Inside the Minds of 9 (Soon to Be) Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers

Appalachian Trials is very proud to be the home of a select handful of Appalachian Trail bloggers.   Some of whom are already on the Trail (Deb, Ashley, Zachsquatch, La Mariposa), some who are leaving today (Allison), with the rest embarking very soon (depending on when you read this).

In an attempt to give you a look inside the mind of a (soon to be) Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, while simultaneously helping you get better acquainted with your 2014 Appalachian Trials Bloggers, I asked the crew to answer  a few questions.  Their answers are below.   Enjoy.

Are you a future AT thru-hiker?  Apply to be an Appalachian Trials Blogger here.

When do you leave?

Evans PraterApril 1

Bennett TraversMarch 16th

La Mariposa: March 10th

Deb Beck: February 14

Sarah: March 15

Zachsquatch: March 3, 2014

Allison Kieley: March 13, 2014

Ellie B.: March 23

Ash Mae: March 4th

Why are you hiking?

Evans PraterPeace and relaxation mixed with a healthy amount of partying.

Bennett Travers: As a recent graduate not ready to enter the “real world”, this is the best (and possibly only!) opportunity I’ll have to chase this adventure. I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life, but this hike will allow me to reflect on myself, on my values, and on my future. By removing myself from all things digital (my major) I’ll see if I’m still passionate about the tech world when I’m back. I also really love exercising, the outdoors, and meeting new people with awesome stories, so this is an exciting chance to combine all those interests while spending time with my dad.

La Mariposa: To fulfill a childhood dream. To experience my homeland from a different angle. To escape from the materialism that has been bringing me down the past five years. To forget what I look like and to stop caring about my physical appearance. To break my coffee addiction. To break my Facebook addiction. To give myself some space for introspection before I get caught up in a busy, stressful life all over again. To have an excuse for not showering and not ever wanting to shower. To see a moose.

Deb Beck: To help my husband of thirty years accomplish his dream. Somehow it has become mine as well.

Sarah:  I’ve made my “lists,” and have been trying to boil them down. Because I can, because I need to re-evaluate my life a bit, because it’s a great test, because I hope to gain more self-confidence. My list encompasses: It has been a life dream of mine for many years now I need a shift in my life If not now, when? My body and life commitments are in sync It will be a great adventure I want to learn other skills I want to test myself physically and mentally I read a really good book about it 6 months of fresh air, pine needles, and vistas an escape from the electronics, screens, and Internet craze it is now something I need to do

Zachsquatch: 1) I can . . . I’m lucky enough to be in good health and young enough to take half a year to go on an adventure without screwing my life up. 2) I love being outdoors.  3) I want my beard to look as rad as possible.  4) I want to know more about myself. 5) I’ve told SOOOO many people that it’s too late to back out even if I wanted to.  6) I don’t believe in Sasquatch per se, but I don’t dis-believe in him either. If he’s living in the Appalachian Mountains, Ole Zach is going try to snap a photo of him. TIME TO GO SQUATCHIN’!!!

Allison Kieley:  To find myself on a life changing, soul seeking journey through the wilderness, DUH. Nah, because spending time alone allows me to reconnect with my values and meaning; solitude excites me. I’m very aware that this experience will have a profound effect on different aspects of my life and I’m welcoming those changes with open arms. I also just really like hiking.

Ellie B.: I want to a hard and amazing challenge. The trail feels like something I just have to do.

Ash Mae: Because adventure!

Biggest fear going into the trail?

Evans PraterThat I’ll get injured or quit.

Bennett Travers:  While I truly believe in HYOH, I’m scared of everyone else who might not. The idea of having other hikers criticising MY choices or telling me I’m wrong would be extremely frustrating for me. I trust my AT decisions and I would hate to have to defend my gear or my mileage or my abilities as a woman on the trail. While it’s likely an irrational fear, along with the fear of quitting and having to tell everyone back home, it’s something that still worries me.

La Mariposa: Hypothermia. This Polar Vortex thing is freaking me out a bit.

Deb Beck: Failing in the first four days.

Sarah: I have “on-trail” fears and “off-trail” fears. I guess on-trail, it’s just getting into a routine, figuring it all out, and making sure I make it to the post office on time, and having the right amount of food. Off-trail, it would be similar – logistics, getting to and from town.

Zachsquatch: The single most terrifying aspect of the Appalachian Trail at the moment is the whole bear situation. I’ve heard soooo many people say that black bears aren’t as aggressive as grizzly bears . . . You know who doesn’t know that it’s not as aggressive as a grizzly bear? A black bear; thats who. So I’m going to keep my distance when we cross paths in hopes of avoiding an outright mauling.

Allison Kieley: Injury and/or sickness. I’ve spent so much time and energy preparing for this hike, the thought of having to leave because of an injury or sickness terrifies me.

Ellie B.: Breaking my leg (or somehow crippling myself) between now and when I hit the trail. And bears.

Ash Mae: I don’t often enjoy being alone – hopefully I won’t find it lonesome.

What you’re most excited about?

Evans PraterEating and drinking. The views are nice too.

Bennett Travers:  Most excited about…hmm. Besides finally experiencing all the amazing & classic locations I’ve seen in AT films since I was younger, I think I’m most excited about the people. Meeting people and hearing their stories is my passion. I’m considering recording all these stories along the way & creating an online collection. The people could click different spots on a trail map and listen to first-hand stories & memories & random experiences. I just think a virtual soundwalk like that would be awesome.

La Mariposa: Seeing a moose. Never showering. Climbing the peaks I already know I love (like Mt LeConte and McAfee’s Knob) Climbing the peaks I’ve never seen before. All the Nutella I will eat.

Deb Beck: Completing each day and wanting to do it again tomorrow. Completing the hike up to Albert Mountain was killer but so worth it.

Sarah: Meeting new people and learning about different ideas and perspectives. Making it to “milestones” like state lines etc.

Zachsquatch: I’m most excited about getting to meet people from all over the world who have the same dream as me. Getting to hang out and spend quality time with good people means a lot to me.

Allison Kieley: Challenging myself. Crossing my first state border. Big mile days. Zero days. Trail magic. Getting jacked. The taste of my first bite of trail town pizza washed down with a swig of beer. Meeting people and making friends. Blogging. Sunny days.

Ellie B.: A complete change of pace and finally doing the thing I’ve said I was going to do for so long.

Ash Mae: That it will be an epic transformative experience…hopefully.

Favorite piece of gear?

Evans PraterBackpacks. They’re so spiffy and futuristic looking. And the water filtration systems make me feel like I’m on Star Trek.

Bennett Travers:  There’s a very good reason I’m not an App Trial Gear Aficionado. If I had to pick a favorite I would say my new Hennessy Hammock. Haven’t used it much, but when I do I wonder why it took me so long to buy one! Just need to work a little more on my knot tying before I hit the trail…

La Mariposa:  My Swiss Army knife or my pack (Gossamer Gear Mariposa), which led to my trail name.

Deb Beck:  I have two: My pee jar and my sleeping bag liner

Sarah: Oooh! Hmm. I just love all of it. I guess my sleeping pad, it’s super comfy. Or my neon green crocs with little ants all over them…

Zachsquatch: Probably my backpack. If I didn’t have a backpack I don’t know how in the world I would carry all my other things.

Allison Kieley: I don’t know if this qualifies as gear because it is 100% unnecessary and is considered a luxury item, but my Fitbit Zip. My Nemo Obi 1P Elite Tent is also up there on my favorites list.

Ellie B.: No idea, I’m not much of a gearhead. I’m happy with all my gear so far, but nothing stands out as amazing.

Ash Mae: I love my backpack! Red Osprey Ariel – had to go red because Little Mermaid.

How much backpacking experience will you have going into the AT?

Evans Prater6 weeks on the AT in Fall ’12. It got me 309.9 miles with 1 week off for Hurricane Sandy.

Bennett Travers: Being from Georgia I’ve spent more than a few weekends hiking the AT but only a few since beginning college. The most serious backpacking I’ve done was about 6 years ago when I hiked 100+ miles in New Mexico at Philmont Boy Scout Ranch. Loved the lack of humidity there, but considering how heavy I’m sure my backpack was I think I’m better off this hike.

La Mariposa: Not much–just a few three-day backpacking trips at the Grand Canyon, on the Cumberland Trail, and in the Smoky Mountains.

Deb Beck: Years of day hiking, but nothing to this extent.

Sarah: I’ve done 5-6 days of camping on the AT in Maryland and Pennsylvania with friends. I went hiking and camping in Peru, but we had porters, so though the terrain and altitude was tough, I only ever had to carry a daypack.

Zachsquatch: I’ve been backpacking for about one and a half years but I’ve been car camping ever since I was just a wee lad.

Allison Kieley: Oh ya know…none. Quite a few day trips and a handful of overnight trips lasting a couple of days…

Ellie B.: I hiked the Long Trail of Vermont in 2010 (273 miles), I re-hiked 100 miles of it last July.

Ash Mae: Some…er…warm weekend backpacking. That’s the same right?

You absolutely won’t quit on the Appalachian Trail because ___________.

Evans Prater: Everyone will be like, “Dude, what the hay?”

Bennett Travers:  I’m hiking with my dad & I want this to be a challenge we accomplish together! It’s been a dream of ours for years so I’m going to make sure we make it to Katahdin together if it kills me. The idea of leaving him on the trail and returning home to have to start my job search early is the WORST!

La Mariposa: I’m not hiking to “find myself” or figure out who I am. But if I quit, then I’m definitely not the person I think I am. I absolutely won’t quit because I absolutely cannot accept that.

Deb Beck: I have too many people to disappoint, including myself.

Sarah: Er….so, from my “lists” post, this goes on a deep dark dive: I DON’T WANT TO: think of myself as a failure regret, regret, regret lose my passion // get apathetic in most areas of my life “settle” rather than go after what I really want not be able to look others in the eye for a year or more cry have no clue what I want anymore; be thrown into confusion and chaos and not in a good way

Zachsquatch: I’ll be disappointed with myself if I give up on something that I’ve put so much work into. Even when times get hard I will do my best turn my frown upside down and boogie my way into the next approaching town. (Also, I work at an Outdoor Retail shop called Quest Outdoors and if I come home early for anything other than a broken femur my co-workers will never let me live it down.)

Allison Kieley: Having to publicly explain a personal failure to a lot of people is my nightmare.

Ellie B.: It’s just not who I am.

Ash Mae: I asked my job for leave to do this – would feel mighty foolish showing back up to work next week.

Favorite AT book and why? (Besides Appalachian Trials)

Evans PraterAWOL on the AT. It’s a very pragmatic account of his trip and makes me giggle because he sounds EXACTLY like you’d expect a computer programmer to sound when writing a book about an epic adventure – let’s just say he doesn’t joke much.

La Mariposa: This isn’t an AT book, but The Motorcycle Diaries really shaped my perceptions of my trek. It helped me see the irony of spending thousands of dollars to “escape materialism,” but also to appreciate the importance of this journey in my “formacion.”

Deb Beck: Well, honestly it is Appalachian Trials. I started A Walk in the Woods, but it wasn’t speaking to me. I decided to let the trail tell me its story.

SarahAWOL on the Appalachian Trail! It inspired me to begin planning for a 2014 thruhike (and not a 2059 thruhike). For a non-AT, but still long distance book, I loved The Ordinary Adventurer by Jan Leitschuh.

Zachsquatch: Aside from “A Walk in the Woods” and “Appalachian Trials” I haven’t read any books about the AT. I enjoyed “A Walk in the Woods” because Bryson provided the reader with a detailed history of the AT and other miscellanies facts about the trail that I had not yet heard of. Also, Bryson seems to have a similar sense of humor as me. But “A Walk in the Woods” isn’t my favorite out of the two. “Appalachian Trials” helped me mentally prepare to thru hike the AT and allowed me to begin my journey with just a little bit more confidence in myself than I had prior to reading the book.

Allison KieleyBeyond Backpacking by Ray Jardine. This was the first trail prep book I read and I still believe it has the best information for anyone interested in ultralight hiking methods. It covers topics dealing with things from walking techniques to homemade gear and is written in a very readable way. This book played a huge role in my gear planning, and thru hike preparation.

Ellie B.Becoming Odyssa. I like that it’s about a young solo female hiker, and I thought the book had a positive tone throughout. Becoming Odyssa is also is a reminder of how mental the trail is; she starts with very little backpacking experience and with old heavy gear. She uses a mop pole in lieu of a hiking pole and she doesn’t use a stove. While she makes a lot of rookie mistakes and I don’t agree with everything she does (ex: I am filtering my water), I think she is a great example of mind-over-matter.

Ash Mae: Who says I read!?!

Books, e-books, audiobooks, or podcasts you’re bringing onto the Trail?

Evans Prater: I’m just going to download things as I go. Right now the first book I read will be Slaughterhouse Five, only because I bought it on my Kindle like two years ago and it’s still sitting there.

Bennett Travers:  Uber excited to finally knock a few books off my list. I’ve currently downloaded the audiobooks: “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg • “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)” by Mindy Kaling –> I’m not so secretly obsessed with her. • “Bossypants” by Tina Fey • “Moonwalking with Einstein” by Joshua Foer • “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green. My MP3 player is going to be put to good use.

La Mariposa: I ripped apart a Bible and I’m mailing different sections to myself along the way. I’m also asking friends and family to send short stories or psychology articles along the way. I’m really bad at absorbing audiobooks so I stick to printed pages.

Deb Beck: I have a couple James Patterson e-books, but have been too tired to read them.

Sarah: I have a stack of little books my parents will send me. Many of them I’ve read before, some I haven’t. I’ve known I’d take Small Miracles (Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal) with me, since it goes wherever I go. I bought Gulliver’s Travels and Their Eyes Were Watching God. I have Chocolat, Smith of Wootton Major – Farmer Giles of Ham (a little-known Tolkien), and some more little things 🙂

Zachsquatch: For books, I’m starting the trail out with a Russian novel called “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” which is a story about a Russian soldier who is wrongfully convicted of treason and then sentenced to ten years in a Siberian labor camp… Kinda weird but it should be interesting.  For podcasts, I am a pretty big fan of The Joe Rogan Experience, The Duncan Trussell Family Hour, Ari Shaffir’s Skeptic Tank and Radio Lab. I’ll definitely be listening to these podcasts whenever I get the chance.

Allison Kieley: Podcasts: The Moth, This American Life, NPR’s Snap Judgement, The Truth, The Nerdist, This I Believe, Relatively Prime, This I Believe. Audiobooks: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Quiet by Susan Cain, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Ellie B.Walden and Wild so far for audio books. For podcasts: This American Life, The Moth, NPR Planet Money, NPR Story of the Day. I’m still looking for suggestions too!

Ash MaeCatch 22. Audio books – free public domain – I will be well versed in everything written hundreds of years ago.

When you finish the Appalachian Trail, you will __________________.

Evans Prater:  Depending on how much money I have, continue walking on the International AT, walk down the coast back towards NC, or just get a bus home. Regardless of the physical things I do, I will: 1. Be more confident. 2. Be more peaceful. 3. Be more awesome. 4. Be even more in love with life.

Bennett Travers:  Have clarity about what career to pursue, have confidence in my ability to handle anything life throws me, and finally shave my toned legs & take a trip to the beach to start planning my next adventure.

La Mariposa: Cry and get a hug from anyone who will give me one. My return trip to the South has become a road trip of sorts–a mini-adventure at the end of my big one. When I return to my friends and family in civilization, we will probably find a bar and I’ll make lots of unnecessary AT-related toasts. I’ll then take a few days to write, decompress, and begin adjusting before heading to grad school for Clinical Psychology at the end of August.

Deb Beck: Write a book and remind my husband that I am one bad-ass wife.

Sarah: More lists! Basically, I will BE AWESOME. But: be much more self-confident have an amazing story know I can accomplish something major if I put my mind and will to it become part of a huge and loving Trail community not be afraid of the woods in the dark be adept at throwing bear bags add one more tick to the “Women Who Have Hiked the Appalachian Trail” column see the world around me in a different way have a clearer grasp of who I am and what I want write a memoir have thrown my “normal” life into chaos and survived it

Zachsquatch: When I finish the Appalachian Trail I will do one of the following: 1) Get my ass back to civilization and try to make as much money as possible for the rest of my life. 2) Go back to U of L to get my masters degree in Education. 3) Move wherever my lovely girlfriend lands a job and then start a happy life together. 4) Work in an oil field in South Dakota until I can pay off all of my student loans then flee to Nicaragua and learn how to surf and get a sweet tan.

Allison Kieley: Eat pizza (are you catching onto any theme here?), listen to Beyonce, spend as much time at YMCA Camp Warren as I can, move out of my parents house (HALLEJUAH), go back to school, resume my job at the cafe, and start planning my next adventure.

Ellie B.: Be really proud of myself because I’ll be a stronger and more independent person.

Ash Mae: Need a ride down.

Future AT Thru-Hikers: Apply to be an Appalachian Trials Blogger here.

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