CINCINNATI -- Dayton native Andy Niekamp set out for a new life during the Great Recession after Hewlett Packard laid him off from the systems analyst information specialist job he'd had for 27 years.
He decided to turn his passion for the outdoors into a full-time job, starting a small business called the Outdoor Adventure Connection that leads backpacking and hiking workshops all over the region. After completing several long distance hiking trips, including backpacking the Appalachian Trail three times, Niekamp was craving a different sort of adventure.
"I thought why not try the trail that's in my own backyard," Niekamp said.
That is exactly what he set out to do.
In 2011, Niekamp spent three months hiking the Buckeye Trail, a 1,400-mile hike that connects all four corners of Ohio, including Cincinnati. He's the first person to solo through-hike the trail in its entirety. Now he's on a mission to get people excited about exploring Ohio.
"I was born in Ohio, I was raised in Ohio and I went to school in Ohio and I worked my career in Ohio," he said. "Let's face it, a lot of people think Ohio is boring."
While it's not a wilderness journey, Niekamp says the Buckeye trail is about experiencing what he calls the "Four P's": the people, the places, the present and the past.
Niekamp started and ended his journey in Dayton to finish and end in his hometown, but most hikers begin at the southern terminus in Cincinnati's Eden Park by the overlook, which he says is the most spectacular view on the trail.
Some of his favorite memories include sleeping in cemeteries.
"They're nice and quiet," he said. "No one ever bothers you when you're camping in a cemetery."
While on his three month journey, Niekamp made daily blog posts using a smartphone, uploading short blurbs and photos about his journey. A friend encouraged him to compile those stories into a book, so he wrote "Captain Blue on the Blue Blazes." The book recounts the entirety of his trip, including the people he met along the way. The book also includes lots of maps and photos.
On Thursday, March 8, Niekamp is hosting a book signing and a free presentation at Roads, Rivers and Trails at 7 p.m. with a focus on the state's history he experienced along the way. He hopes his testimony will inspire other Ohioans to explore their local trails.
"Most people see Ohio from the window of a car or the seat of a bicycle moving by at a relatively fast speed," he said. "But when you take the time to discover Ohio on foot, you realize how incredibly beautiful it is."