Alana Reid, Perth, WA
In March of 2015 the three of us were on a plane bound for Atlanta, Georgia. Fate had made it so we could all take off the six months required to hike the entire Appalachian Trail (AT). Mum was almost 60, Lindsey had decided maybe she did enjoy walking again, and I had been dreaming about this moment for close to ten years. We set foot on the AT in the early days of an American Spring—March the 22nd to be exact. We were lucky enough to avoid the snow which often lingers, but still had nights which got down to -5 degrees C. Our days were filled with the excitement of a new lifestyle—filtering water from glacial streams, eating lunch on grassy mountain tops, learning to hang a bear bag, meeting countless new faces and walking through a world completely different to our own. With close to 3500 people attempting a thru-hike of the AT, we were never short of people to chat with around an evening camp fire. A tradition of the AT is to adopt a trail name which becomes your new identity when introducing yourself to fellow hikers. Within the first fortnight we had become known as Muddy Duckling (me), Firebear (Lindsey) and Redback (Mum). As some of the only Australians on the trail, we were collectively known as “Aussie Legs”.
In the early weeks of the trail we were walking close to 15km a day. As the days became longer and warmer we would walk for around ten hours and cover between 25 and 40kms a day. The middle of the trail has terrain that is fairly easy, but we were always tired and ready for the comfort of our tents by the end of the day. Every three to five days we would come to a road crossing where we could hitch-hike or catch a shuttle into the nearby town. We often found town days more exhausting than being on the trail; we would get a hotel room, shower, do laundry, plan our next section, resupply for the coming days and then take care of blogging and calling home. This was always followed up by an excessively large meal which generally lacked the nutrition we should have been trying to get from a town visit! Of our entire time on the trail, we only took eight days off.
By the time many AT hikers make it to Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia (the unofficial halfway point), their mental resolve is starting to waver. Reaching halfway is an exceptional effort, but for some it marks the end of their journey. Many drop out well before this—the trail wasn’t what they expected, they’re tired, they ran out of money or they were forced off the trail due to injury. When we reached this point the summer was upon us and we were feeling strong. The next 700 odd miles was wonderful—the terrain flattened out a bit, we got to see black bears for the first time, we swam in rivers and we had finally gotten rid of all our excess gear. For the first time on the trail we began to think of ourselves as potential thru-hikers.
The biggest part of our AT journey was the people we encountered. Along the length of the trail, there are people known as trail angels who do random acts of kindness to help hikers. The trail magic they provide ranges from coolers full of ice-cold soft drinks left on the trail, to a friendly soul cooking up hot dogs and hamburgers at a road crossing to give away to hungry hikers. We received countless rides to towns, had people anonymously pay for meals, were invited to stay at people’s homes and were offered trail magic food on a weekly basis.
The trail magic we received played a big part in keeping us motivated as we moved in to the hardest part of the trail. The White Mountains in New Hampshire are notorious for their difficulty and we can now attest to that. Our mileage dropped considerably and we began to hurt in a whole new way. Part of this is due to the fact we had been walking for close to four months solid, had traversed 2900kms and had all lost a lot of weight. Even though our knees were starting to break down, the White Mountains stunned us with their beauty. We were treated to amazing weather (as we were for most of our hike) and the endless views made the challenge worth it. As we entered the final state, we had 450kms to go and some of the most difficult hiking ahead. We definitely slowed down a lot, but we feel this kept the magic of the trail alive. Many of our fellow hikers were on a sprint to the finish line, but we took our time and enjoyed the beautiful lakes and wild woods of Maine. On the 28th of August, five months and one week after setting off from Georgia, we began our ascent of Mt Katahdin. The Northern Terminus of the AT sits at the top of this majestic mountain. It took us three hours to reach the top, and on a gorgeous summer day, with the clouds still drifting through the valley below, we stepped up to touch the Katahdin sign and became Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers. It was the hardest and most demanding thing any of us have ever attempted. It was also the most rewarding and fulfilled a once in a lifetime dream.
To read more about our adventure, check out my blog: https://aussielegs.wordpress.com/