Neon, Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail – (Segment 1)

Every year Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival.  This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people Hyperlite Mountain Gear met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”).  Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival.  When founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free Hyperlite Mountain Gear products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival.  By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge. With the ultralight and rain-proof  2400 Windrider Hyperlite Mountain Gear trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail!  Here’s Neon’s first post from the trail . . .

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“Neon” and her brand new Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack

I made the decision to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail while sitting on a toilet in Guatemala. It was November 2012 and I had been volunteering as a guide with an all-volunteer non-profit trekking organization called Quetzaltrekkers since early September. My departure date was drawing closer and I was deciding what I should do next. I loved what I was doing there: my work was funding a school and dormitory for streetchildren, I got to lead awesome treks every week, and most of all- the other guides were like family. We lived together, worked together, cooked together, and partied together. I had never worked with a group that was so passionate about what they were doing and it was inspiring. They made me excited to get up and go to work no matter how tired I was.

In November, I could no longer deny the inevitable: I would be going home on December 23rd. I had been toying with the idea of hiking the AT for a few months but was still up in the air as to whether it was really what I wanted to do. I had graduated from Washington University in St. Louis last May without any intention of getting a job. In fact, I was actively avoiding it. I was lucky enough to have parents who were able and willing to fund my college education and as a result I was able to work and save for after school. Immediately after graduation I set off for a two month long trip through South America. After that trip and a stay at home for my sister’s wedding, I left for Guatemala.

There were so many things I wanted to do that it was hard to prioritize. Should I teach English somewhere abroad? Get a seasonal job at a ski resort? Maybe come back to Guatemala? These are the questions I asked myself day in and day out while on the treks and now while I was sitting on the toilet. It was there that I decided that if I didn’t do the trail this year, when I had the time, money, and a respectable level of physical fitness, I was just making excuses and I would never do it. I was so excited by the productivity of this visit to the bathroom that I stayed and read part of a magazine someone had left behind.

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Brenna (trail name “Neon”) starting her AT trek

When I got back to the US, I moved into my parent’s house in Connecticut and spent the next few months reading about the trail, buying gear, and working at a restaurant to make sure I had enough money for the trip. During that period I felt like I was just biding my time until mid-April. At times, I was excited, anxious, and terrified. I thought I was mentally and physically unprepared and that I wouldn’t make friends. Most of all I was scared of failure. The AT would be the biggest challenge I had ever undertaken. I felt so overwhelmed and consumed by emotion that I wanted to start immediately. I knew that the only way to get past my fears was to begin.

Then, on the day that I was supposed to fly down to Georgia, I missed my flight. I didn’t make it on any later flights so I called my sister crying for her to pick me up. At the time, it felt like the end of the world. I had just spent months waiting for the start and now I had to wait one more day. $300 and 24 hours later, I was on my way. I got a shuttle from Atlanta and stayed at the Hiker Hostel in Dahlonega, GA. There I met a number of other hopeful thru-hikers and some of them were already a few days into their trip. They were sunburned and had the “hiker hobble”. They described days filled with pain and misery. I realized that even if I was completely unprepared, I would at least be in good company.

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