- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2005

FROSTBURG, Md. — The scrambled eggs and sausage that Clifton Wiens had for breakfast yesterday will have to hold him until he gets home — 10 days and 200 miles later.

The National Geographic Society researcher and eight companions are hiking from the Western Maryland mountains to the District for charity with only water and one tea bag apiece for sustenance.

They expect to shed as many as 15 pounds each by the time they arrive June 9 at the National Geographic headquarters in the District.

Mr. Wiens, 42, said the slog has raised at least $20,000 for the society’s Afghan Girls Fund, which promotes education for girls in Afghanistan.

“This is an extreme event for people who are in extreme situations all the time,” he said.

The hike is being documented online daily at www.e-angel.net/slogblog/.

The hikers — five men and four women from the D.C. area — range in age from 26 to 42. Most work for National Geographic, although the hike isn’t sponsored by the society.

Besides fundraising, they share a desire to test their endurance. They will average 20 miles per day and sleep at primitive campsites in the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, which parallels the Potomac River for nearly 185 miles from Cumberland to the District.

The canal towpath, once trodden by barge-pulling mules, is now a hiking-and-biking trail.

The trek began in Frostburg, along a railroad track the hikers planned to follow for the first 16 miles to the canal’s western end in downtown Cumberland.

They are traveling light. Each carries only a mosquito net and a waist pack loaded with essentials such as matches, a knife and medical supplies.

Their only comfort is the promise of a cup of hot tea should the hunger and cold and pain turn to panic.

“The best thing you can do is gather some wood, start a fire, boil up some water, make a cup of tea, sit down and drink it — and just kind of digest everything that’s going on,” said Brian Armstrong, a National Geographic television producer who has done such hikes twice before.

“It just kind of takes the edge off of any panic and then you can think a bit more clearly.”

Andrew J. Wilhelm, 30, said he has never gone more than a morning without food. He hopes to find enlightenment and purification, he said.

Truly Herbert, 35, said she once fasted for 15 days, and she is not worried.

“You might feel poorly the first couple of days but then you end up sort of feeling a lot better after that,” she said.

If not, Mr. Armstrong said, ?you’d be amazed how many cups of tea you can get out of a tea bag over 10 days.”

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