The Portland, Maine, duo of correspondent David Sharp and photographer Bob Bukaty put AP out front, reporting that an 83-year-old has become the oldest hiker to complete the Appalachian Trail. While writing about the youngest hiker to finish the 2,193-mile (3,530-kilometer) odyssey, Sharp got a tip: M.J. “Sunny” Eberhart would be the oldest when he finished. Sharp found Eberhart’s blog and developed a rapport over several months with the man who goes by the trail name of Nimblewill Nomad.
After exchanging lots of text messages, Sharp got Eberhart on the phone for an extensive interview in which he shared his life story. Photographer Bob Bukaty then hiked several miles to meet the octogenarian at the top of 2,536-foot Mount Hayes in Gorham, New Hampshire.
The story, edited by New York’s Jeff McMillan, was ready to move when Eberhart finished his trek late on a Sunday afternoon. Accompanied by Bukaty’s engaging photos of the wild-bearded Eberhart, the piece quickly went viral, leaving the competition to catch up Monday morning. Eberhart, for his part, was stunned by the reach of the AP: By Monday morning, more than a half-million people had clicked on his blog. The story also drew response on Facebook and Twitter, and appeared on news sites throughout the region and around the country.