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Area couple treks across Appalachian Trail
0117HIKERS14-New-Hampshire
Megan Johnson makes it to the top of Mount Moosilauke, the southern-most mountain in the Whites National Forest on the Appalachian Trail. It is east of Lincoln, N.H.

Blog on the trail
Megan Johnson documented her and her boyfriend, Zachary Wells’, daily life on the Appalachian Trail with a blog. To read it and see photos, visit megandzachappalachiantrail2015.wordpress.com

 

Food on the Trail
On the trail, food wasn’t always the most delectable, but by working with other hikers, Johnson and Wells made the most of their situation and created a delicious treat.

Apple Crisp Recipe

  1. 4-5 apples
  2. 1 stick butter
  3. 1 cup rolled oats
  4. 1 cup brown sugar
  5. 1 cup honey

Take apples and put them in a pot and boil with the butter. Fry them.
Then mix in rolled oats, honey and brown sugar mix.
Let cool and serve.

When you set out to hike the Appalachian Trail, you have two options. You can travel northbound from Georgia to Maine, or travel southbound from Maine to Georgia.

For Gainesville native Megan Johnson, 24, and her boyfriend Zachary Wells, 30, they chose to head South.

The southbound option appealed to the pair, because it allowed them to finish the 2,190-mile trail in their home state of Georgia. A bonus was the southern trail was less crowded.

“You hear horror stories of people getting to a camp and there’s 70 people there,” Wells said.

To avoid those situations, he and Johnson started their journey May 30 in Maine at the northern terminus, Mount Katahdin. The pair finally reached the southern terminus, Springer Mountain, in Georgia on Dec. 19. The overall adventure took them 204 days to complete.

However, the expedition filled with beautiful sunrises and sunsets and plenty of rainfall including one hurricane-sized storm cemented lasting memories for the couple.

“I miss the trail,” Johnson said. “We had such a good time.”

The idea to hike the historic AT stemmed from Johnson, who was inspired to tackle the trail after reading books about it. She explained some books were better than others at giving an accurate depiction of the thru-hiker life. For example, Johnson didn’t care for Bill Bryson’s “A Walk In The Woods,” (recently adapted into a movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte), because she didn’t feel it was accurate.

Needless to say, she didn’t bring it along for the trip. Instead, she opted to bring the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon.

After the impulse struck and seemingly lasted, Johnson decided to research the trip. She said she hoped to find all the information for such an adventure online.

“I wanted to find something that would tell me how to do it,” Johnson said, noting she could not find a single comprehensive source.

Now she knows why. Hiking the AT doesn’t have a right or wrong way.

“I was looking for the right answer,” Johnson said. “But it’s not the same for everyone.”

PREPARATIONS

With the knowledge gleaned from books and the Internet, the duo still had some planning to do before setting out to climb the mountains.

Johnson and Wells developed an itinerary of the towns they intended to stop at and break their journey. They also devised a route to include side trails and used three books, including Baltimore Jack’s, as a guide.

“It was really a rough draft,” Johnson said. “Our math was off a few times.”

With their map drawn out, it was time to compile their supplies.

Food was first on the agenda. Johnson and Wells dehydrated food, packed it in boxes and attached labels to be shipped to their predetermined stops along the way.

They bought the food they could dehydrate in bulk from places such Costco’s and Sam’s Club as well as manager’s specials or discounts. It proved beneficial.

“We were eating gourmet, compared to other people,” Johnson said.

Normally, the couple ate three meals in a day, but other days they opted to eat at restaurants along the way.

Ramen noodles and instant mashed potatoes were part of their meal plan. And peanut butter became a staple in their diet.

“We could go through a jar in two days,” Johnson said.

At one point, they crushed Oreo’s, added it to the peanut butter and stirred. The couple savored the makeshift treat for a few days between them.

They even crafted a makeshift apple crisp between them and a few other hikers on the trail.

But their plan wasn’t without a hiccup or two. Oatmeal for every breakfast was a big mistake. The two said they got sick of oatmeal pretty quickly and switched their morning breakfast routine after a few short weeks. Instead of oatmeal, they pulled berries from bushes and apples from trees.

Next on the preparation list was equipment.

Johnson and Wells tested their sleeping bags, tents, flashlights, hiking boots and rainwear to ensure it worked correctly.

But even with their pre-emptive testing, Johnson’s sleeping bag didn’t make it out of Georgia. She said it “exploded” when her mother tried to wash it before she and Wells left.

“I ran to REI the morning we were leaving,” Johnson said, adding she purchased a brand-new, untested sleeping bag for the journey.

TRAIL NATURE

After spending a year and a half of planning and preparing, Johnson and Wells embarked on their mountain adventure.

The couple flew to Bangor, Maine, and then traveled the 72 miles to Millinocket, which is the city closest to the start of the trail in Baxter State Park.

On the trail, Johnson and Wells learned about their new surroundings.

“Hiker culture is definitely a thing,” Johnson said, explaining their days were filled with mostly walking, eating and napping.

Taking care of your fellow trailmates also fell into that category.

A bonus to becoming part of the trail culture involves concocting a trail name. Johnson chose the name “Artemis” because of the strength of the Greek deity.

“There are not very many girls hiking the trail,” she said.

Wells’ trail name, “Treasure Hunter,” came more organically.

Because of his naturally observant nature, Wells noticed objects off to the side of the trail and picked them up. He carried the items, such as lures, mace and even food in a sack until they arrived at a camp for the night. Then he laid out his findings and asked if anyone was missing anything. Occasionally some items found their way back to the original owners.

Meeting fellow hikers along the way led to the development of a trail family.

“They would give you the shirt off your back, literally,” Wells said, adding he witnessed the good Samaritan lifestyle firsthand.

One day a day hiker bumped into their group and hiked with them for a while, including camping with them overnight. In the morning, he left his brand-new hiking boots for a man whose shoes were “outrageously rugged,” Wells said.

Johnson could relate. She set her shoes next to a fire to dry one night and the tongues burned from the flames. She said she kept wearing them.

While Johnson and Wells walked in tandem and met other hikers along the trail, they packed books and iPods to keep themselves entertained at night or during rain delays. But they didn’t use their technology as much as they thought they would.

“We just walked in silence sometimes,” Wells said.

They put the books to good use though. Nearly every night Wells and Johnson read under the moonlight.

In most ways, the couple was just like any other hikers, but they had a few nontraditional habits.

They didn’t wake up at the crack of dawn. Most hikers dragged themselves from their warm sleeping bags at sunrise, but not Johnson and Wells.

“We would get up around 9 or so,” Johnson said. “We called ourselves second-shift hikers.”

And most hikers plan in days to not hike a single mile, or a “zero” day.

But not Johnson and Wells. In fact, the duo only took 17 “zero” days on their trek, while others take between 30 or 40.

UNEXPECTED HIGHS AND LOWS

Some days hiking the trail proved more challenging than others. The trek through the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia proved the most difficult stretch, thanks to Hurricane Joaquin. Johnson and Wells spent the better part of 13 days soaking wet, from their hair to the insides of their hiking boots.

However, unbeknownst to them, their luck was about to change.

They stopped at a “wayside,” which is similar to a convenience store or gas station that sells snacks, 99-cent beers and other hiking apparel and supplies.

The duo stopped to buy food and met a woman who worked there. She offered them free lodging and a place to dry their clothes for the night.

They set off the next morning after a breakfast buffet with full stomachs and brighter spirits.

Johnson and Wells also were unaccustomed to the amenities along the AT.

The wooden shelters they saw were usually overrun by mice. For Johnson that was a sticking point. She doesn’t like the rodents, so she wasn’t going to sleep next to them overnight.

Therefore, most of the time, they slept in their tent in their sleeping bags.

While they carried their shelter with them, locating water sources was essential on the trail.

“You live by the water,” Wells said.

They tried to camp next to water as frequently as possible to fill up their bottles after filtering it. And bathing in the streams was an occasional event.

“We showered maybe four times a month,” Johnson said.

Navigation also became tricky at some points along the trail. It became difficult to tell in which state they were hiking. Johnson spent her birthday in between two states, but she isn’t sure where.

“Somewhere in North Carolina or Tennessee,” Johnson said.

LAUGHTER AND LESSONS

Good attitudes kept the pair positive. Whenever they were stuck in a bad situation, they had each other or trailmates to keep them upbeat.

“We would laugh about it. Like, ‘Oh, swamp foot sucks!’ or ‘I hate this rain!’ but then we would laugh about it,” Johnson said.

In fact, being on the trail helped Johnson overcome some of her work-related stress of being in the customer service business and dealing with people at their worst on a daily basis.

“I was really cleansed of (feeling negatively toward people),” Johnson said.

Hiking with your significant other for six months might sound like a nightmare for some people, but not for these two.

“It really forced us to communicate,” Johnson said. “A lot of people talk about the mental strain. It was never really a mental strain for us.”

Now that the couple has conquered the Appalachian Trail together, their next big adventure awaits them Down Under. They are applying for work visas and moving to Australia in six months. But they’re not worried about finding jobs or a place to live because that’s exactly what they did when they got back from the trail.

“You can’t be intimidated of the unknown, you just have to go for it,” Johnson said.

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