keeka loved her year of service with Project P.O.W.E.R so much that she signed up for a second year. It was during her second year of AmeriCorps that Keeka got involved with MANNA FoodBank where she served in their Volunteer Center. Eventually, both she and Micah would wind up working at MANNA full-time, Micah as the Volunteer Manager and Keeka as the MANNA Community Market Driver & Coordinator.
Being a part of the MANNA community has impacted Keeka and Micah tremendously. Both are leaving with a sense of great pride in the work they have done while being a part of such an amazing organization, as well as an overwhelming love for the MANNA staff, Partner Agencies, and dedicated community volunteers who make this work possible. Having the opportunity to work alongside such incredible souls has brought to light that they want their thru-hike to be a way of giving back to this organization that has come to mean so much to them.