Even after hiking all 2,189 miles of the Appalachian Trail, Ky Stephens of Weatherford is ready for more.
"If this has taught me anything it's that I hope to spend even more time outside," said Stephens, 29, a landscape architect.
The trek took just over six months, from Georgia north through 14 states to Maine.
Stephen did plenty of research and planning, including a class at REI and training on Cross Timbers Trail near Lake Texoma, about 15 miles long with intense elevation changes.
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Her backpack, which she describes as “vintage,” weighed about 25 pounds loaded. The supplies included a system that could boil water in just over two minutes for a freeze-dried meal.
"I also took a lot of pasta and instant potatoes," she said. "We resupplied ourselves once or twice a week on the trail. Mostly with things that were lightweight and easy to carry."
She guessed around 2,000 people started from Georgia in the spring. The had pack thinned dramatically halfway through.
"What you're dealing with is weather timing," Stephens said. "We left Georgia in March with winter still very much in play."
She said night-time temperatures dippedinto the 30s. Once, while they were in the Great Smoky Mountains, it snowed a foot on her group.
"It melted off pretty quickly," Stephens said. "The thing to always remember is you must be in Maine before Oct. 15. The mountain you have to cross to complete the hike is impassable after that and closed. So, it's how fast can you do it and how much weather can you avoid. Some did it in as little as four months."
She said she hiked with friends she made on the trail.
"It was like we were all in this together;" she said. "During a typical day, you woke up, broke down your tent/camp got water and hiked 15-20 miles."
Toward evening they would agree where to camp for the night.
"Sometimes I would sleep in my two-person tent, especially when the mosquitoes were bad," Stephens said. "But a lot of times we'd just sleep in a lean-to that was on the trail, called shelters. It usually had three walls and a floor. In the beginning, you think you can't get used to sleeping next to strangers in the open, but by the end, you're over it and thankful for a roof."
A surprise fear
She said that when they hiked through towns the people were friendly and helpful.
"You'd have this normal life happening around you with people going to work and suddenly out of the woods come these hikers," she said.
"Everyone was so nice to you. One guy let us borrow his truck to run errands; others stayed in people's houses. The trail community calls it ‘trail magic.' People would just show up out of the blue at a road crossing and give you things like Cokes, hamburgers, and hotdogs. That type of unsolicited kindness sort of renews your faith in humanity.”
Stephens was surprised to learn she had a fear of heights, a little bit of a problem during the final leg of the trip in the more mountainous regions. Luckily one member of her trail family, or “tramily,” was a climbing instructor who helped her through many rock scrambles and drop-offs.
She said it was also tough in Virginia, where it rained on her for two weeks.
"You'd put your tent up in the rain, take it down in the rain, put on wet dirty socks knowing shortly you were going to be wet all over. It was hard. But mentally, you just have to do it," she said.
Still, Stephens was in awe of what she saw.
"The Grayson Highlands in Virginia was beautiful," Stephens said. "Wild ponies roam within Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and nearby Grayson Highlands State Park in southwestern Virginia. You can even pet them. And, of course, Maine was breathtaking."
But it was reflection Stephens enjoyed most as she walked.
"I thought about the verse, Proverbs 16:9: ‘The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps,' and what it meant to me on this journey of a lifetime," Stephens said. "I love this; it's a huge part of me."
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