The 2,190.9 mile Appalachian Trail takes hikers on a journey from Georgia to Maine. While on the trek, hikers traverse mountains, forests, fields and farmland going through 14 different states. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservatory, thousands of hikers attempt the entire journey every year but only about one in four are able to make it all the way through. On Sept. 26, Wilson native Haley Brown became one of those people.
Brown describes herself as an avid outdoors woman who loves nature, hiking and backpacking, and the Appalachian Trail combines all of these. She was first inspired to make the journey after reading a book called Just Passin’ Through, a book written by a hostel owner in Georgia who described some of the hikers and experiences he had with people he met along the trail.
“I’ve always been a fan of the idea of long-term travel and when I learned about the trail I was interested and wanted to learn even more,” Brown said. As time passed and she continued reading up on the trail, she made it a goal to hike the trail herself.
For the past two years, Brown has worked for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line in children’s programming, and she described how this allowed her to make her goal a reality.
“Whenever I left to work for Royal Caribbean, I basically packed up my life and put everything into storage at my family’s house,” Brown said. “So I was able to live a lot more freely and save money. Between that, and having the ability to take an extended leave of absence from work without penalty, everything just kind of came together this year.”
She decided to make the trip about four months prior to beginning her hike. She used those months to review books and online references to determine what gear she would need to bring along as well as getting into the right mindset.
“I think some of the best preparations I did were reading testimonials from previous hikers,” Brown said. “I learned that it was normal to sometimes be wet and cold and have sore feet. In fact, there’s a saying on the trail that’s ‘no pain, no rain, no Maine.’ In other words, you have to go through a lot of sore feet and knees and rain to finish up the hike.”
Ultimately the gear she included was a hammock for sleeping along with a bug net and a tarp for rain. She also took a sleeping bag and a sleeping pad. Other gear included a small camp stove with a titanium cook pot, a small water filter to source water from springs and rivers, a few small toiletries and her clothing.
“I wore one outfit for hiking and one outfit for sleeping,” Brown said. “Then I also had a few additional pieces for layering when it was raining or cold. I felt pretty prepared and that I came with what I needed, but I did have an at-home support person who helped me send and receive gear as the seasons changed.”
On April 15 she began her trip in Georgia, and while she started out alone, that changed as her journey progressed.
“It’s a popular trail, so you’re never quite alone even when you are hiking by yourself,” Brown said. “There’s also a concept on the trail called “tramily” which is a trail family. So after some time hiking on the trail I met some other hikers I got along with. We hiked at the same pace, so we kind of formed a tramily and hiked together on and off for portions of the trail.”
Experiences like this are common and Brown said one of the best parts of the trip was meeting people from all over the world. One of the hikers she spent the most time with was from France, and she also met hikers from the United Kingdom, Austria, Spain, Australia as well as numerous other hikers from the United States and Canada.
“It was great to experience so many other cultures,” Brown said. “It was amazing because no matter where everyone came from, no matter their age, profession or background, everyone has common grounds on the trail. Everyone relates to each other because of the love of the outdoors and the personal challenge of completing the trail.”
Another highlight of her journey was the people hikers refer to as “trail angels.” These individuals are sometimes locals who live near the route and sometimes previous hikers. They show up from time to time and perform “trail magic.”
“They come out and they do little things for hikers,” Brown said. “This can be anything from giving a ride into town or providing snacks or meals right along the trail. They were always so positive and all there with the common goal of helping hikers.”
Brown said that overall the people she encountered were amazing and she never experienced any fear from people or animals. In fact, she enjoyed seeing wild bears.
“I encountered a few bears but they were always quite timid and it was a great experience to get to encounter them in the wild,” Brown said. I also saw several deer and lots of smaller critters like chipmunks and squirrels.”
Only once was she ever truly frightened.
“I encountered one terrible storm near the end of my hike and I think it might have been the remnants of Hurricane Florence,” Brown said. “I had passed over a mountain and was above the tree line so it was very exposed. It was so foggy and rainy that it was almost a whiteout, and the wind was so strong it was just about knocking me over.” Unfortunately she had to continue in spite of the dangerous conditions in order to get to shelter for the night. “I was definitely upset at myself for putting myself in that situation, and that was definitely the scariest part of the whole trip.”
Finally, on Sept. 26 after 165 days of hiking, Brown’s journey came to an end at Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park in Maine.
“It was just a great adventure,” Brown said. “It has definitely been a highlight of my life as a whole. Every new state brought new beauty and new challenges. There were great parts in all of it and I’m just thankful that I was strong willed enough and able bodied enough to finish the hike, meet all those great people along the way, and see all the beautiful sunrises and sunsets in the mountains.”
For more pictures of her journey and to keep up with Haley’s continuing adventures, you can find her on Instagram @hbrownadventures.