The Incredible hike of the Appalachian Trail
Chloë de Camara, 24-year-old american girl graduated from UNC-Asheville in December of 2013 with a double-major in French and Religious Studies. As of recently, she hiked the entirety of the Appalachian Trail from March 25th to August 13th, 2015! Discover her incredible adventure here:
Can you tell me a bit about the Appalachian Trail?
The Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is a long-distance trail that runs along the Appalachian Mountain range between Springer Mountain in northern Georgia to Mount Katahdin in central Maine. It was first thought up by Benton MacKaye and Myron Avery in the 1920s, and officially created in 1937. The first person to “thru-hike” (meaning walk from one terminus to the other) was Earl Shaffer in 1951. Since then, approximately 15,000 people have hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. The trail traverses through 14 states (Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine), each state having their own unique challenges and differences in terrain.
Why did you choose this particular trail?
My obsession with the Appalachian Trail started with my undergraduate thesis at UNC-Asheville. I argued that “thru-hiking” the Appalachian Trail held certain religious characteristics, and could be seen as a new form of “lived religion” (faith and practice in everyday life). Thus, I got to study the A.T. from a philosophical and academic point of view for close to two years. Through my studies I met incredible people who had previously thru-hiked the trail and spoke with such enthusiasm about their experiences that I started to consider the idea of hiking it myself one day. By the time I graduated, it was decided. There was no way in hell I was going to dedicate that much time to researching the act of thru-hiking without making an honest attempt myself. The A.T. also is near to where I lived at the time, Asheville, NC. So it seemed like an easy decision. I had just graduated school and had no real obligations tying me down.
"To hike all day everyday for ~5 months without bad or difficult moments is impossible."
Can you describe what you were carrying with you?
I carried an average of 30 lbs in my backpack. Sometimes more, sometimes less. The essentials consisted of: 1-person tent, sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner, sleeping pad, dry clothes to sleep in, cook kit (stove, pot, spork), fuel, databook (the Bible of the A.T.), camera, food, and water. You would hike through towns to resupply on food, so it was always awesome hiking into town because your pack was so much lighter. Hiking out of towns (which typically required a big climb out of the lower elevation) was a different story. A full resupply of food could be felt in every step up that mountain.
What’s the best moment you’ve lived on this journey?
That’s an incredibly hard question! Without trying to sound cliche walking up to the summit of Mt. Katahdin (northern terminus of the A.T.) was a rather incredible moment to experience. I could see the summit, while trying not to stumble over my feet as I walked closer and closer to the “end.” I kept making erratic squeals of excitement (good thing I was alone), and then I reached the iconic sign at the top. I’d seen so many pictures of previous thru-hikers’ summit photos, but to physically stand in front of this sign after walking for so long...it’s almost inexplicable. I collapsed on the front of the sign and tears came rushing to my eyes. Tears of joy, exhaustion, excitement, and disbelief. I finally screamed, “Oh my god!”, and a couple of the men I had been hiking with for the last week turned and saw that I had made it. They cheered and got pictures of me with the sign before coming over to give me some of the most genuine hugs I’ve ever given/received in my life. Ahhhhh that day will forever stay with me as one of the greatest moments I’ve experienced!
Did you experience any bad or difficult moment?
Ha! Everyday. Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is not fun. It can be fun at certain points, but everyday is hard. Whether is be a physically demanding 3,000 ft ascent with a heavy pack, non-stop mosquitos, sweltering heat, downpours, aching feet, etc. there will always be something challenging to encounter. To hike all day everyday for ~5 months without bad or difficult moments is impossible. Sometimes just waking up, convincing yourself to get out of your sleeping bag, and start hiking all day is the hardest part. There certainly is a sense of mundanity that goes along with everyone’s thru-hike.
How would you sum up your experience in 2 sentences?
It’s an ineffable experience that can never be summed up into just two sentences. However, this journey led me to more self-discovery, friendships, laughter, discomfort, and honesty than I’ve ever experienced before.
What was the feeling when you made it to the end?!
Shock, awe, excitement, sadness, triumph, and fear.
Did this experience change you?
I believe so, yes. Physically my body will never be the same. Mentally, I think I’m going to continue to see how the A.T. has and will continue to affect me. For the better I hope! A friend once told me, that “the A.T. ruins your life in the best way possible.” So far I tend to agree with that statement. The A.T. has given me a taste of an atypical life, and it’s hard to look at life without this new perspective. I feel like I have a new set of eyes, and I’m ready to embark on the next chapter of life with a higher level of confidence.
"Having a healthy relationship with nature and the trail is crucial."
What would you say to people wanting to hike this trail?
Know what you’re getting yourself into. Thru-hiking the A.T. is not easy, and don’t expect it to be a simple walk in the woods. Unless you’re willing to grow as a person, and accept all qualities of yourself (the good, bad, ugly, and smelly), then a thru-hike would not be an enjoyable experience.
How did your passion for hiking start?
My thesis really sparked my interest, but it wasn’t until after I graduated and decided that I wanted to thru-hike the following year that I started really hiking. I forced a couple guys, whom I’d known for years, to take me backpacking for the first couple of times. I didn’t care how many mistakes I made in front of them (which were countless), I just wanted to be outside and start challenging myself! It was an awesome transition to be a part of. From depending on others to do everything, to becoming my own motivator and climbing up and down literally hundreds of mountains.
What is your relationship with nature?
That of respect. Having a healthy relationship with nature and the trail is crucial. Hiking on established trails up to the peaks of mountains can be exhilarating, but it’s important to acknowledge that we have an impact on the terrain. There are specific Leave no Trace ethics everyone can follow to ensure a better wilderness experience for those who come next. But, in honesty, I like to think that by being a decent human being and respecting the land (i.e. packing out whatever you pack in, cleaning up trash, staying on established trails rather than making more impact on the surrounding vegetation) that’s giving us the opportunity to observe its beauty in the first place. It’s also important to acknowledge your own limits in nature. Respect the power of nature and its ability to harm you. Getting caught in a lightning storm on top of a mountain makes one realize just how little control they have over nature. Thus, it’s important to come prepared and pay attention to your surroundings.
What is your next adventure?
As for now, it’s building up my resume to help me eventually get work in the outdoor stewardship or conservation fields. However….I wouldn’t be opposed to another long-distance hike in a couple years. Maybe the Pacific Crest Trail? Ha! We’ll see :D