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A 6-month trek, a lifetime of memories

Appalachian Trail:  Antrim’s Caitlin Campbell makes it all 2,186 from Georgia to Maine in solo hike

Most people who set out to hike the Appalachian Trail never make it to the end. With an 80 percent dropout rate, the 2,186-mile trail remains an elusive goal for even the most expert of hikers. In 2012, around 2,500 people started hiking the trail and only 536 completed it. This year, Antrim native Caitlin Campbell, 26, was one of the few to trek the full 2,185.9 miles of trails extending through 14 states.

Campbell began her northbound hike April 12 at Amitola Falls State Park in Georgia. From there she made an eight mile hike up to Springer Mountain, the official start of the Appalachian Trail, and by Oct. 5 she reached the trail’s end point, Mount Katahdin in central Maine. Campbell averaged 14 to 18 miles hiked a day.

During a presentation at the Antrim Grange Wednesday about her journey, Campbell said hiking the Appalachian Trail was an adventure she did for herself, to explore the country and take a summer off from working. She began the hike alone, and planned to hike alone, although she did make friends along the way. Campbell did not realize how many people she would meet along her hike. “In a lot of ways it was a relief,” Campbell said in an interview Monday.

She described the well-worn path as a very social trail. For most of the hike Campbell said she would see around 50 people a day, but near the end of the trail she was only seeing about four people a day. And not many of those she met were women. Campbell said about 25 percent of Appalachian Trail hikers are female.

Campbell began backpacking four years ago and she knew she wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail someday. Before making the hike this spring, Campbell said she started going on lots of backpacking trips last year to practice being comfortable hiking and sleeping outside alone.

“I was nervous initially when I started planning,” Campbell said. She added that she didn’t carry maps with her during the trip and that the trail is very-well marked.

Her scariest moment on the trail was when she twisted her ankle in southern Maine with only 200 miles left to go. “After you hike 2,000 miles, 200 miles doesn’t seem like much,” Campbell said.

She said the incident was really disheartening, but after a few days of rest, she was well enough to finish the trail. “I was told it was a ‘trial of the trail.’”

Much earlier into her hike, Campbell fell sick with the common hiking virus, the Norovirus. “It was 24 to 48 hours of being miserably sick,” Campbell said. Hikers were advised to rest for a few days and stay hydrated and that would heal them. Sure enough, Campbell was back to hiking in a couple days. Her parents, who visited her during this time in Tennessee, fell ill themselves with the virus on their return to New Hampshire after a short visit.

To get food, hikers could either mail provisions to be dropped at certain locations or hitchhike into town. Campbell described the mail drop options for getting food as a big hassle, and she preferred to hitchhike into town every three to five days to get food and charge her phone.

“You had to tell them your hiking name,” Campbell said was the only requirement for getting a ride somewhere. The problem, though, was that her new nickname made getting the five-mile rider into town all the more difficult. Lucky for her, those giving her a lift came with a sense of humor — and a large dose of kindness.

“I was always finding a renewed faith in humanity,” Campbell said. “People offered up their homes and rides [into town] willingly, to complete strangers.”

As far as critters are concerned, Campbell avoided any injuries involving animals and even most bugs. Campbell did see several bears while hiking, but they would normally see her and quickly scamper away out of fear, although she did capture some of these moments on her camera. Snakes were also common on parts of the trail. Campbell said that when a hiker saw a snake, they would rip off a piece of paper to leave behind saying the type of snake, how close by was it and the time and date that the person saw it. She even saw wild horses that were quite docile because they have become used to getting food hand-outs.

Now at home, Campbell enjoys using multiple pots to cook her meals and not having to camp out in the rain.

Before the hike, Campbell worked in Idaho at the Bogus Basin Mountain Recreational Area in Boise. And Prior that job, she spent four years working for the Utah Forest Service at the Dixie National Forest in Garfield. Campbell said that after the holidays, she plans to apply for a permanent position with the forestry service.

Lindsey Arceci can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 232, or larceci@ledgertranscript.com.

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