Backpacker Radio #202 | Anna McKinney on Finding Her Fiancé on the AT, Guiding in the Smokies, and Battling Imposter Syndrome

In today’s episode of Backpacker Radio presented by The Trek, we are joined by Anna McKinney.  Anna is an AT thru-hiker (where she met her fiancé), a hiking guide in the Smokies, a Trek Writer, and an all around giver of good vibes.  We get the full scoop on how her budding trail romance evolved to impending wedding bells- and Chaunce gives us a detailed breakdown on the stages of love on trail, we learn about some of the more interesting flora and fauna in the Smokies, battling imposter syndrome, and her recent LASH on the Arizona Trail.

We wrap the show with me getting angry about spiders and octopi, a triple crown of things serious thru-hikers don’t compromise on, and also other stuff!  

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Interview with Anna McKinney

Time stamps & Questions

00:06:07 – QOTD: Excluding water, what’s the difference between spiders and octopus?

00:08:40 – Reminders: Suggest a guest! Fill out our listener survey by June 15!

00:09:35 – Introducing Anna

00:10:35 – What’s your trail name and origin story?

00:12:53 – Do you have any standout trail magic stories?

00:15:06 – What got you into the outdoors?

00:16:30 – What was your big girl job?

00:17:30 – What was it like going through your own backyard on the AT for the first time?

00:20:20 – How steep was your backpacking learning curve?

00:22:23 – Discussion about losing people on the trail

00:24:29 – Did a zero degree bag with a liner prove to be excessive?

00:26:11 – What was your process of working your pack weight down?

00:29:00 – What’s your base weight nowadays?

00:32:35 – We love love – tell us about meeting your fiance on the AT!

00:36:45 – When you’re into someone, how do you let them know without creeping you out?

00:39:27 – When did the physical aspect come into play?

00:41:27 – How did he ask you to be his girlfriend?

00:44:08 – What was finishing the trail like for your relationship?

00:45:50 – Did you ever feel like the relationship was in jeopardy after the trail?

00:47:09 – What did you learn about him off-trail that you didn’t learn on-trail?

00:49:19 – Ask your on-trail romance these questions!

00:52:43 – What are the stages of a trail relationship?

00:54:07 – Chaunce’s stages of a trail relationship

00:59:22 – Tell us about working with Blue Ridge Hiking Company

01:01:53 – Tell us about caretaking the AT bunkhouse in Hot Springs

01:04:05 – What was the vibe when it’s not only thru-hikers but some thru-hikers?

01:05:31 – Tell us about your experience with imposter syndrome

01:08:38 – Tell us about underrated sections of the AT

01:12:50 – What is it like to guide in the Smokies?

01:15:55 – Discussion about interacting with thru-hikers within the National Park on guiding trips

01:19:14 – What are some fun facts about the Smokies flora and fauna?

01:23:21 – What are some trail highlights in the Smokies that aren’t on the AT?

01:25:57 – Tell us your engagement story!

01:29:13 – Where did you get your rings made?

01:31:32 – Tell us about the Arizona Trail!

01:35:22 – Discussion about the snow on the AZT

01:38:00 – Did you know at the beginning things could change due to the snow?

01:39:19 – Tell us about how your travel plans changed

01:41:01 – Which day of your National Parks trip would you revisit?

01:42:11 – What differences did you notice hiking with a partner between the AT and AZT?

01:44:45 – Did you get in any major fights?

01:46:54 – Have you lost any fights?

01:49:44 – Where can people go to follow you?

01:51:45 – What’s next?


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Triple Crown of things serious thru-hikers don’t compromise on


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Comments 1

  • Tina Toombs : May 24th

    Yall… I really enjoy listening to backpacker radio when I am cleaning my house. When I am neck deep in dirty clothes with skid marks, food crusted countertops, overflowing litter box, and piss dribbled toilet rims, I get the giggles and all the feels that takes me back to my hiker daze. 

    So many episodes have been great – I loved hearing Professor Karls story as I spend alot of my life in Knoxville, TN and he was a great example of bad assery that I love to hear about. The following episodes I wanted to mention more specifically: 

    Sarah Jones Decker #71 
    Mackenzie Fresquez #183
    and a just recent episode interviewing Anna McKinney.

    Sarah was introduced to me by another fellow neighbor of mine here in Mars Hill, NC. It has been cool connecting with her this past few years and harkening back to my thru-hiker life MEGA ’07 with her as we hike around our AT hometown trail sections. I love her books, her photography, and her BA attitude. I was tickled to stumble over her interview and told her I internet stalked her on a recent hike. I think she was a little scared…

    Mackenzies episode… So happy I pushed play! She had me in tears. I have 3 sons and my middle son has recently been diagnosed with autism. We have been backpacking, paddling, and trying to be outdoors with our sons since they were little baby nuggets. That episode was so helpful, reassuring, and dear to me. My middle son doesn’t really like our outdoor endeavors, but I realize now that the unpredictability of the outdoors may be triggers for him. I never thought of that and that may be why I personally dig being outside. That episode gave me some tips on how I can maybe make the outdoors more comfortable for him because when he is a grown man, I hope he can rely on nature to relax and get away from the stresses of life. Or maybe just have cool family memories? 

    And finally, just a little backstory from me: after hiking all the Smokies and working in and office in Knoxville, I left my normal life for Katahdin. After about 1000+ miles southbound, I met my husband of 16 years in the Shennies. We ran into each other at a High Top Hut. I remember seeing his name in the shelter logs (are they used anymore?!).  He always drew a little fly buzzing away from his name, E.T., like it stunk. When I smell a thru-hiker now, I take a big sniff because it fills me with love for the trail and nostalgia. Whenever I saw that fly, I thought, “This guy must be cool.” But I sure as hell wasn’t lookin’ for love.

      Anna McKinneys episode about leaving life in Asheville for the A.T., trail romance, and love for the Smokies had me grinning while I was being a domestic goddess. I met her briefly at Trail Daze last year – my friend that introduced us used to be her colleague at the Asheville hospital pediatric ward. I was tickled to hear she was getting married in the Roans. They got engaged on my favorite peak in the Smokies! Yes! Congrats to them!

    As she was telling her story, I thought alot about our exploratory stage of trail romance, which was through 3/4ths of Virginia trail, NC/TN borders, and the Smokies. Before Fontana Dam, we took a detour to camp on the shore of Lake Fontana – that night at the campfire, and we DTR’ed. We had a few weeks left until we got to Springer and the end and the DTR was looming. Trail life would be over. What would we do? Date long distance while we were couch surfing or living with family? Would we get jobs right away and find a place to live and in which town? So I would say a stage to add would be the “Leap of Faith.”  After we got to Springer, there were a few days where we needed to “tie up some loose ends” at home off trail and we had to go our separate ways. He left on a bus to go home to Cincinnatti after Springer and I couch surfed with a friend in Sevier County, TN. He said he would call after he got back home to his old life. Those few days waiting for his phone call were torture. It took a leap of faith to trust in the DTR we birthed on Fontana Lake. I had a serious doubt cloud, but I didn’t want to call right away and seem desperate either. So I waited for his call…  Damn, that sucked. Of course, he called and I swooned ridiculously when I saw his number on my flip phone. I answered with a fake calm breathy, “Hello?” The Leap of Faith was over. And we made a life together and adventured together into the land of cars, faucets, showers, coosh beds, and families of origin. We married a year later at the end of September ’08, the same day we met at High Top Hut. Occasionally, during the past 16 years, we would see an ex-patriot from the trail and reminisce of our lives on the trail. Yes, life from then on was very clean and artificial smelling, yet lovely. And we have had our ups and downs navigating in the same direction together with children, fights, jobs and ageing parents, but I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else. We moved to Asheville in 2010, had 3 baby boys, and have been trying to systematically brain wash them into loving backpacking, camping, biking, paddling, and hiking. And in between little respites of getting in some outdoor adventure and sometimes involving the family in some AT trail magic, I listen to podcasts and scrub.

    Sorry for the long ramble, but I heard Chaunce say she loves love and I wanted to share and thank you for all your hard work! Your podcast has helped me feel not-so-alone. Its a balm to my vagabond soul. 

    Cheers,Tina Toombs aka TNadine aka Smokygirl


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