PNRD Lab Tech Tackles Appalachian Trail

UPDATE – May 23, 2015

Sam writes:

Good morning lab!

I just wanted to send a quick update before hopping back on the trail. I recently hiked through the smoky mountains, spent a few zero days hanging out with my family in Asheville, and returned to the AT near Hot Springs NC. Everything’s still going really well!

UPDATE – May 12, 2015

Sam writes:

Hey lab mates!

Yes I am alive indeed and feeling better than I have in a long time.

The journey has been very smooth so far. I’m moving faster than I thought I would, averaging close to 16 miles a day. Six days in I bagged my first state (Georgia), yesterday I completed my first 20+ mile day (23.1 miles, 55,545 steps, 519 flights of stairs according my iHealth app), and tomorrow I enter the Smokies (mile ~170). Besides a few unremarkable blisters, my body’s doing really well.

I hike alone every day, which is interesting to say the least. I have a looooot of time to think, and I’ve also listened to all of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, half of Journey to the Center of the Earth, as well as several albums and podcasts. In fact, if anyone has any audio book recommendations, I’m all ears! At night, I generally stay at a shelter (see picture) with anywhere between 0-8 other people.

Even though I am mostly alone, the social aspect has been really great. Most everyone has a trail name by now. Mine is Fury, I don’t really want to explain why, others include Crash, Octopus, Butter Beard, Happy, and Glider (who I named) just to list a few. Because I move quickly I’ve passed through a few different groups, and now I sort of found one with a similar pace. Currently I’m in Fontana Dam, the last resupply before the 70-mile trek through The Great Smoky Mountains. I’m staying in a decent motel with Octopus and another guy named Lone Ranger who was excommunicated from the Amish community for becoming a bull rider. Really interesting guy.

I’ve had plenty of food and water. There are about six streams a day that I cross and a water source by every shelter. There are some older guys (including Lone Ranger) who are a part of a dwindling club of people who don’t filter their water. Guts of steel! There’s a man, nay a celebrity of the AT, Warren Doyle who’s hiked the Appalachian Trail 17 times, and he’s the leader of the no-filter movement. I think they are a great part of the AT culture, and I’m undoubtedly a little bit jealous, but I don’t want to risk it. I filter, most of the time. I met Warren Doyle a few days ago, he’s got a Santa beard, wears golf shoes, tightens his belt above his massive belly, and doesn’t need even a second to catch his breath while climbing the steepest hills. Legendary.

There’s so much more to say but I just want to let you know I’m safe, healthy, and happy.

Miss you guys!

PNRD Lab Tech Tackles Appalachian Trail

Ann Arbor — Sam Jackson will enter medical school in the fall of 2015, so he wanted to make this summer – most likely his last free one for the forseeable future – worth remembering.

Sam Jackson takes a selfie from high up the Appalachian Trail.

Sam Jackson takes a selfie from high up the Appalachian Trail.

So back in October he hatched a plan and started to prepare. On May 1 he stepped onto the Appalachian Trail for an 81-day, 1,100-mile backpacking adventure. But an epic adventure wasn’t enough for the 25-year-old lab technician. To make the trip both memorable and meaningful, Jackson decided to connect his pursuit of adventure with his passion for diabetes research.

Since 2010, Jackson has studied the causes of diabetes in the University of Michigan’s Program for Neurology Research & Discovery (PNR&D). He’ll spend Summer 2016 in a clinic in India, helping diagnose diabetic neuropathy, or nerve pain.

“I was thinking I have a lot of momentum on diabetes research, and now I’m going to work in the clinic,” he said. “So how can I translate what I’m doing this summer toward my overall goal of studying and helping cure diabetes?”

At the invitation of Dr. Eva Feldman, Jackson will work next summer at the Diabetes Specialities Centre in Chennai, India, in collaboration with the World Health Organization. The 200-bed clinic is one of the world’s largest: It has treated more than 2 million patients to date.

But first things first. Jackson began his trek in Springer Mountain, Georgia. Along the way he’ll hike 10-30 mountainous miles a day, filter stream water for drinking, eat what he can carry and sleep in tents and lean-to structures. All told, he’ll cover more than half of the Appalachian Trail, and will be joined for the final march to Maine’s Mount Katahdin by his twin brother Elliot. In the fall, the Harbor Springs native will start medical school at Central Michigan University.

“I knew that I wanted to travel extensively before medical school, and I knew I would have all summer to do something,” he said. “I used the ‘Goldilocks’ principle” Something that’s in my price range, something that was challenging, but I didn’t have to worry about my survival. Something that I could plan but didn’t have to overly research, something with a water source every day. This felt like it was just right.”

PNR&D Director Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., said Jackson’s presence in the lab will be missed, but that she expects his good work to endure long after he leaves U-M.

“Sam is a remarkable young man with a very bright future as a physician,” Feldman said. “It doesn’t surprise me in the least that he wants to use this opportunity to advance the cause of diabetic research. He has been doing that ever since he started working here.”

To support Sam Jackson’s Hike Against Diabetes, please visit and click on the ‘Make a Gift’ button at the top of the page.

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