Aardvark (Grace)

Mile 2,591


1) Where are you from?

I am from a small city outside of Chicago called Joliet 

(2) What day did you start?

April 15th

(3) What day did you finish?

October 5th

(4) Do you have a trail name?

Yes, Aardvark

(5) If so, where did it come from?

In the desert I accidentally squished some ants and found that that smelled like mint so I decided to eat one and realized that they tasted like mint too. I'm not sure if this experience was the result of hiker hunger or just me being my curious self

(6) What did you dream of when things weren’t going well?

When things weren't going well I simply remembered how boring my life back at home was and I imagined the sense of accomplishment I would feel at the border. I would frequently say to myself "at least you're not at work" because hiking in the woods (even if you have giardia or are freezing your nuts off)is always better than work. 

(7) Did you experience anything miraculous?

Yes, nearly every day. I experienced miracles in the kindness of so many trail angels, all the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and the close bonds I shared with so many friends. The trail made me realize what a miracle life really is. As cliche as that sounds haha 

(8) Any memorable encounters with the elements, or wildlife?

There were many encounters with wildlife. I think the animals don't notice you as much if you haven't showered for 300 miles. I've gotten very close to bucks, squirrels, hummingbirds, lizards, pika, rattlesnakes (unintentionally) and bears. A deer literally stole my hat from right next to me as I was napping, i had to chase it down until it dropped it. I had a humming bird drink from the same stream as me only a few feet away, I've had squirrels wake me up while i was cowboy camping by throwing pine cones at me. 

(9) Think back to your “pre-hike self.” Now think of yourself here at the end. Has anything changed?

Lots has changed. I am more confident in myself and more comfortable with who I am. Of course I am still the same person but I feel like the trail really helped me mature mentally and emotionally. It would have taken me years to learn lessons about myself that I learned in a short six months on trail. 

(10) Now that you are off the trail, what do you miss most about it?

I mostly miss the community and the instant connection I had with my fellow hikers 

(11) Before you started, what were you most afraid of?

I was most afraid because of my lack of backcountry skills. I was worried about not bringing enough water/food, getting lost, or falling off a cliff. All of those things happened (besides the cliff part) and I ended up surviving. 

(12) Now that you are finished, what are you most afraid of?

I think i am most afraid of not being able to find that same community that I found on trail. The love, support, and friendship I shared with my fellow hikers is unlike anything I have previously experienced. The lack of this community has made the weeks since finishing the trail some of the loneliest in my life. It's like a bad breakup. The loneliness and lack of purpose can be overwhelming. But it's okay because I can just keep on hiking trails.

(13) What’s the difference between life on the trail and life off the trail?

The trail provided me a strong community and sense of purpose. I could could start a meaningful conversation with pretty much any other hiker that I met. Conversations off trail can be awkward and halting. I knew my goal everyday when I woke up on trail. I would walk 20 miles and feel fulfilled. It seems that you have to search a little harder for meaning in the real world, things just aren't as simple.