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1,000-mile trek brings missing man home

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Hugh Armstrong hitchhiked and walked 1,000 miles south from New Hampshire without knowing who he was. Then he heard his granddaughter's name in a McDonald's in Asheville and started to fill in a few blanks.

Armstrong, 72, had been missing for more than two weeks -- he disappeared after going for a walk while on vacation near a New Hampshire lake. The retired IBM employee stacked hay for a Pennsylvania farmer along the way, hitched a ride to Virginia and made his way to his home state of North Carolina.

A sheriff's deputy found him walking on U.S. 70 at 1:30 a.m. yesterday, and identified him as a missing person by the initials on his wedding band.

"He's my hero. That's just a remarkable feat," said Deputy Brian Walker of the McDowell County Sheriff's Department.

Armstrong hadn't been able to remember his name since falling into a ravine while walking near New Hampshire's Stinson Lake on July 25, but he knew his age and thought he might know someone in Asheville.

In the McDonald's, he heard a name he knew. A mother called her child "Emma," and Armstrong thought he might know someone by that name. He sat down with a phone book and looked at road names. He wrote a letter to Emma in Wilmington and mailed it to her, telling her everything he could remember and that he was headed to her as soon as he could.

Deputies found him later, about 240 miles from home. His wife and daughter drove to the sheriff's office to take him home, Walker said.

"Immediately, when the car pulled in, he recognized the car. When his wife stepped out, he said, 'That's my wife,' " Walker said.

Armstrong last saw his family when he left for his walk alone, leaving a note saying he'd be back by 10 a.m. He had a small bag with him containing some medicine, but nothing with his name on it.

He apparently fell, and remembered waking up in a ravine in the dark, his family and authorities said. He started walking south.

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