The Adventures of Hustle and Flow
It all started ten years ago, when Mike and I were sophomores in high school. This is not a “love at first-sight”, high school sweethearts story. On the contrary, it took us quite a few years to realize we were made for one another. We became fast friends and after high school we both attended Clemson University. Our freshman year at Clemson, Mike asked me on a date. Being the oblivious, wander-lusting freshman that I was, I did not yet recognize that my best friend was also my soul mate.
We remained good friends throughout college but nothing more until our senior year. It took a summer of traveling away from my friends and family for me to realize who the most important people were in my life, and Mike was at the top of the list. Upon arriving home after that summer, Mike and I both knew that we wanted to be with one another, forever. Two years and one dog later, Mike proposed to me. In the pouring rain on a cobblestone alley in Charleston, South Carolina, we were engaged and over-the-moon.
Mike and I immediately started planning our lives together, but we were faced with a tough decision. We had both dreamt of hiking the Appalachian Trail, a 2,180-mile long footpath that stretches up the eastern United States from Georgia to Maine. The AT is said to be a trail for those “seeking fellowship with nature,” and we were hooked on the romantic idea of experiencing America at its core, even if it was altogether a far-fetched notion. We knew we would regret it if we never tried, and it felt like the right time—should we put off our wedding to hike the trail together? We tossed around a thousand ideas before deciding to hike the Appalachian Trail as our honeymoon! Now to plan both a wedding and a thru-hike….
After as much planning as we could squeeze into six months, we had our ducks in a row. We were married March 15, 2014 at Middleburg Plantation in our hometown of Charleston. Two weeks later we traded our high heels and Oxfords for hiking boots and hit the trail.
Our hike began April 3 at Amicalola Falls State Park in northern Georgia, where the trees were still bare. We had not yet earned our “trail legs”, but we had earned our trail names—Mike would be called Hustle and I would go by Flow. Getting your trail name is a milestone and a huge part of trail-culture, as is hitchhiking, over-eating, and visiting the many hostels along the way as you hike North.
After leaving Georgia, the trail took us through North Carolina and Tennessee, where we encountered some of the most memorable areas of our journey. The trail takes you through the small, quirky towns of southern Appalachia and along grassy balds which offer awe-inspiring 360* views of the mountains around you. Our favorite time spent in the South, however, was walking along the incredible, rolling balds that make up the Roan and Grayson Highlands, a length of trail that crawls along the Nc/Tn border after exiting the Great Smoky Mountains. This was the first time we really had a grasp on how huge and magnificent the path was that lay before us. We were proud of how far we had come, and excited to take on the months ahead.
Before we knew it, we were in Virginia. We made it to Damascus just in time for the Trail Days Festival, a gathering of hikers, old and new, who come together each year to celebrate life and Appalachian culture. The woods were scattered with tents and campfires, and the weekend was full of activities that you would expect at any festival. However, there is a sense of community shared among long-distance hikers that really makes this festival special.
After four days in Damascus we escaped the Trail Days vortex. At around 550 miles, Virginia makes up the longest section of the AT. The afternoons had grown longer and hotter, and our appetites had turned ravenous as we burned thousands of calories each day. Often hikers will get the “Virginia Blues”, and many become discouraged and quit their hikes. Mike and I were still feeling good, but were fortunate to reach a major checkpoint in our journey—a family wedding! We got off-trail for a few days to attend a cousin’s wedding, which gave us a chance to eat, sleep, and rest our feet. But most importantly, it lifted our spirits by reminding us of our own recent nuptials. We were more than ready to take on the remainder of our adventure.
The next stretch of the Appalachian Trail took us through West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, where hikers reach the halfway point. To celebrate, Mike and I, along with our friends, participated in a well-known trail tradition called the “Half-Gallon Challenge”. To complete this challenge, you must eat a whole tub of ice cream without any negative repercussions (if you know what I mean). I cannot stress enough how voracious the appetite of a thru-hiker is. In the end, eating a half-gallon of ice cream wasn’t a challenge at all, and we even ordered french fries for dessert. Oh, life on the trail!
After Pennsylvania came New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. We were finally reaching the New England section of the trail. This is where the AT becomes a mental game. By the time we reached Massachusetts, we had been on-trail over four months and hiked around 1,600 miles. We were in great physical shape, but time on the trail was starting to wear on us. We needed a change of scenery.
As we entered Vermont, the mountains grew taller and the towns fewer. The terrain was really starting to come alive. Vermont was muddy, but the Green Mountains were lush and stunningly beautiful. They served as a tremendous training ground for what lay ahead in New Hampshire and Maine, a true test of strength and endurance.
New Hampshire is home to the famous White Mountains and the Presidential Range. These mountains are the steepest, most treacherous, and challenging climbs you will encounter along the trail, but they are also the most rewarding and spectacular. It is here that we realized the true nature of the beast—the power and majesty of the mountains. Onward to Maine we went.
By the time we reached Maine, it was September. The leaves were turning yellow and red, and a crispness filled the air—Fall was well on its way. We continued through Maine with high spirits but also a sense of urgency. Fall was here, and Winter was close behind. We had to reach Mount Katahdin, the almighty terminus of the Appalachian Trail, before winter arrived. Our tired bodies endured some of the toughest climbs in Maine, but we also experienced the wildest part of the trail at the perfect time of year. It’s been said that if you reach Katahdin before late September then you’ve done it wrong, and we could see why—nothing compares to Fall in the Maine backcountry. We kept trucking along, counting off the 280 miles of trail that traverse the final state. We practically ran through the Hundred-Mile Wilderness, the last leg of the AT, eager to reach the base of Katahdin and finish our hike.
On October 6, we finally summited Mount Katahdin! It was a day of short miles, hard climbing, champagne, hugs, and memories that will last a lifetime. It was hard to believe that our journey had ended, but it was time to go home.
We could not have completed our hike without the incredible generosity of our family and friends, and without Traveler’s Joy. The innovative and user-friendly formatting of Traveler’s Joy allowed us to set up our account as a combination wedding registry and fundraiser, where guests could donate to our gear, food supply, or lodging. The website served as a creative way to help our family and friends understand what a thru-hike is all about, and we encourage others to find new and inventive ways of using this website as well. All together, we were able to raise about $5,000 on our Traveler’s Joy account, more than I could have ever imagined! That money, along with our savings, allowed us to live on the AT for six months, with enough leftover to get back on our feet after returning home.
Since our honeymoon, Mike and I have had a lot of time to reflect on our experiences. We never considered quitting our hike, but there were most definitely ups and downs during our time on the trail. We realize now, almost a year into our marriage, that our lives together will also be a series of ups and downs. Like our time on the Appalachian Trail, our marriage will require hard work and dedication, but the work that we put in will always be rewarding. It is something that we will cherish for the rest of our lives.