Ever wondered what it’s like to hike the Appalachian Trail? Virginia Intermont alumna Angie Holbrook, class of ’08, spent five months on the trail last year and blogged about her experience along the way. Excerpts of her blog appear below.
“’You’re carrying a gun, right? How you gonna get food? You’re going alone?’ These were common reactions I received when I told people of my intentions to ‘thru-hike’ the Appalachian Trail (2,181 miles from start to finish). My plans took hold last year when I was between jobs, and on April 19, 2011, my dad drove me and my dog, Swayze, to Springer Mountain, Georgia and watched us walk northbound into the woods, headed for Maine.
The only easy part about hiking 10-20 miles every day in unpredictable weather often on steep, uneven terrain is falling asleep at night. But for all its hardships, AT hiking doesn’t come without rewards. Finding a 360° view after a grueling 3,000 ft. climb made me forget about my burning calves or how tired I was. Rounding a corner and finding myself 15 yards away from a 1,500-pound bull moose stopped me in awe, and the continual chorus of songbirds helped to lighten my spirit. But Mother Nature wasn’t the only perk the AT had to offer: meeting other people along the trail was equally rewarding.
Friendships form quickly between hikers, and locals of the trail towns are usually very eager to offer kindness and help. I tented in backyards and spent nights in strangers’ homes to escape the heat or bad storms. On the 4th of July, a large group in Shenandoah National Park invited me to their cookout. I enjoyed steak and tomatoes, and they gave Swayze their leftover Italian sausages. They gathered wood in the rain so that I could have a fire all night under the pavilion. We hikers call these random acts of kindness “trail magic.” I didn’t only receive trail magic from strangers, though. Many friends from Virginia Intermont helped out with a place to stay, food to eat, or mailing care packages to us along the trail. God truly blessed me with the people he put in my hiking path.
When I reached the New York state line, some trail friends offered me a ride to Maine and the chance to “flip-flop,” or head north and hike back south to avoid harsher weather later in the season. I summited Mount Katahdin, and Swayze and I made it through Maine, but the rough granite rock of New England caused problems with her toenails, severely hindering our progress. I said to myself, “You’re a thru-hiker ’til you’re through hiking,” and after 1,560.5 miles, I decided that we’d stop for the year. Although disappointed, I remembered a quote: “The worst experience is not defeat, but regret.”
While I may have experienced defeat, I don’t regret a single step I took on the AT. It has been the most challenging and rewarding aspect of my life thus far, and I look forward to getting back in the woods for the remaining 600 miles.”
Editor’s note: Angie majored in equine studies at VI but always liked to write and has continued blogging. Read more at http://nobogame.blogspot.com/. She plans to finish the AT as a “section hiker,” one who hikes in segments.