The Appalachian Trail is a historical and national landmark that has continued to fuel people with inspiration and motivation through its scenery and community.
Dalton Nelson, thru-hiker and senior in agriscience education and agriculture science, said he decided to go on the trail because he wanted a journey. As a thru-hiker, he hikes an entire trail throughout the hiking season. He believed it was something that could challenge him not just physically but also mentally.
Overall, they said it was a personal growth experience, Nelson said. It helps widen people’s perspectives through talking to other hikers and seeing what one person is cable of.
Breck Bowen, section hiker and freshman in pre-architecture, said she really enjoyed talking to strangers at the campsites she stayed at, even though she thought it would be awkward.
The trail can sometimes be thought of as too dangerous because of the strangers hiking along it. However, overall, they both were surprised by people’s kindness and willingness to help.
Nelson remembered a time when he was having patellofemoral pain syndrome in his left knee, and a man named Ron Haven stopped on the side of the road and asked him if he needed help. Haven then took him to the doctor and helped him get medicine and a brace.
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Bowen said one of her favorite parts was just seeing the nature and the scenery, especially at Clingmans Dome, one of the places she hiked around in North Carolina.
Something that the hiking community does on the Appalachian Trail is trail names. A trail name is a nickname that one goes by while on the trail. It is a fun, quirky thing they do, but it allows people to make a distinction between their world and the trail world, they said.
Nelson notes his trail name was “Waterboy,” while Bowen went by “Karma.”
Even with all the fun they had on the trail, there were some hard times, too. While on one of her hikes, Bowen said it rained constantly, and she and her friends had to cross a lot of streams. Some of the streams came up so high they had to hold their backpacks over their heads.
After that long day, they were setting up at a campsite and hung their clothes out to dry. Then, they found a sandwich bag with a swarm of bees inside. The bees got so bad, they had to hide in the tent to keep away from them, and the next morning, their clothes were completely covered in bees. They had to shake them off while trying not to get stung.
While on the trail, they both experienced reality checks. The lack of water and power makes you realized how little you can live off of and makes you appreciate those things more once you have them again, Nelson said.
Bowen said one night she and her friends were screaming at the campsite to see if anyone would come or if anything would happen, but nothing happened, she said. It really made them realize how far they were from the civilization they are so used to being surrounded by.
“Being that removed from civilization was kind of weird,” Bowen said. “It was kind of refreshing in a way, but also, when you’re so used to having that, like your access all the time, it was a really strange, eerie feeling.”
Like most things, hiking the trail has its ups and downs, but in the end, they both enjoyed their experiences.
“It is the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, but at the same time, it was the most awarding,” Nelson said.
If other people want to try hiking the trail, Auburn Outdoors does trips out to the trail, and they help guide people and set them up with rental gear.
Also, they can help people plan out their trip by annotating guidebooks and giving advice like on where good water sources are, Nelson said.
However, for those who just want to hear more about the trail and the experience, Nelson will have a podcast launched in December through the Recreation and Wellness Center about his experience, some advice and how it has impacted his life.
When it comes to the trail, it is open for everyone.
“I want to make sure that everyone feels they can do it, and it’s not this huge, crazy thing to do,” Nelson said. “I want to make it so that it’s something you can do if you have the inspiration and you have the drive to do it.”
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