142 Days on the Appalachian Trail
In early spring of 2018, St. Louis-area business attorney Evan Schaeffer decided it was time to go outside and take a walk in the woods – a 2,200-mile walk that is. In fact, he would commence walking along the Appalachian Trail from its starting point in Georgia and wend his way through all kinds of challenging terrain until he reached the top of Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine. It would take him five months.
Schaeffer’s video documentation of this major trail “thru-hike” is captivating to watch (see below). He is an easy person to relate to (in fact, he seems like someone you already know), and the video allows you share his experiences in real time along with him -- the good times (serene mornings in the forest, other friendly thru-hikers, spectacular sunsets) and the bad (cold dark nights, miserable rainy days, a sudden health scare).
This is a irresistible story, authentically told and woven together from his daily video dispatches. Schaeffer’s shooting style is shoulder-high POV, that pulls you right into the action with him. Once you start watching, it's hard to stop.
When Schaeffer’s not backpacking or thru-hiking and recording his outdoor adventures on his YouTube channel, he runs a successful law practice, and blogs extensively about the legal profession with equal doses of practical advice and dry wit. He also composes music tracks for vloggers to use and draws comics about backpacking.
If you’ve ever dreamed about hiking the full Appalachian Trail, let this video inspire you and provide you with lots of helpful hiking hacks and trail lore before you set out on your own adventure.
Extra: Q&A with Evan Schaeffer
What compelled you to hike the AT at that particular point in your life?
When I set out to tackle a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I had in mind a quote from Proust's great novel, in which his narrator disparaged the way some people "remain moored like house-boats to a particular point on the shore of life."
Though I wasn't unhappy with my life, I also wanted to keep it new. I'd already done a few extended backpacking trips on some long trails, but never a trail as long as the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail.
Did you discover anything completely new or untapped about yourself during this undertaking?
Unlike some of the younger people who I met on my thru-hike, I wasn't looking to transform myself into somebody different. I was, however, looking for a challenge. That's what I got. Although I'd spent a long time preparing myself physically for what I'd encounter, I was very worn out by the time I reached the end of the trail in Maine.
One thing I learned about myself was that I'm stubborn about completing goals, perhaps too stubborn. After 1,800 miles or so, I was facing a steady dose of constant daily pain. It would have been rational to quit. But I wasn't going to quit. It's a good thing the trail ended at Mt. Katahdin or I might have done permanent damage to some part of my body -- my knees, for example, or even just my feet.
Another pain was emotional. I missed my family more than I'd expected. I was also surprised by how much they seemed to be missing me. On previous long backpacking trips, I'd been away for up to four weeks. A month was manageable for everyone. But the four and a half months that I was on the Appalachian Trail was too much time away from home.
Setting out, I was happy to ditch my daily habits and routines and everything about home that made me feel safe and comfortable. That was part of the challenge. But I didn’t intend to ditch the ones I loved, and didn't want them to ditch me.
Now that you’ve completed some major thru-hikes, has hiking become a sort of beautiful addiction? Do you feel like you have to hike out somewhere at least once a month, say, or your creative batteries will just run down?
I'll continue to backpack for long distances every year or so, but I don't plan on thru-hiking any of the other very-long trails - the Continental Divide Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail -- unless I can get my wife to come along. That's not likely, which is fine with me. The shorter backpacking trips, up to about a month, are all the challenge I need.
Photo (top): Evan Schaeffer