Walk Thru

For many people, hiking the complete 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail is the culmination of years of planning and practice. For local college student Andy Ward, it’s now been there, done that. Ward, who first locked onto the idea of thru-hiking the AT at an early age, spent more than six months last year completing the trail, taking a purist’s approach by never skipping a white blaze, from beginning to end.

Q & A

What first got you interested in attempting a thru hike and how long did you prepare before setting off?

When I was 7 years old, my parents took me to Newfound Gap in the Smokies for the first time; this is the trip when my dad first told me about the Appalachian Trail, and I wanted to hike it ever since. I had planned on doing the AT for about four years prior to my thru hike, but I began serious planning six months before I left for the trail in March.



What was the overall best experience you had on the AT and what was the worst or most difficult?

My best experience on the trail was when I finally completed the state of Virginia, and reached Harper’s Ferry: the mental halfway point. It was very fulfilling to finally make it there. The most difficult or worst part of the Appalachian Trail for me was the state of Virginia. The state holds over 500 miles of the AT, and is extremely long. One particular day, in Parisburg, Va., I got myself a hotel after three days of torrential rains. I had the intent of calling my parents to come pick me up and take me home. But after talking to them on the phone, I decided that I could never quit on a bad day. I told myself that if a good day came around and I still felt like giving up, I would.

On average, how many miles were you hiking each day and what was the hardest day you had?

On average I was walking 13 miles a day. But there were many days that I had zero-mile days, and many days I had hiked over 20 miles.

The hardest day was one close to the end. My dad was visiting for the hundred-mile wilderness, and on this day I was planning to hike 26 miles. My dad was supposed to pick me up at a certain logging road to take me into Millinocket, Maine. When I reached the road, it had been grown over and was impassable. Luckily, there was a one-mile side trail that led to the White House Hostel. I tried to call him before I headed into the hostel, and he finally answered after several tries. We realized he was back at the trailhead waiting for me; when I got to him he said the Jeep was another four miles away. By the end of the day, after hiking four miles in the dark, we reached the Jeep, and I had travelled over 30 total miles for the day.

What type of shoes/boots did you wear and what are three other pieces of gear you could not have done without?

I started out with the Treksta Evolution Gortex Mid, and traded into the Brooks Cascadia (a trail running shoe) with Superfeet. I found that Gortex shoes take way too long to dry out after getting wet. Therefore, I switched to a trail runner without Gortex. The Brooks Cascadia is by far my most favorite shoe. I am still wearing them even after the trail.



The number one thing I couldn’t have done without is my Big Orange Tennessee hat; I hiked with it along the entire trail. The Big Agnes Q-Core sleeping pad is something I also couldn’t live without, it’s like sleeping on an air mattress. Lastly, the water purifier I used, Aquamira, is the best. It was a real lifesaver, and didn’t have all the weight and bulkiness that a pump carries. It also kills the bacteria and viruses that are found in the streams and rivers.

Where was your favorite spot along the trek and why?

The state of Maine was my favorite. The Mahoosuc Mountain Range was the best part of the state. I enjoyed it because of all the elevation changes, rock scrambles and absolutely BREATHTAKING views.

You said you didn’t do many extended hikes to prepare for this trip. Do you plan to pursue other long-distance trails? If so, which ones?

The one other trail I really would love to do is the Pacific Crest Trail; I have heard great things about it.

Where are some of your favorite places to hike in our area and where is the one location in the world you would most like to hike?

The best hiking in the Chattanooga area is definitely the Cumberland Trail around Soddy-Daisy. I also love the Smokey Mountains, and Savage Gulf in Palmer, Tenn.

Getting to hike in the Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska would be my dream place to hike.

What is one piece of advice you would recommend to someone considering a thru hike on the AT?

Most importantly, you have to prepare yourself mentally. I found that the mental aspect of hiking the trail was the most difficult for me, even over the physical strain my body endured.

What are some of your other outdoor interests or what would you like to try?

I enjoy kayaking, and off-roading in my Jeep. One outdoor activity I haven’t yet tried, but would like to, would be standup paddleboarding.


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