For the time being, sections of the GET that don't follow existing trails through public land are routed along less-traveled public roads and highways.
Houck and Swanson said their average day on the trail covers 12 to 15 miles, although they have hiked as far as 22 miles in a day.
"We're on the trail at least eight hours a day," said Houck, who generally carries a pack weighing about 40 pounds, "most of it food." Swanson said her pack load averages a little less than 30 pounds.
To avoid the monotony of cooking and preparing trail meals, "whenever we see a place along the trail where food is available, we veer toward it," Swanson said.
The only form of potentially dangerous wildlife encountered along the trail so far has been a snowy interlude with a wild boar in Tennessee. But all in all, "yard dogs have been our biggest threat," according to Houck.
Along many sections of the trail, local hikers and officers of area trail clubs have accompanied Houck and Swanson on their northward journey. The two have also reported numerous unexpected, but gratefully accepted, offers of food, lodging and refreshment.
"The kindness of the people we've met along the way has really blown us away," said Swanson.
During their trek through their last stretch of Kentucky into Matewan on Wednesday, Houck and Swanson were accompanied by Tim McGraw and Paul Kenney, president and vice president of the TuGuNu hiking club, based in Wyoming County.
"The Great Eastern Trail is a work in progress," said McGraw. "It's going to take some time to get a route established through Southern West Virginia. It would be a big help if the Legislature could establish a Great Eastern Trails Authority to help us work out cooperative agreements with private land owners, and get the trail route established."
"We have a pretty good idea of where we want to go, but it's not exact, yet," said Doug Wood of the West Virginia Scenic Trails Association, which is helping to chart the trail's course through West Virginia.
"The complaint for many years has been that parts of the Appalachian Trail are overused," Wood said. "I think a lot of people would like to have a trail system that was more amenable to [Appalachian Trail founder] Benton MacKaye's vision of a braided web of hiking trails that would semi-parallel the Appalachian Trail."
Houck said that when Swanson first suggested the idea of through-hiking the Great Eastern Trail, which had unsuccessfully been attempted in 2007, his initial reply was "Hell, no!"
But he's glad he eventually changed his mind.
"It's a great trail, and I want people to get excited by it," said Houck. "But you don't have to be a through-hiker to enjoy it. You can go from Mullens to Pineville and have a great time."
To follow the journey of Houck and Swanson, who also go by the trail names of "Hillbilly Bart" and "Someday Jo," go to www.gethiking.net. To learn more about the Great Eastern Trail, visit www.greateasterntrail.net.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.