Scott County

Conservationist stops in Lexington during his 6,000-mile muscle-powered trek

John Davis paddled on the Kentucky River near the Clays Ferry Bridge on Saturday, about four months after his journey began in Florida.
John Davis paddled on the Kentucky River near the Clays Ferry Bridge on Saturday, about four months after his journey began in Florida.

Driving across country is always a challenge.

On foot, it's even harder.

But for 48-year-old conservationist John Davis, his journey, which will total 6,000 muscle-powered miles from Key Largo, Fla., to the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, Canada, became even tougher just after it started in February.

Davis' mother, Mary Byrd Davis, who lived in Lexington and was a devoted conservationist, died of cancer.

John Davis had just finished paddling through the Everglades in Florida when he learned the news.

"I was ready to postpone my whole trip," he said of the time leading up to his mother's death. "But she didn't want me to. She insisted that this was an important journey that she supported, and she would not hear of me delaying it. Fortunately, she lived long enough to see me under way."

On top of that, Davis left what he said was a good job back home near the Adirondack Mountains in New York as conservation director for the Adirondack Council. He also has a wife and a stepson, making it even tougher on him emotionally.

But he said the timing of the trip was expedited because his mother wanted to see him begin it. And even at 48, he said, when his mother told him something, he did it.

"When my father told her I had paddled through the Everglades and made it successfully, she said 'that's wonderful,'" Davis said, struggling to fight back tears. "Those were her last words."

Davis went back down to Florida and picked up his journey where he left off. He said his trip has evolved into a tribute to his mother, who was working on a book, A Greener Guide to Lexington, before she died.

Davis' journey, labeled "TrekEast" and sponsored by the Wildlands Network, brought him to Lexington over the weekend — close to the Georgetown home where he lived during his middle school, high school and college years.

It was the fifth "city stop" of nine during his journey. He said the city stops are vital because his trek is part-journey, part-mission. The mission part involves giving messages about conservation and wildlife, which he said he tailors to each city he visits.

One of his main messages for Lexington and the Kentucky area was about the dangers of mountaintop-removal coal mining.

"It's important for Kentuckians to realize that we have a very rich natural and cultural heritage here, and we need to save both," he said. "Mountaintop removal, in my opinion, is a very damaging use of land. It's very damaging to water as well."

He conceded it would be easier to drive to each city stop, but then, he said, he would be a hypocrite.

"I wanted to walk my talk," he said. "Cars and roads are threats to pollution. Now, I'm not a purist. There is some driving involved when I get into the cities. But the 6,000 miles that I'll be trekking will all be muscle-powered through walking, hiking or paddling."

Davis said it's a journey he's considered doing for a long time, and said his inspiration and passion for conservation came from his mother.

As he plans to take a similar journey out west near the Rocky Mountains and eventually write a book about his current journey — which will end in mid- to late November — he said he has only one regret for this particular trip.

"I wish I could've started even sooner so my mother could've seen more of it," he said.