- This post includes an in-kind collaboration
Women Hiking the Appalachian Trail. What exactly is the AT? And, where is it? Basically, it’s a 2,200 +/- mile trail that traverses the Appalachian region of the United States. Hikers, who thru-hike the trail, begin their journey in Mountain Springs, Georgia and finish at Mt. Katahdin in Maine, having hiked through 14 states.
For those thru-hikers who complete the PCT, the CDT and the AT, from terminus to terminus, they can proudly hold the title of a Triple Crowner. Although what exactly that entails I have no idea. Bragging rights?
A Few Statistics
According to the the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, approximately 4,000 hikers each year begin their thru-hike. They are referred to as the class of the current year, i.e. 2023. Statistically only 1 in 5 will complete the trail in an average of 5 – 7 months. Two of the women I’m currently following are looking to finish in 4 – 4 1/2 months. Makes you exhausted just thinking about it, right?
Why We Won’t Thru-Hike the AT
We’d actually like to hike the AT, we believe it would be extraordinary, but there are a few hiccups. We don’t like to tent camp, I don’t like creepy crawly things, especially things that slither, and I’m not comfortable in the dark, so yeah, it’s not going to happen. Instead, I hike vicariously on Youtube. Although, we did walk across Spain, and a section of Portugal, so I think that definitely counts, don’t you?
This year, I decided I’d follow along with a few hikers from their day one. Each one brings something different to their channel, but for the most part I admire their personalities, their determination, their humor and just because I like something about them. I thought it would be super fun to reach out to a few of them and share their stories.
I came across Stella’s Youtube channel in 2021 when she took on the CDT – Continental Divide Trail. I had never heard of such a trail and the very idea of walking across the desert made me shudder. But, I quickly fell in to step (vicariously, of course) with Stella and was in awe of how brave she was. And, her smile. Stella has a smile that goes for miles. She walked 900 miles north on the CDT before life presented her with some challenges, which led to her making the difficult decision to leave the trail. She has since section hiked northern sections of the CDT and has aspirations to complete the trail.
In 2018 Stella completed the PCT from start to finish.
Stella Hikes the AT
At the time of this writing Stella was more than half-way on the Appalachian Trail. She began walking on February 19, 2023 and she hopes to finish in early June. We’ve chatted via Instagram several times while she’s been walking. I asked her for an interview to which she graciously accepted, but also explained that between walking big miles, editing videos (she posts a video every day) and taking care of daily tasks, her days are full. So, I’m paraphrasing her thoughts she shared with me via IG chats and through her live chats at Stella Hikes on Youtube.
Stella shared that due to the nature of the trail, she has become very aware of how she feels in both mind and spirit; her overall well-being. She’s learning to approach new things with curiosity rather than through fear of the unknown, while trying not to have preconceived notions.
Stella loves big mile days, i.e. walking 25 – 30 miles each day, with the occasional shorter days. In her normal every day life, she likes to chill and relax, but when she’s on the trail she loves the energy of walking big miles.
Stella describes the Appalachian Trail as being really hard, but because she has the experience of her previous thru-hikes, she has embraced the AT. While the trail is rocky and full of roots at times, it is also well-trodden and well-blazed. She enjoys staying in the shelters, especially when it rains. On dry warm nights she cowboy camps. Stella also loves the way in which the trail meanders in and out of the woods with reasonably easy access into trails towns, where she can stay at hostels and resupply for days and nights on the trail. *Stella completed the AT on day 122; an impressive feat!
- “There is something profoundly wonderful about walking in nature.” Stella
Meet the Wander Women
I’ve been following the Wander Women, Kristy and Annette, for a couple of years. I’ve hiked and biked along with them vicariously as they’ve hit the trails. Actually, we were all on Prince Edward Island in 2022, at the same time but we always seemed to be on the wrong side of the island so we weren’t able to connect. I reached out to them for an interview, for this article, because they have such a powerful message, and because they are in fact, triple-crowners. You can view all of their thru-hikes on their channel.
At the time of this writing Kristy and Annette were walking the 800-mile Arizona Trail. In 2019 they hiked the Appalachian Trail from start to finish. They started hiking, with their trail buddy, Lynne, on February 21 and they reached Katahdin on August 30. They averaged 15 miles per day.
You also hiked the PCT and CDT, what made the AT stand out from the other two?
“There are a few reasons the AT stands out from the CDT and PCT. First, the physical terrain of the AT goes up and down, up and down again without switchbacks–climb to the notches and balds and descend to the gaps and the hollows. When one is on the AT one of the first things one learns is not to fight the terrain. Secondly, for Westerners like us, the humidity becomes one of the main characters in one’s trail story. It’s a force to be reckoned with. Finally, the over-all culture of the AT, the trail angels, the shelters, the hostels and trail towns become a part of each hikers trail life. We say that being on a thru-hike is like living in a parallel universe and that feeling is especially strong on the AT.”
“The AT taught us that our bodies responded to a big physical challenge by becoming stronger and more capable. Also, the AT restored our faith in people. People reached out in kindness and generosity to offer us help. Our fellow hikers proved themselves to be strong, resilient, and fun to be around.”
Why is it important to you, to inspire others to live life to the fullest?
“One of our goals is to share the message that one can do difficult things, create a joyful life after retirement, and explore ways to expand one’s boundaries in new ways, but it takes getting out there and trying it. And, we want to show people that putting forth the effort is worth it.”
If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice thru-hiker, what would it be?
“Give yourself a fighting chance for success by educating yourself about what you’re going to be doing. Create a mindset that focuses on change and resilience — you don’t have to be an expert. Watch some YouTube videos, know the safety protocols, spend adequate time to get your footwear figured out, i.e. durable hiking shoes, so your feet don’t hurt. Choose gear that works for you and keep it light and then get out there and do it.”
“For emergency contact, we carry a Spot device, our cell phones, and battery packs. Knowing how to use the FarOut app also provides a layer of support.”
- “Live a feral life, challenge yourself to do hard things, notice beauty, nature yourself, get outside and find your wild.” Kristy & Annette
Meet Renee of Couch to Trail
Renee of Couch to Trail fully admits she was not physically prepared to take on the AT thru-hike. She was of the mindset that the AT would train her as she walked. Renee’s sheer determination is noteworthy and she deserves credit for continuing to put one foot in front of the other. I can’t quite remember how I came upon her channel, but I’m glad I did.
Why the AT?
“I sectioned hiked Maryland on the AT for my first backpacking trip. I fell in love with the trail and I knew I had to attempt a thru-hike. It called to me deep in my spirit. I also needed a reset in my life. I had lost both of my parents right before Covid and I fell into a small depression and gained 50 pounds. I needed to shake things up a bit. So I hiked. It was exactly what I needed.”
Initially, Renee’s husband, Eddie, planned to hike the AT with Renee, but he decided it just wasn’t where he wanted to be so Renee carried on solo. Eddie, as I understand it, has been a constant source of support for Renee, as well as the editor of her channel videos.
I asked Renee if she had any fear about hiking solo. “I wasn’t afraid of hiking alone on the AT. I felt very safe there. When the trail got more difficult I was afraid, but when I did it I was reassured that there was nothing to be afraid of. That being said, I don’t think it’s smart to hike alone, cross water crossings alone or scale up and down rock scrambles alone. I’m not afraid of either of these any longer though”
If You Could Offer One Piece of Advice to a Thru-hiker, What Would it Be?
“Get the lightest equipment you can possibly get and take the least amount with you that you can.”
Renee carried the iPhone 14 Pro with built-in satellite. She averaged 13 miles per day, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on weather and trail conditions. The AT has provided Renee with a plethora of lessons, including: “Discipline, determination, perseverance, pain tolerance, dedication, persistence, and living out one’s passion”.
Kudos to Renee. I have watched her journey and her determination is note-worthy. She started her thru-hike on February 7 and hopes to reach Katahdin on August 14, in time for her to return to the classroom. Renee did jump 400 miles and plans to return in the fall on weekends and holidays to complete those miles. I have no doubt she’ll do it!
- Renee left the trail on day 165 due to an injury from a fall.
It’s All About the Snacks
Think about having to carry food supplies, in your backpack, to last several days before your next opportunity to resupply. And, water. Water is heavy to carry. Snacks are a big part of the thru-hiker’s days, so of course I posed the question, what’s your favorite trail snack?
Stella’s favorite trail snacks are Lenny & Larry’s Complete Chocolate Chip Cookie, and chips.
Annette’s favorites are dried figs and dark (dark) chocolate, while Kristy reaches for chips and a chocolate essential breakfast drink which she enjoys, served hot, in the evenings.
Renee’s favorite trail snacks are Good n Plenty, Omega 3 Trail Mix and beef jerkey.
What’s your favorite trail snack? Abi likes David & Sons Sunflower Seeds. I’m a big fan of Red Vines. And, we both reach for Jelly Belly Jelly Beans.
More Women on the AT
Taylor at The Nahamsha Hiker caught my eye on Youtube because she is actually walking her second AT thru-hike. Once wasn’t enough, she’s back on trail and loving it. She’s upbeat and personable and it’s interesting to watch her relive the AT.
- Taylor left the trail on day 112 due to extraordinary weather conditions. She will return to finish the state of Maine in September 2023.
Audrey of Audrey on the AT is an elementary school teacher who was in need of a sabbatical. She negotiated a deal with her school district, in which she would have the time off to walk the AT. She often talks, on camera, directly to her students while on the trail, teaching as she walks. Audrey has a dry wit that makes us laugh.
- Audrey summitted Mt. Katahdin on August 11, 2023. Nearly 5 months from the day she started.
I was not able to connect with Taylor and Audrey, (busy hiking don’t ya know?) but I wanted to give them a mention just the same.
One out of Five
Okay. So, that’s five women. Statistically, one of them won’t finish and since the Wander Women already completed their hike, that leaves four. Will they all finish? I’ll be watching and cheering them on all the way to Katahdin.