Alone on the Appalachian Trail: Alexa Ringer's six-month journey from Georgia to Maine
It’s a Sunday night, and Alexa Ringer just returned home from her three-day excursion in Canada’s Algonquin Provincial Park.
But a weekend is nothing compared to her outdoor accomplishment two years ago before she came to UB.
In 2016, Ringer walked from Georgia to Maine –– all alone –– on one of the United States’ longest hiking trails: the Appalachian Trail.
But Ringer, a junior urban planning major and the secretary for Outdoor Adventure Club, wasn’t raised with a love of the outdoors.
Ringer said her parents would take her on the occasional hike, but it was never something she did often or particularly enjoyed. When Ringer was about to graduate high school, she saw a Facebook post from a friend that struck an adventurous chord in her spirit.
“I was never really into it, but then I saw a post that my friend was going to go [on the trail during] a gap year, and I thought it sounded cool,” Ringer said.
She jumped on the opportunity, and recorded her thoughts and experiences inside her journal.
She recorded the first day’s entry in March and through it, expressed her enthusiasm for her trek into the forest.
“I remember writing in my journal, ‘I could get used to this, I feel so free. I can eat when I want to eat, take a nap when I want to take a nap, I can talk, I don't have to talk, I can do whatever I want,’” Ringer said.
Still, it wasn’t all joyous liberation.
Just like the trail had its peaks and valleys, so did her mental state and her will to travel on.
“When it’s raining and it’s cold and you’re hungry, you’re like ‘this is sort of pointless, why did I choose to be here,’” Ringer said.
Ringer, however, joined the company of thousands of hikers who conquer the trail every year.
Of the 3,839 reported Northern bound hikers last year, only 20 to 25 percent made it to Maine, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. This means three out of every four people quit somewhere along the roughly 2,200-mile-long trail.
The trail’s terrain is mountainous with slopes of jagged rocks to climb. The weather can vary, too, from pouring rain to sweltering heat.
This alone, even with the comradery of fellow hikers met along the way, can be physically and mentally breaking.
When the time alone, mixed with hundreds of miles of trails, became overwhelming, Ringer questioned if there was a point to her trip at all.
“The [trip] is not really a resume builder. I have a little patch on my bag that I got for free. But I don’t get anything, I don’t get any money,” Ringer said.
Still, Ringer said she knows the trail served a greater purpose in her life.
“I see it [as] a personal development. It wasn’t a vacation, it was working through some s––t, practicing patience and other character traits that have become important to me and I still need to work on,” Ringer said.
Ringer said her mother worried about her being alone, as many parents would, but she assured her that she was as safe on the trail as she would be at home. But since its beginnings in the 1930s, the trail has seen nine recorded murders and two attempted.
“I am from New York City, and if you look at the murder rates there, it’s a lot higher,” Ringer said with a warm and hearty laugh.
On the trail, Ringer would hike an average of 15 miles a day. She said when she hit roadways, she would sometimes hitchhike a few miles to the next town where she could buy food.
Sometimes, she didn’t pack enough food in between towns and had to go hungry.
From the Blue Ridge Mountains, to crossing the Potomac River, and even trudging up Pennsylvania’s rocky ridges, Ringer finally—after more than six months—made it to Katahdin, Maine.
This is the official finish point for Appalachian Trail hikers — a 5,267 foot summit up a mountain.
There, she took a final picture of her holding her hiking poles high over her head in a triumphant and glorious pose.
Russell Crispell, faculty adviser for the Outdoor Adventure Club, said several of his students have done long-term trail hikes and the experience “really is transformational.”
“The [Appalachian Trail] sort of symbolizes the struggles we face in [our] tough days. The fact that she was able to do it, she’ll go far in life,” Crispell said.
Ringer said she plans to complete the Pacific Crest Trail, a trail that crosses the United States from the Mexican to the Canadian border.
Between her patience, rigor and determination, Ringer’s trip shaped the direction of her life and she offers advice for any student hoping to take the trail, themselves.
“It’s all in your head, if you want to do it, just do it.”