An ‘epic’ endeavor: Shelburne man to hike 800 miles to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Greenfield Recorder (February 22, 2022) by Mary Byrne

A local man plans to hike close to 800 miles next month with the goal of raising as much money as he can for a cause close to his heart.

This week, Shelburne resident Jonathan “Jon” Riordan will begin his drive west to Sierra Vista, Arizona for the start of the Arizona National Scenic Trail, the length of which he is hiking to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“I’d been considering doing some long hikes … and I was kicking around the idea of pushing my comfort zone a bit,” said Riordan, 36. “I had never camped in the desert before.”

The recommendation to hike for a charity, he said, was suggested to him by a friend.

“That sort of started things,” he recalled. “I got in touch with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and it was extremely easy for me to set up a Go Fund Me for them.”

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, founded in 1949, is the largest nonprofit dedicated to raising money for research into blood cancers and improving the lives of patients with leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma.

“At the early age of 21, I was seeing how cancer could ravage a person,” Riordan said, reflecting on the time he spent caring for his father, who died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

More recently, he cared for his grandmother, who battled leukemia for 10 years before she died in 2020.

“I wasn’t really familiar with the society, and I’m not sure if my mother used their services over the years,” Riordan said. “But the more I’ve looked into them, I realize we could have benefited from their services. … If I can use (this experience) to help raise some awareness and some money, I’m more than happy to share my adventure with anyone.”

Riordan, originally from an urban part of New Jersey, moved to Western Massachusetts three years ago to work for Berkshire East during the whitewater rafting season.

“For the first six months, I was essentially camping at the base of Berkshire East,” he said. “When rafting season dried up, I decided I liked the region and decided to get some work and move here, possibly permanently.”

Riordan, now an emergency medical technician for American Medical Response in Greenfield, said he was nervous to ask for two months off to complete the hike.

“I talked to our general manager and he was really enthusiastic about the idea,” he said. “They’re going to help put out the word that I’m raising money as well.”

No stranger to the trails, Riordan hiked the Appalachian Trail with his brother in 2017.

“I really decided to do the trail after all that traveling with the audio/visual job (which he had prior to his move to Massachusetts), because a lot of the time I was traveling I would spend my free time finding local trails,” he said. “At some point, I realized, ‘I really enjoy this.’”

On that trip, he said, he not only became closer to his brother, he befriended others on the same journey as them.

“We ended up hiking 1,800 miles together,” he said, of the German man and the woman from Ohio they met. “It turns out, if you’re around a bunch of people who like doing the same things as you, it’s easy to make friends.”

The 182 days they spent on the trails — about a week of which was spent overcoming the flu — turned out to be “an incredible experience” he has since found hard to replicate. It changed his life, he said, and it’s an experience he still brings up any chance he can get.

“I didn’t want to just be talking about the Appalachian Trail, the one great achievement,” Riordan said. “I wanted to do something else epic.”

Riordan will complete this hike solo, he said, noting he plans to “start out conservatively” in acknowledgment of the fact he doesn’t have much experience in the desert. He expects the hike to take about 60 days.

Most of all, he’s looking forward to the nights he gets to spend in the desert.

“I’ve never experienced anything like that,” he said.


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