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A Hike to End Kidney Failure

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Project ended on August 31, at 09:57 PM PDT
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1,293.6 Miles – Delaware Water Gap, PA

July 14, 2017

I’m a day from crossing the Pennsylvania and New Jersey border and will then cross the 1,300-mile marker.  It is now a countdown to when I finally summit Katahdin in Maine.  I’ve learned plenty out here and when I look back on my first week on the trail, I can see that I’ve come along way, both literally and figuratively.  For the last couple weeks, I’ve been compiling a list of things I have learned and things that have changed, either personally or vicariously.

Without further ado, here they are, and in no particular order:

You can smell day hikers from a mile away. Likewise, they can certainly smell us.

For better or for worse, I stopped smelling myself after about two months on the trail. I take, on average, one real shower per week (not including the many bird baths in creeks and streams) and I do laundry once every one to two weeks. I’ve never been so grimey in my life.  The only time I’m highly aware of our stench, however, is when we cross paths with non-thruhikers.

I sleep better outdoors than in a motel room.

When I lay down on my sleeping pad to sleep at night when camping, I fall asleep within 10-15 minutes. I wake up once in the middle of the night but feel rested in the morning.  In a motel, I toss and turn and wake up 4-5 times throughout the night.  Beds are no longer as comfortable.

You can make at least 9 variations of ramen.

Variety is important, after all.  There are things I can no longer eat on this trail (peanut butter, flour tortillas, oatmeal, pop tarts), but ramen remains a front runner of my diet.  Current favorite variation: Ramen packet (without added flavoring packet), Miso Soup packet, pink Himalayan salt, and nutritional yeast.

Gas station food is just as delicious as a Michelin star restaurant after a 20 mile day.

My tastes have changed since coming out here. I’m now just as satisfied by some corn dogs from a gas station as I am with a three-course meal from an expensive restaurant.  It doesn’t have to be great to be great on trail.

Taking off the shoes midday is a must.

Breaks throughout the day are important. Take the shoes off, elevate the feet, and relax. I can pull much bigger miles by doing this.

You have to be okay with hiking your own hike. And you have to be okay with others hiking their own as well.

This is probably the hardest lesson to learn out here. It can be easy to get attached to people and want to keep up with them or slow down for them. And this okay for a while, but in the end, you’re out here for yourself.

Say yes more than you say no.

Early on in the trail, in northern Georgia, I was sitting at a picnic table enjoying lunch with some other thruhikers. I had just hiked about 8 miles and had planned to do another 4 mikes before setting up camp.  An older gentleman drives up with a friend of his, they say they thruhiked 6 years ago. They invite us to a thruhiker party about 15 mikes away at someone’s house (to celebrate something I forget now..) and he offers to give us all a ride to and from the party if we wanted to go.

I said no thanks. I was enjoying the miles and I didn’t feel like going to a party.  He said, “The miles aren’t going anywhere.”  He then reminded me that one of the best parts of this trail is the community.  Like a fool, I still said “Thanks but no thanks.”  He looked at me and said, “Okay but just remember to start saying yes more than you say no on this trail. You’ll be surprised at the magic that will come your way.”  That really stuck with me.  He was right.

Don’t let hiking get in the way of your hike.

It’s easy to get caught up in crushing those miles.  “Maine by 5” is my favorite thing to say when I start hiking every day.  Miles are certainly important! You have to get to Maine and the only way to do it as a thruhiker is to hike more miles.  That being said… Hiking isn’t everything out here.  Have fun too.  Go on side adventures to breweries, go swimming in that watering hole, go check out that view even though it’s 0.4 miles off the trail.  The miles will still be there when you get done.

Read Stephanie's full post here: https://thetrek.co/appalachian-trail/1293-miles/ 

969.7 miles - Front Royal, VA

June 09, 2017

I’m nearly halfway.

For the last month, I’ve been racking my brain for how to explain my experience out here.

It has been beautiful, freeing, empowering, painful, and sometimes baffling.

I am unable, however, to explain why. For now, anyway.

In the meantime I thought it would be a great time to give you all a sense of my day-to-day trail life!

Morning

6:30am: Wake up to birds chirping and the sound of other hikers packing up their tents. I begin to pack up my things, which have all been organized into various stuff sacks (toiletries, electronics, clothes/pillow). Once everything in the tent has been packed, I move the pack outside of the tent and then deconstruct the tent. The entire process has become so efficient that I can accomplish all of this within 15 minutes.

6:45am: I retrieve my bear bag from a nearby tree branch and sort through what snacks I intend to eat that day: fruit snacks, snickers, salami.

7:00am: Eat breakfast, usually trail mix or pop tarts. Double check that my liter bottle is full of filtered water.

7:15am: Put pack on and begin hiking.

10:00am: Stop for a break at a beautiful view or a spot with good makeshift seating (aka log or rock). Eat half of my daily snacks.

10:30am: Check the next water source and then begin hiking again.

Afternoon

12:30pm: Lunch time! Usually cheezits, salami, and a Reese’s peanut butter cup.

1:30pm: Pack up food, put shoes back on, and begin hiking again.

5:30pm – 6:30pm: Begin looking for a campsite for the night.

Once I get to camp, I set up my tent first and unload my pack, making sure to remove any snacks and trash from the pockets (bears and mice can be real pests). Once my home for the night is set up, I cook dinner which generally ends up being a packet of ramen or Knorr pasta side with some extra snacks like salami or candy. My appetite is not as intense as other hikers’. I still eat relatively little compared to most everyone out here.

I clean my pot, place it in my bear bag, and hang it on a branch about 100 ft away from my tent.

Hiker Midnight

9:00pm: When the sun sets, most hikers crawl into their tents to wrap up the day and go to sleep.

The next day, we wake up and do it all over again.

I’m almost to Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia, the mental halfway point (just shy of the actual halfway point).

I really can’t believe I’ve made it this far.

Check out the images to accompany Stephanie's post on her blog: https://thetrek.co/appalachian-trail/969-miles-front-royal/ 

342 miles on the AT – Erwin, TN

May 01, 2017

Mile 342, and what a whirlwind it has been.

The last few weeks have been up and down, both literally and figuratively.

The Smokies

The Great Smoky National Park had it all. Spring flowers, rain, blizzards, views, sunburns.

My first day was particularly beautiful. After accomplishing the first major ascent, I was greeted by spring flowers covering the floor. They almost seemed to sparkle. It was the most magnificent display of spring I’ve ever seen.

In the days that followed, the weather turned sour and it began to rain. I hiked in my first thunderstorm of the trail and it was terrifying and magical, all at the same time.

Blizzard? No thanks.

The rain was followed by a blizzard and I was reminded, once again, that none of my gear is rated for freezing temps.

I decided I would hike to Clingman’s Dome asap (the highest point on the entire AT sitting at 6,644 ft in elevation) and then hitch a ride to Gatlinburg, TN to wait out the storm.

I got all the way to Clingmans (no view, of course), and it was bitter cold. The wind was howling and I couldn’t feel my face or hands. I spent all of 30 seconds at the top.

The trail down to the parking lot (not the AT) had no footprints. This should have been my first red flag.

Yet I continued on down to the parking lot, shivering. When I got there, the Visitor Center was closed and there was only one car in the parking lot.

With the wind still blowing and our hands still frozen, I hid in a public restroom while I called around for a ride. They all said the same thing:

The road up to Clingmans is closed.

I had to decide between hiking back up to the trail then completing the next 8 miles to the gap, or hiking 7 miles down the closed road. In my shivering delusion, I chose to walk down the closed road.

Those 7 miles were long. About 1 mile from the bottom, a ranger came by and picked me up.

He dropped me off at Newfound Gap where I immediately snagged a ride into town.

I took a zero in Gatlinburg.

 

Back at it.

When I finally got back out on the trail, the snow was still piled up but the skies were clear.

The second half of the Smokies was beautiful. Between the snow and the views, I was at an all-time high. I had lunches in the sun and took my time scrambling over ridge lines.

 

The trail provides.

The trail does that. Just when you think you’ve had enough, the trail gives you a glorious moment that reminds you of why you’re doing this. Similarly, when you’ve had an amazing day, the trail has a funny way of humbling you.

It gives you what you need.

Balance.

Life after the Smokies.

In the last two weeks, I’ve been experiencing some serious homesickness.

I re-twisted my ankle and even twisted my other ankle. I fell 6 feet off a rock face and somehow didn’t break anything (except my ego, I’m sure), and slipped in mud more times than I’d like to admit. My trail family is ahead of me and I’m unlikely to catch up to them anytime soon – back to solo hiking for now.

I’m almost certain this trail is trying to break me.

But it hasn’t yet.

I’m still here.

Because, really, there is still so much good!

I’ve received amazing generosity from perfect strangers (burritos, candy, hot dogs, and even a Chinese restaurant lunch special!) and have met so many wonderful people (thru-hikers and non-thru-hikers alike). I’ve also received an astounding amount of support from friends and family back home, whether it be phone calls, messages, care packages, instagram comments.

Not every day out here can be a good one, and these things keep me afloat when things get rough.

And, in spite of all of the injuries, I’m getting stronger, breathing easier, hiking longer.

I’m now more than 300 miles into this and I’m still having the time of my life.

Check out Stephanie's photos from this post on her blog! https://thetrek.co/appalachian-trail/342-miles/

165.6 Miles, or 7%

April 05, 2017

I’m going to shift a bit from my usual format (day-by-day recounts) to reflect.

To date, I have hiked 165.6 miles of the Appalachian Trail in just about 2.5 weeks. That is only about 7% of the full trail.

I’ve developed a routine, a trail family (tramily), and a good sense for how hard this is going to be.

There are so many things that I miss about the comforts of home, but I’m having the time of my life out here.

I’m smelly, dirty, and generally exhausted by the end of each day, but I’m so so so happy.

The turmoil out here is where the magic really happens.

 

In the last week, I’ve definitely had some hardships. Two, in particular, are noteworthy.

My ankle

Four days ago, a few of us woke up at 4:30am to hike 5 miles to catch an epic sunrise at Wesser Fire Tower. We were 1 mile away and my foot slipped on a tree root, sending my foot in one direction and my knee in the other.

I was in so much pain.

I managed to stand up and walk that last mile up to the tower, and it was worth it. The sunrise was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever witness with my own eyes.

 

I then managed to walk another 8(ish) miles down to the NOC, where I was able to elevate, ice, and rest my ankle.

Jacob’s Ladder

Two days ago, we hiked up Jacob’s Ladder, which is a 600 ft ascent in just 0.6 miles. The sun was beating down and it was the steepest ascent I had seen on the trail to date.

I also realized at the base of the climb that I had no more water left.

We all trekked up, sweating and breathing heavy, stopping every 15-20 ft to take a breather.

But we did it. We didn’t quit and I didn’t die of thirst. We even hiked five miles more.

So what?

If I’ve learned anything so far, it’s that I’m much stronger than I ever thought I was. I walked 8 miles on a twisted ankle. I climbed mountains I thought I wouldn’t be able to while battling dehydration and exhaustion.

This trail has been as tough as I expected, and then some.

What I didn’t expect, however, was the strength I have to get through it.

“It’s not what happens, it’s how you deal with it.”

–Overload (fellow thru-hiker and tramily member)

I am lucky to be able to do this, and I haven’t once considered getting off-trail (still plenty of time for that, though!).

Tomorrow, I head into the Smokies and right into a storm that is expected to bring 3-5 inches of snow.

I’ll be better for it, I’m sure.

109.5 Miles into the AT

March 29, 2017

It has been five days since I left Hiawassee, Georgia, and I have since crossed two big milestones.

Day 8 - 10.4 miles

Back on the trail after my zero in Hiawassee, which proved to be a much needed rest. I started the morning with the hotel comp breakfast and all but feasted on scrambled eggs, bacon, and english muffins. I put on my pack, freshly resupplied with new food and weighing in at 27.8 lbs: Oatmeal packets, snickers, tortillas, salami, cheddar cheese, ramen (ramen is life), knorr pasta sides, pumpkin seeds, gatorade powder, for electrolytes.  Me (Bartender), Powerade, and Colby Jack all hitched a ride to the trailhead at Unicoi Gap.  SIDE NOTE: Hitch hiking has become my absolute favorite way to get around. The people I have met so far have been the kindest and nicest people – some true ‘trail angels.’

The trek out of Unicoi Gap began with a steep ascent up Rocky Mountain (over 1,000 ft over 1.3 miles), followed by another steep climb up Tray Mountain (another 1,000 ft over 2.7 miles). BUT, right before Tray Mountain, we saw a truck bed open with all tons of snacks, drinks – TRAIL MAGIC! Lion Heart, a ‘trail angel’, was there, in the blistering cold, waiting for us thru-hikers to stroll by, offering hot chocolate, strawberry Yoo-Hoo’s and fresh fruit.  Full with hot chocolate, we climbed up Tray Mountain and got an amazing view of Georgia. It felt so good to be back out on the trail.  The rest of the hike was downhill from there, eventually bringing us to Sassafrass Gap (a recurring name, we’ve found) by 2pm.  We set up camp, did our camp chores (re-organize pack, cook dinner, clean gear, journal, brush teeth), and we finished off the night with a campfire with about 10 other hikers.

Day 9 -10.8 miles

The night before started out nice, but the moment we went to bed, the wind began howling. 35 mph winds ALL NIGHT. It was cold, our tents were all flapping – I didn’t sleep well that night. By morning, it was below freezing (again – not unusual anymore), so I brushed my teetch and packed up all of my gear and ate breakfast on the go, just to get out of the cold.  And it didn’t get much easier from there. The whole day was incline after incline after incline. This day was a day for really digging in and seeing what gets me through these tough moments. I kept repeating to myself: “Just one foot in front of the other.” That has become my mantra.  Just one foot in front of the other.

Climbing mountains can be draining sometimes, but when you get to the top and see that view, it all becomes worth it.  We strolled into Plum Orchard Gap Shelter by around 2:30pm, set up camp, and hung around. The wind had died down, so it was much mroe pleasant.  An AT Ridge Runner, Davis, was staying at the shelter (tented next to me). He thru-hiked last year, and said that he walked away with a greater sense of calm and patience. I hope I’m that lucky.  We spent the rest of the night sitting around a campfire, reading and having occasional conversation.  It’s similar to putting hot water in a bottle, but without the possibility of water leaking in your sleeping bag.  I had the best sleep so far that night.

Day 10 -12.2 miles

Big milestone day! We left Plum Orchard Gap Shelter, aiming for Standing Indian Shelter. It was a steady incline, nothing too intense. About 4.5 miles into the day, we finally crossed the border between Georgia and North Carolina!  1 state down, 13 more to go!  We took a break there, at the border, drinking water and celebrating such a big milestone.  5 minutes into standing in North Carolina, it began to rain. We put on our rain shells and began our hike through state #2. Almost immediately, we were met with an intense ascent up Couthouse Bald, having to climb 900 ft in just a mile. It was rocky, wet, muddy, and STEEP.  It also never seemed to end.  It was certainly character-building!  My feet were hurting as we got closer to Standing Indian Shelter. Once we got there, I took 3 ibuprofens and made myself some ramen dinner – well deserved, I think.  We all hung up our bear bags (nightly entertainment, really), built a campfire, and dried some of our clothes.  The day was physically challenging, but it was most certainly worth it.

Day 11 - 16.3 miles....

....Read the rest of Stephanie's blog post here!  (https://thetrek.co/appalachian-trail/109-miles/)

It Begins! 52 Miles into the AT

March 22, 2017

Day 1:

I launched my Appalachian Trail thruhike on March 15th, at Amicolola Falls State Park. The weather was below freezing, but I was filled with adrenaline as I began the 8.8 mile Approach Trail (the official start of the trail is at Springer Mountain, but it’s a rite of passage to do the Approach Trail). The 2,000 ft ascent to Springer was a winter wonderland. The ground was completely covered in fresh snow and it was beautiful.

By mile 5, the wind picked up and my whole face went numb from the cold. I didn’t stop at any point just so I could get out of the cold as quickly as I could.  At mile 7, I pulled out a snickers bar, and leisurely munched on that, as I continued my ascent. Simply because I could. ???? It was delicious.

Getting to Springer, finally, made it all feel real. I got my picture taken, and I signed the trail register. But it was too cold to loiter, so I hopped off that mountain and  began officially hiking the Appalachain Trail!  I hiked another 2.8 miles to Stover Creek Shelter, bringing my mileage total to 11.6. Although, I was only done with 2.8 miles of the official trail.  I set up my tent, but the wind chill was so atrocious, I ended up moving into the shelter.

That night was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. I was told the next day by an AT Ridge Runner that it got down to 12 degrees (F), with an added wind chill bringing it down to -6 degrees (F)!!!  Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep that night. I just laid there listening to the wind howl all night.

Day 2:

By the time the sun started to rise, my hands and feet were useless. I quickly made oatmeal to warm me up a bit, and then packed everything and began trekking.  I hiked 13 miles to get to Gooch Gap Shelter. It was too cold to do anything but hike.  I walked over Sassafrass Mountain (550 ft ascent in just 1 mile) and Justus Mountain, before getting to camp and I was exhausted!

I set up my tent, and started cooking dinner (a Knorr pasta side). The Hiker Hunger won’t kick in until week 3 or 4, so for now, a 450 calorie dinner felt sufficient.

Day 3:

This was a tough day. I hiked 11.4 miles from Gooch Gap to Jarrard Gap. Despite getting a shoe that was a half-size larger than normal, my feet were hurting. I had been doubling up my socks due to the cold, plus my feet had swelled a bit from the amount of hiking I put them through (this was expected – hence the larger size shoe), and it resulted in a very bruised big toe on my right foot. This made it very hard to hike. By the time I strolled up to camp, I was winding with pain.

I took ibuprofen and tried to stay off of it for the rest of the night.

Day 4:

My goal was to get from Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap (there’s a hiker hostel right on the trail here, complete with an outfitter and food resupply!) so I could take care of my foot. But first, I had to climb Blood Mountain.  The weather was foggy with light rain which made the hike so much more beautiful! The fog was so thick and everything looked a bit eery.

The climb up Blood Mountain was surprisingly pretty easy. I was surprised when I made it to the summit earlier than expected. The hike down Blood Mountain to Neels Gap, however, was muddy and steep. With my toe in so much pain, I was trying to be as careful as I could all the way down, but by the time I got within 2 miles of Neels Gap, I picked up the pace.

When I finally got to Neels Gap, I immediately reserved a bunk in the hostel and ordered a frozen pizza (they heat them up there for you) for lunch. I took a shower and it felt amaaaaaazing.  I felt human again. But my toe was in worse shape, for sure. But with a shower and pizza, I didn’t mind as much.  I hitched a ride into town so I could do laundry and get some dinner (a mouthwatering burger). I got back to the hostel and slept a glorious sleep...

Read the rest of Stephanie's blog post here: https://thetrek.co/appalachian-trail/52-miles/

5 things I'm going to miss the most

March 09, 2017

I’m heading to Georgia for the start of my NOBO thru-hike in just a few days. I’ve been planning and planning and planning and… well, you get it.

It’s all I can think about day in and day out. There are so many things I’m looking forward to: waking up in the woods, fresh air, solitude, not having a schedule. I could go on (some other time).

I’m looking forward to roughing it, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t going to miss anything while I’m trekking along on my biggest adventure yet.

So, yes. I ADMIT IT.

I’ll miss some things.

And I’m not talking about all of the glorious people in my life. I’m talking about THINGS.

Here. I made a list:

  1. My bed – for reasons that I think are obvious.
  2. Heating – being cold is rough. Character building, sure, but still rough. I’m going to miss being able to just turn on the heater and cozy up with a book.
  3. Netflix – I think it’ll be good to get some space from binge watching Netflix shows, but I’ll still miss those long nights of episode-after-episode while inhaling <<insert any snack food here>>.
  4. Vegetables – I love a good vegetable stir-fry. Baked brussel sprouts and asparagus; mouth watering. Due to the weight-to-calorie ratio, I will likely not be carrying many vegetables in my pack. I’ll just have to pack them in my stomach whenever I’m going through a town.
  5. Clean clothes – Wearing a clean set of clothes every single day of the week. Hell yes. But on the trail, weight overrules everything when I’ve got to carry it over 2,000 miles, so….. #smellySteph

I’ll miss these things. And that’s okay.

It will be okay.

I’m fine with missing these things.

But I sure as hell won’t let myself miss this opportunity because of something like Netflix.

Getting ready: the gear

February 27, 2017

I’ve evolved into a bit of a gear nerd. I’ve carefully curated my gear list over the past 10 months, reading every article, every review, every comparison, every opinion. I bought and returned three sleeping bags, two tents, four trail runners, and went back and forth between items over a difference of less than an ounce. I meticulously tracked every pound, ounce and gram, noting quantity, whether it’s carried or worn, warm weather or cold weather.

Gear is the one part of the thru-hike planning process that I can completely manage and organize prior to the hike, and I am taking full advantage of that.

With gear, knowing where to start is likely the hardest part. This is where my previous backpacking experience came in handy. I knew the basics, it was only a matter of finding the best possible version of those things to better equip me for the longest backpacking trip of my life.

Read the rest on Stephanie's blog...the gear post.

Levels
Choose a giving level

$25

Hiker

$0.012 per mile hiked

$43.80

Wanderer

$0.02 per mile hiked

$109.50

Trekker

$0.05 per mile hiked

$219

Adventurer

$0.10 per mile hiked

$547.50

Explorer

$0.25 per mile hiked

$1,095

Pioneer

$0.50 per mile hiked

$2,190

Thru-Hiker

$1.00 per mile hiked