Editor’s Note: Brett Elliott of Danville will soon set out on a five-month quest to through-hike the Appalachian Trail. Every month, he will be updating North Star readers on his adventures in this column.
April 12, 2021, will be my first day through-hiking the Appalachian Trail. I have dreamed of hiking the 2,200 mile-long trail since high school and now is my chance to make that dream come true.
The trail goes through 14 states from its Springer Mountain southern terminus in Georgia to Maine’s Mt. Katahdin in the north. The “A.T.” has a total elevation gain and loss of about 89 miles or the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest 16 times. The lore and literature of the trail are abundant. As a young, eager outdoorsman, I consider it the pinnacle of one’s camping and outdoor experience. The trail will require extreme determination, physical ability, time, and money. It will be a grueling and rewarding adventure. One must be prepared and want to live life on their back, on minimum necessities.
I have lived in Danville my entire life. I graduated from Danville High School in 2014 and attained a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Policy and Planning from the University of Maine at Farmington in 2018. I am also an Eagle Scout. I’ve had plenty of outdoor experience, both on day trips and lengthy expeditions. My start in multi-day camping came in the form of canoeing and through the Boy Scouts of Troop 888. I’ve been on many week-long canoe trips in the Adirondacks of New York and the North Woods of Maine. In the summer of 2018, I planned and completed the 740 mile-long Northern Forest Canoe Trail, which took six weeks. In 2019, I decided to test the water on some through-hiking by tackling Vermont’s 273-mile Long Trail. I wanted to do this as a Vermonter’s rite of passage, and as a shakedown for the Appalachian Trail. While only a three-week sample, the hike itself and the time I spent talking to people in Southern Vermont (where the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail share a path) were very beneficial. It made me want to hike the A.T. even more. While enjoying the mountains of Vermont, I was dreaming about the mountains of Virginia. Having hiked Mt. Katahdin three times (the northern terminus of the A.T.), I could picture myself hugging that sign on Baxter Peak. I began telling the A.T. through-hikers I met that I would be hiking the trail in the summer of 2021.
Spring 2020 presented an extra challenge for through-hikers. The Coronavirus epidemic caused many closures of facilities and parks. Currently in 2021 many hiker shelters remain “closed” but open for tenting. My biggest concerns as far as the pandemic is concerned is crowding and finding a place to set up my tent. As of March 14, there are 2,482 people registered on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website that plan to through-hike the whole trail. Thirty other people plan to start their north-bound hike on April 12. Each year thousands attempt the through-hike, yet the number who complete it remains fairly constant. About one in four people who start will finish. A myriad of things can happen to cause a person to drop out. People run out of money and willpower. Some hikers get sick of sleeping in a tent and not having access to a shower and running water. If the trail is not the single most important thing in your life at the time then it won’t be completed.
Luckily I am in a position in my life where I can afford to do this. I’m planning on taking about five months to complete the trail. I’ve been employed full-time, year-round at Goodrich’s Maple Farm in Cabot since I finished college in May 2018. I’m grateful for my incredibly generous and understanding employers. This is the most important thing in my life right now. It’s something not only that I want to do, but I feel I have to do. I have to do this before I feel I can move on with some things in my life. And before I get tied down with more monetary responsibilities. People often envy my free-spirited nature. When I tell people I’m going to take five months off and hike every day for 2,000 plus miles, they think I’m crazy. And I am. You have to be!
My parents have generously offered to drive me to Georgia to start my trip. I will write an update every month about my most recent adventures and experiences. Public libraries and hotels will afford me computer access to write and review from my handwritten daily journal. Next time you hear from me I will be on the trail!