The Vermont Mafia
Hiking the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia is something that most people would never dream of doing. Elizabeth Zane is not one of those people.
Zane, a graduate of Middlebury College, is completing a one-year post-graduate biomedical science program at the University at Buffalo. She invited a small group of students and hikers to the Student Union to share her stories.
"It was a childhood dream of mine [to hike the Appalachian Trail]. All of my family is from that area, and when I was in the 10th grade, I saw a similar presentation in the Rochester Library with my mom and have wanted to do it ever since," Zane said.
Zane hiked with other girls that she had met at Middlebury. Their trip began in July of 2008 and took five and a half months to complete.
There are fourteen states to pass through and Maine tends to be the most strenuous and arduous parts of the journey. While most hikers save it for last, the "Vermont Mafia," as the girls called each other, was ambitious enough to tackle the hardest part first.
"It's such a cool gift to experience [the hike with] total strangers and [see] how generous people can be," Zane said.
Zane explains that the Appalachian Trail is a social environment. The hikers form a knitted community with each other and their friends and family visit to drop off food and supplies along the trail.
One of the main challenges of completing the hike was managing the food supply, she explains. A hiker burns anywhere between 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day, and to carry that much food is an impossible task.
Hikers are forced to ration what they carry with them on the trail until they can restock. However, the kindness of strangers helped with the burden.
Local families invited the girls in for meals, hot showers and shelter, while hostels provided an alternative to sleeping in a tent and protection from the elements.
"When you live outside, you get tied to the nature, [the] weather is tied to your mood," Zane said.
The girls encountered flooding, thunderstorms, high winds and snow during their hike. Zane and her friends expected weather conditions to shift toward the end of their journey, but they were not prepared for the amount of snow that fell on the trail.
"There are blazes and people [around]. Most of the time [you hike on] just one trail, but with that in mind we did get lost a few times just because certain parts of the trail would be closed off due to bad weather," Zane said.
Even with such challenges at hand, over 10,000 people have hiked the 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail and enjoyed the overwhelming amount of beautiful flora and fauna of locations such as the Shenandoah's, the White Mountains and Mahoosuc Range.
Zane documents her adventures and experiences on her blog, 5millionsteps.wordpress.com, and explains that her feelings of achievement and self-worth were worth every step of the lengthy journey.