(1) Where are you from?
Silver Lake, Ohio
(2) What day did you start?
May 9th, 2018
(3) What day did you finish?
October 5th, 2018
(4) Do you have a trail name?
brightside (always with a lowercase b)
(5) If so, where did it come from?
My friends and I went to get dinner in Idyllwild, California and didn’t realize the bar we were going to was having karaoke that night. Eventually I had a few beers and let myself get talked into singing a song. I chose “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers, and right in the middle of the song a huge group of locals walked in and started singing along. By the end of the song, the whole restaurant was belting out the lyrics, and my friends suggested the name brightside. It took a few days to grow on me, but I eventually accepted it.
It started to have a dual meaning pretty quickly. I’m not always the most cheery and optimistic hiker, so brightside was an ironic joke to my friends at certain points when I was being a downer.
(6) What did you dream of when things weren’t going well?
In the desert I dreamed of rivers.
In the Sierra I was walking in a dream.
In NorCal I dreamed of blue skies.
In Oregon I dreamed of Washington.
And in Washington I dreamed of warm, dry beds.
(7) Did you experience anything miraculous?
For me there wasn’t one single thing that was miraculous, it was more that the whole trail was one continuous miracle. I never once had a significant injury that affected my hiking in any way. I never ran out of water or food. I never had any scary animal encounters or dangerous situations, and I always ended up where I needed to be, when I needed to be there. I consider myself so lucky that the whole trail went smoothly, and for me that’s all the miracles I need. A lot of other hikers weren’t so fortunate.
(8) Any memorable encounters with the elements, or wildlife?
The biggest danger of my hike was wildfire. There were two instances (one near Agua Dulce, CA and one near Burney, CA) where I was less than five miles from a wildfire, just as it started. I actually could see the flames of the second one.
It’s a uniquely terrifying thing to be next to a wildfire in the wilderness, with no cell reception and no form of transportation besides your feet. The only thing you can really do is just keep walking away from it, and that’s what I did both times. Fortunately the wind was in my favor, but if that hadn’t been the case then the outcome could have been different.
(9) Think back to your “pre-hike self.” Now think of yourself here at the end. Has anything changed?
The biggest thing I got out of this hike was self-confidence. While the trail is a constant social experience, most of the day-to-day ends up being a solo affair. The only person that has the final say in motivating you is yourself. After five months of total self-reliance, it really feels like there’s nothing I can’t deal with.
(10) Now that you are off the trail, what do you miss most about it?
I miss my friends. I miss the constant physical exertion and how good that made me feel, physically and mentally. I miss being able to eat whatever I want, looking at beautiful views, and having a concrete, attainable goal to start each day. I miss being a dirty hiker.
(11) Before you started, what were you most afraid of?
I was terrified that I wouldn’t finish for one reason or another. Everyone knows the stats, about one in four thru-hiker hopefuls actually finish the trail. I would have been devastated if I had to quit before Canada, and that’s a fear I had to deal with the whole way through.
(12) Now that you are finished, what are you most afraid of?
I’m afraid I won’t be able to be satisfied with a “normal” life. My degree and potential career path are about as far from the lifestyle and culture of the trail as you can get, and I’m afraid I’ll never be able to adjust to that.
(13) What’s the difference between life on the trail and life off the trail?
Everything. Trail life is simple, real life is complicated.
(14) Would you like to add anything else?