Hiking Appalachian Trail was just start of retiree’s adventures

Mike Fanelli retired 23 years ago. He walked out of a local General Motors plant, and he hasn’t stopped walking—or cycling or camping or traveling — since.

In fact, the day after he retired, Fanelli says he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, finishing the last 1,500 miles of the 2,190-mile trek he started earlier in his life.

“That was at the top of my list. But then I started adding new things to the list,” Fanelli says with a chuckle. “It’s become a never-ending list.”

Retirement is definitely not the time to slow down, adds the Centerville resident celebrating his 76th birthday. “I’ve learned that we’re much more capable of doing things than we realize.”

Last November, at 75, Fanelli, a church friend and two friends from his days at Wilbur Wight High School, finished bicycling cross country, using the 3,000-plus-mile Southern Tier Route from the Adventure Cycling Association.

Beginning in San Diego in 2017, they rode across New Mexico and Nevada deserts, usually logging 50 miles daily, though they struggled with searing heat and high altitudes. One New Mexico mountain was more than 9,000 feet high, he says. “The fun part was coming down. We coasted for 18 miles.”

It took five trips—500-600 miles each year—but the friends finally reached St. Augustine, Florida, after crossing Mississippi and Alabama.

Even a worldwide adventure is possible if you pace yourself, Fanelli emphasizes. In 2008, he decided he would take a year and travel the world, beginning in China where daughter, Laura, was teaching English. Fanelli’s goal was to learn about countries’ religions, foods and cultures.

“I felt called to do it,” he says. With backpacks and a budget of $50 a day, Fanelli started out, accompanied by Laura. They avoided popular tourist sites and instead focused on lesser-known destinations recommended by Lonely Planet guidebooks.

From China, they traveled to Hong Kong, then Taiwan and the Philippines. They flew home for Christmas from Thailand but returned to their travels.

Fanelli says they used mostly public transportation like buses and trains. Hostels provided lodging. Or they found rooms via couch surfing or homestay-type sites. When they got off the bus in South Vietnam, he says a woman they met at the bus station offered them lodging.

“We lived like the people we were seeing,” he adds. And soon, he and Laura realized they didn’t need much of what they packed. So they whittled down their backpacks to about 20 pounds. “It was a very liberating feeling. Somehow the things we needed would come to us.”

They visited the ancient Angkor Wat temples of Cambodia and spent two months in India. After India, they moved on to Nepal, Greece, Turkey and Israel.

Laura left the trek in Israel, but Fanelli continued, spending a month in Italy after deciding to take Italian language lessons to honor his Italian ancestry. His wife, Sue, met him in Amsterdam, and they continued together to Great Britain before flying home.

In total, Fanelli estimates he visited about 34 countries and viewed dozens of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

“I wanted to learn about the religions of the world,” he adds. “It changed my spiritual direction. It taught me to be more open and accepting. I see God in so many things now.”

This year, in addition to his camping and cycling trips as a Boy Scout leader plus summer cycling and camping trips with Sue, Fanelli continues to add to his bucket list, maybe a cycling and barge excursion in Europe yet this Fall.

He urges other retirees to get out—and outside their comfort zones. “You don’t have to bike 50 miles a day. But you might be able to do 20.”

Or walk. Buckeye Trail that frames Ohio passes right through Dayton, Fanelli says. And Five Rivers Metro Parks offer many trails.

“October is the best time of the year for hiking,” he says. “It’s beautiful.”

What have you checked off your bucket list?

Did you retire ready to tackle your bucket list? Outside of volunteering, tell us about your unique bucket-list dream and how you achieved it. What advice would you give to other retirees who want to give it a try?

Send your replies to inyourprime@coxinc.com. Add In Your Prime Bucket List in the subject field. We could feature you in an In Your Prime story.

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