(1) Where are you from?
I am originally from Morristown, NJ but went to school in Virginia at James Madison University.
(2) What day did you start?
Started May 16th 2018
(3) What day did you finish?
Finished October 3rd 2018
(4) Do you have a trail name?
Trailname - Birdman
(5) If so, where did it come from?
I would often talk about or be watching birds and eventually was telling someone about how I've always loved birds, and then she gave me the name Birdman!
(6) What did you dream of when things weren’t going well?
When things weren't going well I would dream of my time in college where I was constantly surrounded by friends and family. There's something scary about going a week without seeing another soul on the trail which happened at one point while hiking in the desert. It makes you want to be surrounded by people when, ironically, a lot of us are out there trying to get AWAY from people. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I would often dream of being in a nice and warm house away from the elements which seemed to have followed us for a couple of weeks in Washington. There were many nights where everything I had was wet, frozen, or both and I would have given an arm to simply be by a fireplace on a comfy chair.
(7) Did you experience anything miraculous?
I consider it miraculous that I ran into 2 of my closest trail friends on just the third day, yet we started on the same day. We hit it off immediately and two of us ended up finishing together while our third friend finished a couple days after us. A lot of what goes on with trail families is miraculous to me because I noticed that a lot of people I started with ended up finishing together somehow. It's like we would meet our closest friends in the first few weeks, get separated in the middle, and then somehow reconnect towards the end almost as if we were meant to start and finish together. Made it a lot more emotional for sure.
(8) Any memorable encounters with the elements, or wildlife?
I have 3 stories related to this question. One time I was night hiking with a girl named Carly when, at around 10pm, she said to me, "Kyle I think I see a pair of eyes...maybe it's an owl!" Then, 5 steps later we realized it was a mountain lion crouching just below a pine tree where the trail goes right around it. We were frozen in fear for a few seconds before our survival instincts kicked in and we made as much loud noise as we could...cursing at it, smashing our trekking poles together, etc. as we backed away slowly (keep in mind the mountain lion was probably 6-10 feet away from us). She had a taser at the time so I told her to hand it to me while I had my knife in my other hand. It felt like it could attack us at any moment. As we backed away slowly, the lion got lost in the darkness so we had no idea where it went. Eventually after an hour or two of backing away very slowly trying to find flat earth, we decided to set up her tent on the middle of the trail. We got inside and made a goodbye video (dramatic...but it was scary) to our families until we realized there were other night hikers far off in the distance. Finally they got to us and we were all able to hike together after the whole scary ordeal. This was all just before Kennedy Meadows too...so it was almost as if the desert was testing us.
A second story happened in the Sierras where I was also with Carly again as well as Marley and a guy named Brightside. After climbing over Mather Pass (which is astoundingly beautiful by the way) we stopped and basically hung out by the Palisade Lakes for the whole day where eventually I decided that I wanted to catch some fish. Unfortunately, we did not have any fishing gear like many others...but I felt innovative and up to the challenge. So we talked through our options and I went exploring around the lake until I discovered a perfect little cove that a medium sized stream fed into. I thought maybe I could use my trekking poles to catch the fish, but decided I could use my silk sleeping bag liner as a net. I moved a couple of logs in this little cove of crystal clear water to essentially form a bottleneck point. I recruited my three friends to come into the water (it was ice cold and I couldn't feel my legs at this point), where they were able to chase the fish to me holding my silk liner under water as a net. The fish swam under my legs right into my almost transparent blue silk liner. My immediate reaction was, "HOLY SHIT OH MY GOD THEY SWAM INTO THE NET," as I pulled the liner up and saw 6-8 rainbow trout in the darn thing! It was one of the most primal experiences of my life and we ended up just letting them go (I was a vegetarian at the time and they looked so cute and innocent). It was by far one of the greatest moments in my life because I was surrounded by great friends, hanging out at one of the most beautiful lakes I've ever seen right next to a mountain pass, and because it felt so human to be able to catch our own fish.
The third and final crazy story was when we were at Dorothy Lake towards the end of the Sierras. It was a group of about 8 of us basking in the sun and taking a dip in the cool lake. We then see an osprey dive into the water and catch a nice big fish which amazed us all to witness first hand. As it was flying around the lake we were cheering it on and in high spirits when, out of nowhere, we see a BALD EAGLE come across the lake flying full speed towards the osprey. The two circle higher and higher as the eagle kept getting closer and closer to the osprey. Eventually they were so high above us that I thought if the fish dropped I would be able to catch it! Unfortunately for the osprey, she/he dropped it mid-air where the eagle snatched it up almost immediately. With our jaws dropped, we watched the osprey and eagle fly in opposite directions...the eagle clearly feeling victorious.
(9) Think back to your “pre-hike self.” Now think of yourself here at the end. Has anything changed?
My pre-hike self knew nothing about backpacking and had never really experienced a truly great adventure. At the end I felt so accomplished and proud that I had hiked 2,650+ miles and felt like I had a new passion and love for backpacking that I want to keep doing it.
(10) Now that you are off the trail, what do you miss most about it?
I miss the community feeling the trail had the most for sure. You can skip all of the pleasantries with other hikers and immediately get to know one another while feeling comfortable talking about anything. People are so kind and willing to help one another on the trail that it really makes me wonder why we can't always be that way towards one another in every day life.
(11) Before you started, what were you most afraid of?
I was most afraid of not being able to make it to the end. I had no idea that I was capable of actually finishing it, let alone make it more than a couple hundred miles. It is great to know that I have the determination and willpower to accomplish something most people would never do.
(12) Now that you are finished, what are you most afraid of?
I'm most afraid of not being able to find the money and time to go on another long-distance backpacking adventure. I feel like a lot of people get caught up in the monotony of every day life in society that they often forget they feel happier in the wilderness with good friends, and I am afraid that might happen to me.
(13) What’s the difference between life on the trail and life off the trail?
The difference between the two is that life on the trail is full of simplicity and random acts of kindness that I simply do not experience off trail. I feel unconnected, in the best way, from social media, my phone, responsibilities, etc. while on trail that it feels like a breath of fresh air. While off trail I rely too much on electronics and stay connected, I often forget that it's good for the body and mind to be disconnected.