John McKinney set out to hike Mount Athos to write about it as a hiking destination. What happened on the Holy Mountain that changed everything?
Meet Author John McKinney
The name McKinney sure doesn’t sound Greek. Born and raised in Los Angeles, John McKinney, a.k.a. The Trailmaster, traces his Greek roots to Skyia, near Monemvasia, where his grandfather Charles Gekas was born. He grew up attending St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in L.A., with his mother, Helen Gekas.
He and his wife Cheri, a dyslexia expert who helps parents advocate for their kids with dyslexia in the school system, settled in Santa Barbara after they married in 1990. They have two children. Son Daniel is a student at Santa Barbara City College and plays baseball. In fact, this summer Daniel is playing for the Coastal Cubs, a Chicago Cubs scout team. The proud father spoke about his son’s prospects.
“If the Cubs are looking for an outfielder with a cannon for an arm who hits for high average and with power, perhaps they’ll draft Daniel and he’ll play at Wrigley Field one day!”
The family continues to grow, as their daughter, Sophia and her husband recently welcomed Baby Rosemary. The gushing grandpa declared her, “the Cutest little thing ever.”
John began hiking when he joined a Boy Scout troop in suburban L.A.
“I loved the backpacking trips in the nearby mountains and in the High Sierra. Even at a young age, I felt a spiritual connection to being in nature. By the time I was 14 years old, I was an Eagle Scout and earned the Alpha Omega Award, a religious award for scouts who are Eastern Orthodox Christians. I recall I needed to recite the Trisagion Prayer and several others to earn the award—a blue and white ribbon with an Orthodox cross that was pinned on my scout uniform just above the Eagle Scout patch.”
He earned his degree from the University of Southern California, and set out the write the “Great American Screenplay”. It didn’t sell. In the meantime, he began penning articles about nature and hiking, which did sell. With the growing momentum, he ditched the screenwriting and followed this path, leading to an 18-year gig as the Los Angeles Times hiking columnist. During this time, he wrote more than a 1000 stories, and has published some 30 books about hiking.
All roads lead to Mount Athos
John was invited on a trip to Mount Athos with several men from his parish. The trailmaster joked about his invitation.
“Maybe they invited me along because I was an Eagle Scout and they knew I wouldn’t get lost! Seriously, some men go to Mount Athos to view the priceless art and architecture, many to stay and pray with the monks. I went there to take a hike. As the Los Angeles Times hiking columnist, I had a professional interest for my trip: to hike around the Holy Mountain and write about Mount Athos as an exotic hiking destination, a vacation adventure for outdoor enthusiasts.”
The Greek “grapevine” — mutual friends and other acquaintances — spanning the globe from L.A. to Chicago to Thessaloniki, connected John to Chicago Greek Spiro Deligiannis, who’d been living in Hong Kong.
“We met up, and became instant friends. Our hike was glorious — the amazing monasteries, the natural beauty, the monks living as their brothers in Christ did 500 years ago.”
The combination of this duo — the experienced trailmaster of wavering faith, and the novice hiker of unequivocal faith — proved fateful.
“Really it was meeting Spiro that changed everything. Spiro is fluent in Greek, and my Greek is awful. And at the time Spiro had a reverence for icons and a belief in their wonderworking powers while I definitely had my doubts about them working any miracles.”
Like others before him, John had no idea what was ahead.
“I had no idea when I stepped off the ferry onto the Mount Athos Peninsula that I was about to have a life-changing experience. But one thing I’ve learned from all my time on the trail: on this amazing path we call life, we’re often compelled to change direction.”
Writing Hiking the Holy Mountain
While John didn’t go to Mount Athos thinking about a book, what happened there was an amazing story that he was compelled to share.
“While the ‘plot’ and colorful cast of Greek monks in Hiking the Holy Mountain seem like they came from a movie script, this is very much a true story! I just had to write it. I was compelled by extraordinary events—on and off the Holy Mountain — to write a book much deeper and complex than anything I wrote before.”
It took one year to write the book, which he refers to as the “greatest challenge of his life”.
“Truly the Holy Spirit guided me during an intense writing process that kept me working night after night until 3:00 am.”
About Hiking the Holy Mountain
When Trailmaster John McKinney partnered with “tenderfoot” Spiro Deligiannis to hike Mount Athos, neither of them really knew what the experience would yield. Each would learn something invaluable. The experience would change and enrich their lives in different ways.
While visiting different monasteries during the hike, John and Spiro would speak with the monks. The monks could see what John couldn’t consciously see: John was searching for something; he was in despair. Then they began to tell him things that he hadn’t revealed. The monks knew. How did they know? This was overwhelming for John, who had often questioned his faith.
A monk named Father Daniel changed everything. He instructed John to pray to St. Anna, with a very specific prayer. Still skeptical, John felt compelled to pray. Back at home, a miracle happened. Was it fate? Divine intervention?
Fast forward 20 years, and John reconnected with Father Daniel. He and his son, Daniel, traveled to Mount Athos — reaffirming faith for father, and solidifying faith for the son.
Review of Hiking the Holy Mountain
John McKinney, a.k.a The Trailmaster, reveals a story 20 years in the making. The Holy Mountain changed his life, not once, but twice. Hiking the Holy Mountain, Tales of Monks and Miracles on the Trails of Mount Athos, Greece is a trek through monasteries, history, and the wisdom of monks. It’s a collection of lively characters, and adventures unimagined. It’s a story of faith and miracles, that reminds us that God knows what we need. Sometimes we must go out of our comfort zones, our everyday existence, to the highest corners of the earth, for God to teach us, to show us. This is a must-read. Even if you don’t believe in miracles, you will after you read Hiking the Holy Mountain. Put this one at the top of your list.
Watch the book trailer here.
By: John McKinney
Publisher: Olympus Press
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