On Friday, February 12, Heritage staff member Andra Denton shared the story of her journey hiking the Appalachian Trial with 10 honors English classes to tie in with their curriculum for “Into the Wild”. Many of the themes from this book rang true in Denton’s real life experience.
The Appalachian Trial, or the AT, is a marked path that stretches about 2,200 miles across the east coast from Georgia to Maine. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, from 2000 to 2010, a recorded 5,912 hikers completed the entire trail in one trip. It is claimed to be the longest hiking only trail in the world, and with long stretches of wilderness in between towns, hiking the trail is a hefty task.
“Why would you want to sleep in the dirt and sweat your brains out on the AT? There are as many reasons to go on the trail as there are people out there.” says Denton.
The catalyst of Denton’s journey was an event that stirred the entire nation.
“The 9/11 attacks had just happened. I used to drive by the Pentagon every day, and for weeks you could see the plane sticking out of the building,” Denton told students. “I’m not a survivalist. At that time though, the big question on everyone’s mind was, ‘If something like this happened again, would you be ready to bug out?”
After much deliberation, Denton and a friend decided to take the leap and sold nearly everything they owned, including their houses. The Appalachian Trail was chosen for their journey due to a lasting interest Denton had ever since learning about it in the third grade. After researching the AT and preparing supplies, Denton and her friend began their hike starting in Virginia in the summer of 2002.
“I was very under-prepared, but I still had an amazing journey,” says Denton.
Denton faced many challenges on the Appalachian Trail: blisters, mosquitoes, hunger and an incredibly heavy pack.
“On the AT, you think about food a lot. You daydream about it,” says Denton. “But carrying food burns calories; it’s a vicious cycle.”
It wasn’t all pain and struggle for Denton. On this trail she learned lessons about humanity that she will treasure for life.
“There’s a whole culture around the AT; the towns have a tradition of helping hikers,” says Denton.
Denton found that there were many people who just wanted to help others out of the goodness of their hearts. People called “trail angels” leave food, beverage or other supplies for hikers to use on the trail out of nothing but good will.
“There are so many people who helped me that I never got to meet or thank,” says Denton. “You would be dragging yourself along to the next town, feeling like you couldn’t go on any longer. Suddenly, there’s a lone cooler just sitting on the trail with food or water for hikers. It felt like a miracle every time.”
Eventually, Denton was satisfied with her time on the trail. Worried about the upcoming fall weather and not wanting to become frustrated by the trail, she decided to return home. Denton moved back to Colorado and slowly made her way back into regular life, though this time would impact her life forever.
“I gained amazing knowledge about what kindness people are capable of,” says Denton. “It let me know I can do so much.”
Ms. Gustafson is honored to have Denton share the story of her journey.
“She’s one of the coolest people I’ve met; she has such an adventurous spirit,” says Gustafson. “I think students can learn a lot from her.”
Denton encourages everyone to take a leap into their own journey.
“If there’s anything you have a passion about, just go out and do it,” says Denton.
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