RENO - Marcia and Ken Powers went for a walk in Delaware seven months ago - and they're still walking, as they approach the end of a 4,900-mile trek from coast to coast.
The Pleasanton, Calif., couple was crossing the Sierra Nevada this weekend, near their goal of becoming the first backpackers to complete the official route of the transcontinental American Discovery Trail in one continuous hike.
They say their fast pace - 21 1/2 miles a day - is no big deal. After all, the couple said, they have taken only four days off since starting on Feb. 27 from Cape Henlopen in Delaware.
"We're not out for records," said Marcia Powers, who would only say she's in her 50s. "We needed to get to the Rockies as soon as the snow melted and we have to get over the Sierra before the snow falls."
She and her 60-year-old husband sought a new challenge after joining an elite group that has hiked all three major national scenic trails: the 2,000-mile Appalachian in the East, the 3,000-mile Continental Divide in the Rockies and the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest on the West Coast.
Among other obstacles, they have had to deal with flooding in Ohio, a quicksand scare in Utah and uncomfortably close lightning strikes in Kansas.
But they rave about the French history of St. Louis, the grandeur of Colorado's Crag Crest National Recreation Trail and the countless strangers who have gone out of their way for them.
Memorable characters included a doctor and dentist who opened their homes to them around Chester, Ill., and a motorcyclist who gave them water after they failed to find a water cache on Utah's lonely Wah Wah Desert.
"There's one word for it: serendipity. The chance happenings out there with people are amazing," Marcia Powers said as they passed through western Nevada earlier this week.
The transcontinental hiking, biking and horse trail passes through 15 states from Cape Henlopen to Point Reyes in California. It traverses 14 national parks and 16 national forests. It also passes through cities, including Cincinnati, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, Sacramento and San Francisco.
The trail opened in 2000 - 11 years after it was proposed as the first coast-to-coast footpath connecting the three major north-south trails.
"The American Discovery Trail is cities, desert, mountains, farmlands. It's so diverse," Marcia Powers said. "It's never had the rhythm the other trails have had. It has been adapt, adapt, adapt, because things continually change."
In 2003, Joyce and Pete Cottrell of Whitefield, N.H., became the first people to backpack the entire official route of the American Discovery Trail. But they hiked segments out of sequence over two calendar years.
The Powers passed the 4,400-mile mark of their journey when they reached Carson City on Tuesday. They hope to complete the hike north of San Francisco sometime in mid-October.
They plan no more rest days, which means they will have averaged a day off only once every two months or 1,225 miles.
Veteran backpacker Jeffrey Schaffer, author of Pacific Crest Trail guidebooks, said he finds the mental aspect of the Powers' hike more remarkable than the physical challenge.
"The hard thing is the mental will to do it," he said. "That's what gets to long-distance hikers more than anything else. It's just such a trudge day after day that they lose the will to do it.
"I applaud them for setting a good example. There are too many older folks sitting in front of TVs and computers. They need to be out active," added Schaffer, 62.
The 6-foot, 150-pound Ken Powers and his 5-foot-6, 110-pound wife haul an average of only 20 to 25 pounds. They arranged for one of two adult sons to mail them 42 food boxes to points along the way.
Both are retired. Ken Powers was a computer programmer for Chevron Corp. and his wife a flute instructor who also played for a community orchestra.
The couple said they're looking forward to resuming life off the trail, and have no plans for future adventures. They have done all their long-distance treks since 2000.
"If you would have told us several years ago that we would be doing all these hikes, we would have said you were crazy," Marcia Powers said. "Every trip we do, we say it will be the last one."
On the Net:
American Discovery Trail: http://www.discoverytrail.org