Frequently Asked Questions
2189 miles | 139 days | 15 zero days
Why did you decide to hike the Appalachian Trail?
Danielle and I both took part in (different) pre-orientation hiking trips on the AT before starting college. I was freaking out about college and honestly did not want to go to the school I was headed to (and ended up loving). I love the outdoors and was excited to meet my new nature-loving college BFF. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The hiking trip was a disaster: it rained the whole time and I didn’t connect with anyone in my group, so I was forced to wallow in my own self pity alone. As miserable it was, after my short time in the wilderness, I felt ready for college. Climbing up and over mountains on your own two feet while carrying everything you need to survive on your back is so empowering. Four years later, Danielle and I graduated from our respective colleges and found ourselves in yet another life transition. Danielle and I both planned to go to graduate school but were committed to pursuing the adventures we craved in the meantime. After a bottle (or two) of wine, Danielle was like "Wanna hike the Appalachian Trail? Like the whole thing?" And I was like, "sure" and she was like, "wait, really?" and I was like, "yeah" and the rest is history. For real though, the Appalachian Trail presents the opportunity for us to challenge ourselves, learn to overcome adversity and deal with situations when shit hits the fan on a daily basis. Plus, backpackers get to eat anything and everything they want. What's not to love?
Why did you hike for charity?
First, we saw our adventure as an opportunity to raise awareness for a cause that we both really care about. With the power of social media, small campaigns such as ours can really make a difference. Second, we knew that hiking the AT would be an enormous challenge. Hiking for a cause we deeply care about would give us a reason to keep moving forward when we feel defeated. Knowing that many people donated on our behalf and believed in us to reach our goal kept us from giving up. We were hiking the AT for something bigger than ourselves and that inspired us every day.
Why did you raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention?
Both of Danielle and I are extremely passionate about mental health. Everyone knows someone who is affected by suicide or depression, yet the stigma surrounding mental health is so severe that no one talks about it. This lack of discussion prevents so many people from getting the help they need. As neuroscience majors, we also understand the physical reality of depression in the brain and have the foundation to discuss, educate, and begin conversations about mental health on and off the trail.
How can I hike for a charity?
Check out this blog post: So You Want to Hike for Charity?
How did you prepare to hike the AT?
Uhhhh...I didn't. I'd love to say that I went to the gym every day before hitting the trail, but my gym membership went disappointingly unused the month before starting the AT. Honestly, the trail will kick your ass no matter how well you physically prepare. It's important to go on a day hikes or weekend trip with a full pack to test out your gear, but other than that, you just gotta go for it. Unless you are hiking 15+ miles a day up and down mountains day after day, you will be physically unprepared. But that's okay. If I survived, you will too.
Mental preparation is a thing too. I read as much as I could about hiking the AT before leaving- blogs, podcasts, books, articles, gear reviews, and everything in between. I like knowing what I am getting myself into. That being said, you can never be totally prepared for the challenges the AT will throw at you. Every day presents new obstacles with both the best and worst kinds of surprises. In order to be successful, you have to roll with the punches, be flexible, and most importantly, listen to your body.
Do you hunt or scavenge for food?
You'd be surprised how often we got this question. Thanks for thinking I'm a badass b*tch but, no, I get amazing care packages sent from my lovely mother filled with incredible food donated by family and friends. That's boring, so we usually say something like this:
Yeah, it gets hard sometimes when it's hot and we can only find a few berries. We just have to eat moss and stuff. Actually, the bark on some trees actually tastes like a graham cracker- it's really not bad. We mostly eat squirrels though. How? Naturally, we finagle a knife attachment to my trekking pole and spear them. Danielle is phenomenal with a slingshot.
What do you eat on the trail?
The best part about the trail is that you can eat anything you want! When you hike 15-25 miles a day, your body needs calories. It's hard to keep an exciting variety of food in your pack, but it was absolutely necessary to my happiness on the trail. I loved, then quickly got sick of tuna fish and Clif bars. FYI, Clif bars = butt plugs. Hiking constipated is the worst. We never got sick of Cheez Its or Goldfish. We always had protein bars. Every day I ate at least one protein bar. I will never eat a protein bar again in my life. We usually had a bag or two of candy for emergencies. We made a lot of Nors sides for dinner and eventually graduated to fancy dehydrated dinners. Danielle pre-mixed and vacuum sealed enough trail mix to feed a family of 5 for 7 years. We also loved eating cheese and pepperoni. Poptarts are always good- brown sugar cinnamon and s'mores were really the only flavors I would eat. Tortillas are great for everything. Get ready for your mind to be blown:
The Calorie Burrito
Great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert!
- Spread a layer of Nutella on the tortilla
- Spread a layer of peanut butter on the tortilla
- Add burrito filling of your choice
- Crushed up Poptart
- Trail mix
- Cut up protein bar
Yes, I've really tried all of these varieties. Yes, it was as amazing as it sounds. No, actually, my post-trail blood work actually was on point.
Where did you get water?
From nature, duh! There's nothing like a cold, gushing spring coming directly out of a mountain. Often times, when stopping in town for a resupply, Danielle and I would wait to fill up on water until we were back in the woods. We always sterilize our water with a Steripen. Many hikers get lazy about filtering water, but I'm not taking any chances with parasites. We hiked during a very dry summer- this definitely got scary when we were feeling dehydrated and had many miles before the next water source. There are sections of the trail in PA, NY, and NJ where the only water we got was dropped off in gallon jugs at road crossings by trail angels as the water sources were all dried up!
How far did you hike every day?
We started hiking 8-14 miles each day. We did our first 20 mile day after about two weeks. The farthest we hiked in one day was 30 miles. After Harper's Ferry through New Jersey, we consistently crushed 23-27 mile days. In the White Mountains and in Maine, there were days it was tough to hike even 12 miles with all the elevation change. For me, the sweet spot was 21 miles. After hiking 21 miles, I was tired and would sleep soundly but wouldn't be sore or oversleep the next day.
Do you camp?
The kind of people that ask this question are the same people who snap pictures of thru-hikers from their cars. "Wow! Look a wild thru-hiker!" Yes, Danielle and I slept in our Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 every night. This three person tent was a mansion and we loved and needed every square inch. We treated ourselves to a motel every few weeks when we needed a shower.
What is an average day like on the trail?
We set an alarm for 6 am, snooze at least once then deflate our sleeping pads by 6:30 am and roll up our sleeping bags. The first one out of the tent, usually to pee, grabs the bear bag and sets up to stove to make coffee. After breakfast, we pack up the tent, load up on Advil, and start hiking. We take a snack break every two hours because if we wait any longer we are in serious hanger danger. For the sake of fellow hikers and our own sanity, we snack very frequently. We try to plan snack and lunch breaks around a great view or good sitting logs (it's the little things). We generally hike 8-12 hours each day depending on the terrain. When we get to camp, we set up our tent, change into clean(er) camp clothes, cook dinner, and catch up with other hikers. After dinner we collect our food and trash and hang it in a tree so bears don't bother us at night or eat our food- though we'd honestly be more upset about the latter. We are usually in our sleeping bags by 9 and pass out shortly after (unless, by some miracle, there is cell service).
Did you feel that the AT was safe?
Yes! I actually felt more safe on the trail than I did in most towns we walked through. In the South, almost everyone we met asked if we carried a gun. They were shocked two women would be in the wilderness without a gun. We actually did carry pepper spray for the first month we hiked and we got a lot of sh*t for it. I rarely felt uncomfortable on the trail. If we ever got sketched out by another hiker (usually a day or section hiker) Danielle and I would simply out-hike him. It's also good not to tell people where you will be camping. When strangers asked "how far are you hiking today?", we usually just say "as far as our legs will take us". The community on the trail is amazing. We knew most thru-hikers 50 miles ahead and behind us. If we ever needed help, I have no doubt that another thru-hiker would be passing by within an hour or less. Additionally, though my phone remained off all day, I actually had cell service most of the time in case of an emergency.
Did you feel that the trail was crowded?
Campsites felt especially crowded in Georgia, then again in Vermont when we started crossing paths with SOBO hikers and people hiking the Long Trail. Some campsites were so severely impacted that they have since been closed. Movies like Wild and A Walk in the Woods definitely glorify the trail and makes it seem that everyone and anyone can do the trail. This is partially true- really anyone can hike a long distance trail- it's just one foot in front of the other. However, a successful thru hike takes a lot of planning and preparation. We saw many aspiring thru hikers quit in the first week because "the trail isn't what they thought". The trail is physically and mentally difficult, so one must be ready for the challenges it presents. Though we have a "the more, the merrier" mindset, the increased traffic negatively impacts the trail. Hikers must be especially careful to leave no trace and respect the trail in order to preserve it.
There were days we saw dozens of hikers. There were also days we literally did not see another human. With that being said, the trail can be as social as you want it to be. There are always hikers looking to hang out all night and chat by the campfire if that is what you want. It's just as easy to camp farther down the trail for a more isolated experience.
What was your favorite section of the AT?
I loved Newfound Gap to Clingman's Dome in the Smoky Mountains- it's an incredible ridge walk! I also loved the day we hiked to McAfee Knob to watch the sun rise and then climbed along the Tinker Cliffs. The White Mountains were AMAZING. My favorite section in the Whites was Mt. Liberty to South Twin along Franconia Ridge and Mt. Garfield. It was the most amazing ridge walk on the most perfect bluebird day. I think that was one of the best days of my life. Lastly, Mt. Katahdin was unforgettable. I can't put into words how it felt climbing up that mountain.
What was your least favorite section of the AT?
Southern Maine was a struggle for me. My family spoiled us by slack-packing us throughout the White Mountains of New Hampshire. When we reached Maine, it felt like "we made it". But lol jk there's still more than 200 miles until Katahdin. I was under the impression that Whites were the toughest part of the trail and Maine would be easier. That's the farthest from the truth. The elevation change remained drastic and the trails were much more rugged than we had experienced. It was dangerously slippery most of the time and I fell on my ass many times every day. I was physically and mentally drained. I survived and that's all that matters.
What was the best part about thru hiking the AT?
The people I met on my journey are absolutely the best part of the experience. All thru hikers carry the same stuff with only slight variations: a backpack, a sleep system, shoes, jacket, headlamp, and food. No one cares what you did before the trail and how much you made. No one cares how old you are or what your home looks like. The trail is an equalizer- everyone is in this epic experience together. There's really no faking who you are in the woods when you are hungry, dirty and tired. You get to know who people really are very quickly...for better or for worse. I am forever changed by people I met on the AT. Trail friendships are lifelong.
What was the worst part about thru hiking the AT?
Getting rained on then having to put on cold wet clothes the next morning. Also, smelling like pee all the time.
What did you learn?
I learned that I could live off Goldfish forever and never get sick of them. I also learned that good shoes and happy feet are essential for a successful thru-hike. I learned that it takes approximately 22 minutes to sing all 99 bottles of beer off the wall. I learned to be flexible- things won't always work out the way I want, but they will always work out. I learned to appreciate the simple things in life. Like really appreciate them. I also learned how genuinely happy I am with so few things (note to self: remember this when I'm having a meltdown over which outfit to wear out). I learned to listen more and talk less- everyone has a story they are waiting for someone to listen to. I learned that people are mostly good- the trail definitely restored my faith in humanity. I learned that people are so willing to open up about mental health and suicide when asked. It is not easy to be vulnerable and initiate discussion on such a sensitive and stigmatized subject, but I have become very comfortable in doing so. I learned I can accomplish what I set my mind to. I pushed myself to my limits every day and accomplished something great. That's empowering.