A Michigan man completed a 16-day journey Thursday that aimed to retrace the trail carved through Appalachia by famed frontiersman Daniel Boone.
Curtis Penix carried a 40-pound backpack on his journey of nearly 240 miles through the so-called Boone Trace. The trail started in Tennessee, wound into Virginia and took him into Kentucky’s Fort Boonesborough, which was built after Boone and his team finished their path.
"The American dream started on this road," the 46-year-old Penix said.
Penix’s inspiration was his fifth-great grandfather, Joshua Penix, who followed Boone Trace on his way to the fort, hundreds of years prior.
"This is where Grandpa Joshua came in 1779," Penix said. "So he would have been right here somewhere in this little area."
Joshua Penix eventually acquired 1,400 acres in central Kentucky, but parceled it off and sold it. He later became a plantation owner in Virginia.
Curtis Penix’s journey started March 10 near Kingsport, Tenn. – the same place Boone and his men departed from in March 1775. Penix followed Boone’s path into Virginia and through Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.
Penix braved the terrain, sleeping outside, crossing rivers on foot and trudging through the rain and mud with blistered feet.
After five days of traveling by himself, 42-year-old Givian Fox joined Penix near the Virginia-Kentucky border. Fox’s father, John, is the president of Friends of Boone Trace, a nonprofit group that hopes to preserve the historic route as a hiking trail and memorial to the pioneers.
Among those welcoming Penix and Givan Fox on their arrival was Donna Jones, who said some of her ancestors were among the settlers at Fort Boonesborough. Their names are among those etched on a monument honoring the pioneers.
"Anybody that would spend this many days to get here certainly has an understanding of what our ancestors did to make all of this available to us now," Jones said. "I just think that's wonderful for someone to do, to raise our level of awareness."
On Penix’s first day, he waded across seven streams and rivers on foot, including one that was knee deep.
"I quickly found out that by getting your feet wet and then continuing to walk, you could get what the pioneers called 'scalded feet,'" he said.
The foot blisters were enough to dissuade him from river crossings and onto bridges.
He endured steady rain during his first four days of walking. At the end of one day, he started shivering uncontrollably, he said.
"Rather than end my trip there, I bit the bullet and I decided to stop in at a motel and dry off and warm up," he said. "That was kind of a low point. I had tried to do this ... just like Grandpa Joshua did. Sleeping under the stars, fording the rivers, carrying all my own food."
A park ranger would eventually persuade him to seek food and shelter after mentioning that the pioneers stopped at settlements for such things before venturing off again.
With help from historical groups, Penix charted the most faithful route of his journey and said he only got lost once.
He estimated about 60 percent of his trip was on roads and the rest through woodlands or fields. While the early pioneers faced dangers from Indians, Penix's biggest threat was vehicles on roads that lacked shoulders to walk on.
"When a large truck would come by, we had this little technique where we would lean (on their walking sticks) into the ditch and away from the road, just long enough for them to go by, and then we'd pop back out on the road," he said.
Amber Penix embraced her father Thursday and teasingly told him: "You don't smell too bad."
"I can't wait to sit down," Penix said after being greeted by family and other supporters. "I haven't had a soft chair in a long time. Physically, I feel fine. I feel like any other day I would get up for work. ... I could keep going if I wanted. But I don't want to."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.