Man hikes to Hunter S. Thompson's funeral
By Autumn Phillips, Pilot & Today Staff

Saturday, August 6, 2005

Rick McKinney needed to clear his head, so he went for a walk.

He walked from Georgia to Maine following the Appalachian Trail, holed up in Bisbee, Ariz., for the winter to write about his experience and then hit the road again.

He arrived in Steamboat Springs on July 30 in the midst of a 1,000-mile walk from Yellowstone National Park to Hunter S. Thompson's compound in Woody Creek, just outside Aspen.

The first walk was spurred by the suicide of a close friend. The second walk, which took him through Steamboat, was spurred by Thompson's suicide in February. McKinney plans to end his 1,000-mile hike at Thompson's funeral Aug. 20.

His goal with both hikes was to raise awareness among those he met about depression and the toll it takes in suicide deaths each year. It's a message close to his heart, he said, because he has struggled with the thought of taking his own life for years.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail, which he began the first day of spring 2004 and completed Oct. 8, helped him work through the grief from his friend's death and gave him perspective.

"My friend's death probably helped save me from killing myself," McKinney said. "I came off that hike with a determination to live on."

During the winter, McKinney wrote a book about the experience titled, "Dead Men Hike No Trails," due out in October.

He thought he had said his piece about suicide and depression, but on Feb. 20, his e-mail box filled with notes from friends telling him about the death of his hero. When he was 19 years old, McKinney got a tattoo of Thompson's trademark Gonzo fist on his right forearm. He also drives an Art Car called "The Duke," built as a tribute to Thompson.

"I always thought about giving it to him and letting him shoot holes in it," McKinney said.

News of the Gonzo journalist's suicide was devastating.

"When I was introduced to Thompson's writing, I was in my late teens and early 20s," McKinney said. "I was trying to figure out who I was, and I found a kindred spirit in Hunter S. Thompson's writing style. I embraced that and really learned a lot from him."

Backpacker Magazine and Trimble Outdoors are footing the bill for McKinney's trip along the Continental Divide to Woody Creek.

McKinney's long hike to Thompson's funeral has given him a second chance to talk to people about suicide and depression.

"Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death among men in the United States," he said. "I want to spend my life raising awareness about depression as a disease and erase some of the stigma around it."

For more about McKinney's trip, visit his Web site at www.jigglebox.com.

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210 or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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