Interview with an Appalachian Trail Thru Hiker
What inspired you to hike the AT?
I went on a backpacking trip in Maine the year before, summited Katahdin, and explored some of Baxter Sate Park. I really fell in love with backpacking then. Later in the fall, me and my dad went on some backpacking trips on the AT in Georgia, and I met some thru hikers. At that point, I started to think about a thru hike, but not very seriously. As my senior year continued I realized I didn’t want to go to college yet, so I decided this was a good option so I really started to plan.
How did you train for the thru hike?
You honestly can not prepare yourself for this, especially if you go southbound. I am a very fit and a health conscious person to begin with so that definitely helped. You can do training hikes and stuff like that, but I didn’t see the point. I knew that it was going to be hard regardless.
What was your favorite portion of the AT?
Maine. Maine is my favorite state, it’s so beautiful. the White Mountains are amazing as well. later in the south I also loved the Grayson Highlands, Roan Highlands, and the Smokies!
What was your favorite part of the whole experience?
There are so many! Watching the sunrise and sunset every evening, having a ridiculous amount of time to think, making friends I really connected with, and feeling like a total badass because you just crushed a 25 mile day.
What lessons did you take from your experience?
I learned that people are truly really kind. The amount of things people do for you on trail make your hike. The trail angels that let you stay in there home, and leave out water cashes in the dry areas. All the people who gave me rides into town. My friends who kept me going and kept me laughing when all I wanted to do was quit. It is truly an amazing community.
Did you meet any interesting people?
Oh yeah. This man “Handmade”. I met him in the 100 Mile Wilderness, just at the beginning of my hike. He came up to the shelter in his underwear, without shoes on. He stopped there to have a snack before he put some more miles in, even though it was dusk. He ate everything out of peanut butter jars, and ate with a stick. He had built his own backpack out of the back of a chair, with a big coat hooked onto the back that he had sewed up to use as the main cavity. We thought we had seen the last of him once he left the shelter, but near the end of Maine, we saw him at a hostel. Turns out he was hiking south! He passes us quickly because we liked to take our time in Maine. He stayed just ahead of us so I would continue to hear stories about him from other people. One story was that he lost a toe nail going down South Kinsman in the Whites, and he ended up sewing it back onto his toe! It was so disturbing and gross! The stories continued to pile in, like how he carried on axe through Vermont to cut down fallen trees because he wasn’t happy with how the trail was maintained in the area. He actually made it to Georgia before I did, and turned around again to walk back to his home in Virginia.
Was the AT more mentally or physically challenging?
I thought it was more physically challenging. I had a lot of self doubt, so whatever obstacle was next I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it physically. I was terrified of the Whites, I was scared coming into Virginia because I knew bigger mountains were coming, I was even scared of the Smokies even though I had hiked 1900 miles! Plus near the end I was experiencing so much fatigue I felt like I couldn’t climb hills anymore.
Any tips for aspiring thru hikers?
I would say don’t push to hard in the beginning. Wait until you get your trail legs so you don’t injure yourself. Don’t try and keep up with people that go to fast or to slow. Do as much as you can, wake up before it’s light out to watch sunrises, go the extra mile to watch sunsets, do side trails to peaks and waterfalls. Don’t rush to much because you’ll miss it when you’re done, a lot. Savor every moment and take every opportunity you can because the trail gives you the chance to do whatever you want and live your life so do as much as you can and enjoy it! Don’t stress so much about not making miles or being behind people!
Do you have any future adventures planned?
Nothing dead-set but I definitely have some trails I’d like to do! I really want to do an endurance hike of the Long Trail, so 273 miles in 10 days or less. I also would really like to hike the PCT in 2018!