George Lightcap never intended to be a teacher. With a degree in speech and theater and a want-ad in hand, Lightcap walked into his first classroom at 25 years old. He then began his greatest role as a public school teacher, a performance that lasted 29 years. “There was never a day I did not want to go to work.” Since his retirement, but 40 years into his teaching career Lightcap continues his calling at Sussex County Community College. Outside the classroom, he has completed the entirety of the Appalachian Trail and continues to help others achieve the same life-changing feat. It may sound like a lot, but Lightcap regards every day as a “day off.”
UP AND AT ‘EM On a perfect day, I’ll be up at 6:30 a.m. and I’ll either get to the trail or the gym by 9:00 or 9:30. I will either spend an hour at the gym or if the trails are dry, I’ll take my bike down below Blairstown and I’ll do maybe 30 or 40 miles on the Paulinskill Trail. It takes a lot of work to look this awesome.
EARLY MORNING SHUTTLES In the current parlance, I guess it’s been described as a kind of Uber for section hikers. It’s informal. I’m just an old guy with a car. People will contact me online and we’ll make arrangements. People will contact me sometimes months in advance to set their date. This morning, for instance, I met two men from Ohio at the Delaware Water Gap and I drove them up to Warwick. And now they’ll spend a week walking back to their car.
NO RATES They ask me how much I charge. I tell them I don’t have rates. It’s 120 miles roundtrip, pay me what you think is appropriate. I don’t know what to charge. It’s their hike, let them pay what they can. The section hikers are usually generous and kind. In the 20 years I have been shuttling, I can count the grumblings on one hand. It’s rewarding; I’ve never had a bad shuttle. I have a good reputation as a shuttle driver on the trail and I think that’s pretty cool. I like being useful.
BUT WHY? I want to help you get on the trail. If the Appalachian Trail means even a little to you what it has meant to me and what it’s done for me, if I can be part of helping you get on the trail, I will.
MAKING BEADS When I get back home, making beads or stringing my beads makes for a good day off.
BEADS? The beads started around 1993 when I first started teaching 6th grade. I was so thrilled teaching 6th graders and I wanted to be able to give them something that would be a reward for an academic or social achievement. I’ve been making beads ever since then as rewards for my students, part of my tip for my waitress at a restaurant, and as good luck for all my hikers.
ALWAYS MOVING I cannot just sit. All my life, I wanted a La-Z-Boy recliner. I bought a La-Z-Boy recliner and I’m still sitting in my dad’s chair making beads. I made 20,000 beads last season. I can’t even count how many beads I’ve made since 1997. Some people call it meditation. It’s not meditation, I think it’s obsession.
THE GOOD WIFE We aren’t gardeners. And we’re certainly not into much about home improvement; we just kind of throw things up. We’re just two kids who like to have fun. I do whatever I can to support Jeannie’s career and support her poetry and support her art. I like to say that my job now is being a good wife to Jeannie.
DATE NIGHT We love art museums. Sometimes we’ll go for little walks. I wish we did more, but what we do do is fun. Our favorite restaurant is Bella Italia. Very nice people and the menu is great. If we’re really ambitious, we’ll drive the 40 miles to Stroudsburg and eat at an Indian restaurant there.
THE SECRET Jeannie has her mother’s internal clock. About 6:30 p.m., Jeannie goes to sleep and I won’t see her again until morning. So in the afternoon we will find a time where we can sit and hang out or go out to eat. Something like that. I think that’s the secret to our successful marriage. We don’t see each other all that much. But I could never get sick of her. I’m sure she’d get sick of me.
THREE PAYCHECKS FROM DISASTER I’ve been able to structure my life in a way that it’s like I’ve been in school all my life. I’ve been going to school now for 50 years; September ’59 was when I was in kindergarten. I’ve always had that schedule: the summers to do things, the longer holidays and vacations. And yes, I did not work hard. I do not have a palatial mansion. We’re not financial wizards who invested much. We’re maybe three paychecks away from a disaster. But either way, you end up dead. And it’s a nice planet to enjoy and it’s a nice life to enjoy if you just try to relax as much as you can.
CLEANING UP Right now, I’m doing a full Marie Kondo on my basement and I’m going through old stuff and reliving my nightmare-ish past and keeping some and discarding most.
NIGHTCAP If it’s summertime, I’ll have a gin and tonic. If it’s wintertime, I’ll have a bottle of Stella. I’ll sit here and make beads until Jeannie goes to bed and then I’ll sit at my desk and putter. I’ll go online and cruise Facebook and eventually I’ll go upstairs and watch Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes, read, and then I’ll fall asleep.
AS HUMAN AS HOWARD I’m reading Howard Stern’s book. I love it. This is my skeleton in my closet. Howard Stern has had an incredible influence on my teaching. Running a classroom that’s honest. I mean, I’ve never brought pole dancers into the classroom. But it’s the idea of being open and keeping my life an open book and being as human to my students as I can.