By: Mary Yemma Barnhart, ‘03, ‘06
Associate Director, Wellness and Recreation
As a novice hiker in high school, Joli Stavish ‘17 went on an overnight camping trip with her friends in Shenandoah Forest. They wore jeans, cotton shirts and had no clue what they were doing. On the trail, Joli met a thru-hiker and they shared a story of hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Thru-hikers are attempting to hike an established end to end long-distance trail, continuously and completing it within one calendar year. On that day, as a junior in high school, Joli decided she wanted to hike the trail one day.
“It is an ultimate adventure to spend that much time outside,” said Joli.
As a zoology major at NC State, Joli worked through college to get experience and save money to hike the trail. Joli held various positions with Wellness and Recreation as a climbing wall specialist, trip leader and challenge course facilitator. Her experience working with outdoor adventures helped to prepare her for the trek.
That experience made it much easier for Joli to take care of herself on the trail.
Joli began her trek on March 25, 2018, when her WellRec colleagues, Megan Owens, Stephanie Ferguson and two other friends drove her to Springer Mountain in Georgia.
I was nervous about starting,” said Joli.
After signing in and registering with the visitor’s center, she was given a number–1,491. The number represents the number of hikers that have registered to hike since January 1, 2018. After weighing her backpack, which was a little heavy at 45 lbs., the ranger went through a presentation that educated hikers about Leave No Trace principles and hanging food to prevent bears. Her friends hiked about a half of mile with her, said goodbye and Joli was off. She started slowly with lower mile days, doing approximately eight miles per day.
Hiking through a foggy mist to Springer Mountain, she took a few pictures and set up her tent for the first time, realizing that she would be doing this every day for the next six months.
The Appalachian Trail is about 2,200 miles starting at Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine for northbound hikers. On average it takes hikers six months to complete and only 25 percent of the hikers that start the trek complete it. Of the 1,491 that started the hike in 2018, approximately 373 people will complete the trek.
The trail bonds its hikers and builds community. At each campsite, during Joli’s hike, there were around 30-40 people. “Everyone was so excited. We would start a fire, hang out and talk. Some people I met the first week on the trail I still talk to today and kept in touch with while hiking,” she said.
Many past hikers and supporters come back to help. Known as “trail angels”, these individuals set up a small camp and give out food, drinks and share motivation.
“I was amazed at how much kindness people gave me and wanted to help and be part of my journey. That was super special,” said Joli.
During the trek, Joli stopped in small towns to resupply her food, take showers, do laundry and sometimes spend the night. The small mountain towns were often filled with thru-hikers. These stops helped to recharge Joli and keep her motivated through many of the weather challenges and extreme foot pain.
Rain, Rain Go Away
“I feel like I saw everything. The Smoky Mountains had a snowstorm, freezing rain and really cold nights that got down to 20 degrees. We had a really rainy year and the rain was the most challenging weather to deal with. There were times it would rain for days at a time,” she said.
The first time Joli experienced a really hard rain, everything in her pack got wet and she was miserable. The next morning her clothes and shoes were still wet. After a while, she figured out how to keep everything dry. Her solution was not groundbreaking, but it kept her gear dry. “I ended up keeping all of my things dry by using a heavy-duty trash bag to line the inside of my backpack as well as a pack cover on the outside of my backpack,” she said.
Between the rain and 80 mph winds on Mount Washington in New Hampshire, the weather was still only part of the struggle. Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeast at 6,288 feet and known for its erratic weather, with average precipitation of about 97 inches per year.
“I got to a point where I was limping, I was in so much pain. I had to get off the trail and rest. I went to the doctor and had x-rays. I had tendonitis from overuse and the only way to get better was to stop hiking,” she said. After being in pain for months and massaging her feet at night, her feet eventually stopped hurting around Vermont. “I am not sure what it was, they just stopped hurting. Maybe that is how long it took to get used to the pressure.”
The hike had many contrasts between lows and highs. One day Joli would feel really tired and run down and then she would run into some friends or trail angels that would brighten her day.
Most of what Joli ate on the trail was rice, beans and bread. She craved something cold to drink. The water she carried was often warm, so when Joli would get to town she would get a cold sports drink or soda to quench her thirst. Often times she would get pizza or fresh fruits and vegetables, something filling that she couldn’t take on the trail.
On September 25, 2018, Joli completed the Appalachian Trail. During the six months, Joli felt like she had been through all the seasons and accomplished so much. The night before she finished her mom met her at the base of Mount Katahdin and camped with her the night before she finished. After finished the trail, Joli and her mom got pho at a Vietnamese restaurant and headed home to Maryland.
Two months after completing the trail, Joli shared her advice for hiking the trail. “Don’t worry too much about the planning and just do what you can. You never feel like you are completely prepared and it takes a few days to get into a routine and figure out what gear you like and do not like.”
Whether your goal is to hike the Appalachian Trail or just to go for a walk at Lake Raleigh Woods, enjoy the peace and quiet and appreciate the beauty of the nature around you.
If you are a Wellness and Recreation alumni that has a cool story to share contact Mary Yemma Barnhart at email@example.com or (919) 513-3890. If you would like to help other NC State Wellness and Recreation employees in their adventures at NC State make a gift to the Wellness and Recreation Friends and Family Student Employee Scholarship Fund. Go outside and play.