BY MAT BATTS
Christian Monroe spent the summer between his sophomore and junior years of college a bit differently than most students. Rather than pick up a part-time job or enjoy a few weeks at the beach, Monroe embarked on a 2,200-mile journey on the Appalachian Trail—alone.
Monroe, now a junior at Western Carolina University, has been a lifelong lover of the outdoors. Through the boy scouts growing up, Monroe developed a love for hiking and knew from the first time he heard about the Appalachian Trail that he wanted to do it himself. “I really love hiking and being outside and challenging myself,” Monroe said. “This summer I just decided that I was going to do it. It was a pretty big decision.” On the decision to travel alone, Monroe said simply, “If I fail, it won’t be because of somebody else.”
Monroe entered the trail May 1st with just one goal: finish before school began in August. Averaging about 30 miles per day during the trail’s first 600 miles, Monroe said he stopped every four or five days to spend the night in a hostel and restock on supplies. The hostels provided a nice break from the wilderness and allowed Monroe to reflect a bit on the progress he was making. “Every so often there would be a hostel with a map on the wall, and you could just see how far you’ve gone,” he said “At first you look at it, and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve only gone like an inch-and-a-half,’ but at the end, you’re right at the top, and you’re like, ‘I’m so close.’ It was really, really cool.”
Monroe’s trip lasted just 99 days, including a six-day break from the trail for his sister’s wedding. For most hikers, casual and competitive, the trail can take six months or more.
The secret to his stamina?
“I ate a lot of Oreos and peanut butter for the sugar and calories,” Monroe explained, adding that Nutella and Jiff brand peanut butter provided his body with the necessary sodium to maintain energy. “And candy at the end of the night, just because it’s really good.”
Throughout his trip, Monroe’s encounters with fellow hikers were usually limited to the time it took him to pass them. But getting to know people on the trail, he remarked, was always interesting. “Usually everyone is really friendly. Most everyone will talk to you because you’re out there struggling together,” he explained. “I liked to see where conversations would go just from getting to know people. Usually, you would hit on something that you knew would be an interesting thing to ask them about and then you could go from there.”
The trail, which spans 14 states from Georgia to Maine also offered Monroe a chance to see parts of the country he had never visited before. Everything north of Virginia, he said, was new territory. “Crossing state lines was always really cool to me because you just start thinking about how far you’ve gone, he added.
And to keep him motivated throughout, Monroe has one piece of advice in mind. “[The advice] is to tell everyone you know that you’re doing it,” he said. “Tell everybody, so that way if you don’t finish it, you have to tell them that you didn’t finish it. That’s a hard thing to do, to go home, and they ask, ‘Oh, how was the trip?’ and you say, ‘Oh, well, I didn’t finish.’”
Monroe did finish—with 12 days to spare—and the trip has spurred ideas for future trips, including the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from the U.S. border of Mexico to British Columbia, Canada. “It was awesome,” he declared. “I want to hike a whole lot more, that’s for sure. Even at the end when I finished, it was like, ‘Wow, it’s over already?’”
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