Machias woman completes thru-hike of Appalachian Trail

Posted Sept. 21, 2011, at 12:03 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — When some of us feel overwhelmed or like we need a bit of a change, we might go for a walk, paddle a kayak in a calm lake or sit down and read a good book.

But 23-year-old Christi Holmes of Machias took it a bit further. After graduating from the University of Maine at Orono with a degree in civil engineering, Holmes decided she needed some time off. Her plan? To hike the Appalachian Trail — all 2,175 miles of it.

“I think you have to be a little weird to hike the Appalachian Trail,” Holmes said last week. “It’s a unique club.”

Only 10 to 15 percent of those who intend to hike the full length of the trail in one season actually complete it. The Appalachian Trail, or simply the AT, is a marked trail extending between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. Along the way, the trail passes through the states of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The path is maintained by 30 trail clubs and multiple partnerships and managed by the National Park Service and the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Adopting the trail name “Deva,” Holmes cut off 15 inches of hair, loaded a 45-pound pack on her back and set off in mid-March.

“I set out to complete the hike alone, which seems dangerous for a 23 year-old woman but I was rarely alone and always felt safe. But my knees and feet still hurt.” Holmes began the journey in Georgia on March 19 and ascended Mt. Katahdin in Maine with 10 fellow hikers on Aug. 5.

She had a bit of experience, she admitted, having hiked Mt. Katahdin six times, traversed the Bold Coast and Acadia National Park trails as well as trails in Yosemite and Glacier Park.

Holmes tells the tale of her hike at her blog, christihikes.blogspot.com.

She said the most frequently asked questions, and her answers, are: the length of the hike — 2,175 miles from Georgia to Maine; yes, she saw three bears, copperhead snakes, a moose (in Maine), lots of deer and a possum; the trip took her six months and she averaged 15-25 miles per day; she lived on macaroni and cheese, Ramen noodles and Snickers bars; she stopped in trailside towns every three to four days to shower and replenish her food supply; she did not carry a gun.

“I did have a knife but quickly discovered that it was heavy and I only used it to open my mail,” she said. Holmes said she never felt in danger on the trail. “My biggest scare was contracting Lyme Disease,” she said, although she admitted that she was uncomfortable once with a young man that was passing himself off as a hiker but likely was a homeless man. “But I was never really by myself,” she said. “It was harder being a girl out there, but I never felt scared or lonely, except when I was hiking in thunder and lightning.”

Holmes admitted that when she hit the White Mountains in New Hampshire she hit her limit. “I just wanted it to be over,” she said. It was not the physical strain, but rather a need to get on with her life. “I couldn’t even enjoy the views anymore. I had become a bit jaded to the beauty.”

Maine was her favorite part of the trail, she said, mostly because it was the most remote, the way she felt the AT should be. “People romanticize about the trail a lot. But on the rest of it, outside Maine, I crossed a road every day or was in a town or even when I was sleeping could hear a nearby highway.”

She said she had not walked the AT on a spiritual journey, but discovered she found a great appreciation for the simple things in life. “In what hikers call The Real World — off trail — it is all about if your cellphone is better than others. The AT is almost like a pilgrimage, really. It is going back to the basics. You go into the woods, enjoy the birds, the sights. You don’t worry about politics or news. It is a more pure life.”

Holmes said the best part of the trail was getting to know both the hikers and the locals. “I think that is why some people hike more than once,” she said. There was an older couple in Boiling Springs, Penn., that took Holmes out of the rain into their home. “They let me sleep there, they did my laundry, and then cooked me a huge breakfast.”

So-called Trail Angels leave packages of food, drinks and other surprises along the way.

Holmes said potential hikers should make sure they are in good physical shape, have the lightest pack possible with no unnecessary items — “I started with a 45-pound pack full of food and water and as I learned, I got that weight down to 26-27 pounds.” — and have planned food deliveries along the way.

“That is all we talked about on the trail — food,” she said. “All we do in the towns is eat. We played a game: if you could have one food right now, what would it be?’’ Holmes said she always answered with three: chicken wings, sushi and cold milk. “There were lots of eating contests,” she said.

Holmes, who is now working at Acadia National Park, said each hiker “has to hike their own hike,” which means at their own pace and for their own reasons. “But it is truly an adventure of a lifetime.”

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