Passionate thru-hiker reflects on journey

Cassidy Fowler
Sports Staff Writer
cfowler@unca.edu

 

Ash Berger, a sophomore economics student from Concord, reminiscences about his nearly four month trek through the Appalachian Mountains.

“The Appalachian Trail is a 2,189 mile hike through the Appalachian Mountains,” said the thru-hiker said, “starting in Georgia, at Springer Mountain and ending in Maine, at Mount Katahdin.”

During the summer of 2015, a 17-year-old Berger embarked on the solo hike he wouldn’t complete until the age of 19.

Berger met a lot of cool people, from start to finish.

Ash Berger at the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine. Photo courtesy of Ash Berger.
Ash Berger at the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine. Photo courtesy of Ash Berger.

The first couple to come to mind were natives of Wisconsin and went by the trail names Tortoise and Hare.

He had done 11 miserable, snowy miles that day with Tortoise and Hare following behind. That evening, the three met at a shelter in Georgia.

“Hare, the guy, says, ‘bye, sweetie. I love you’ and takes off running down the trail,” Berger said, chuckling. “I talked to his girlfriend while he was on his run and apparently he has ran every single day for the past four years and wasn’t going to let something as silly as, I don’t know, a thru-hike get in the way of that.”

Hare’s girlfriend, Tori “Tortoise” Kent, chuckled about the memory too.

Kent, a native of Olympia, Washington and a student at the Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, said she and her boyfriend completed the hike in 120 days. They met Berger on day three.

While making new friends on their hikes, Kent and Berger still had to keep up with friends and family from home.

Kent sent out emails along the Appalachian Trail to close family and friends. She would also occasionally post pictures with comments about their hike on Facebook.

Berger had a different approach.

“I had a Twitter account that I used,” Berger said. “I just gave the handle out for people to follow me so they could keep track of me while I was on the trail.”

Berger also used a journal to log his steps.

“The journal just gave me the option of privacy to record whatever I was feeling,” Berger said.

Ash Berger walks past Mount Washington. Photo courtesy of Ash Berger.
Ash Berger walks past Mount Washington. Photo courtesy of Ash Berger.

Berger and Kent both met a guy named Jason while hiking.

Jason planned to hike the Continental Divide Trail immediately after completing the Appalachian Trail.

“When I was going to be done, he was only going to be at his half-way point, which I thought was neat.” Berger said.

Jason kept a blog he updated almost every night that Berger and Kent read both on and off the trail.

“There were a ton of people out there that had different Twitters, Instagrams, Tumblrs or whatever else,” Berger said. “Jason’s was the main one that I looked into, though.”

Berger and Kent nostalgically enjoy Jason’s blog to this day, but they wish they had written more about their hike in the moment.

Berger would like to have his own thoughts thoroughly logged, instead of living vicariously through another thru-hiker. He also would like to be able to reminisce on exactly what he was feeling in a given moment, especially the tough ones.

Ash Berger was only 17 years old and completed a trek many could never imagine, although there were many bumps along the unpaved, root-covered road.

“There was a day in Maine where I had to cross a river and got completely swept under,” Berger said, “and I got soaked to the bone.”

Berger rushed back to the riverbank, but by then it was too late. His gear was sopping and he lost some of the supplies that hung loosely on his pack.

Berger, dripping from head to toe, not willing to wait for the water to settle, decided to let the river’s current take him across. He braced his belongings, gritted his teeth and tried to cross the river.

Again, the unrelenting river took him downstream.

“My pack and everything in my pack was soaked,” Berger said, “and I was completely at the mercy of the water.”

After emerging, he sat for a minute to reflect on what happened. Instead of stopping for the night and giving up, he kept going.

“I wasn’t going to be done until I made it to where I had to be,” Berger said. “With anything in life, you can’t let a little bump in the road stop you.”

Berger would like everyone to be able to experience what he did.

“Every single day was a fantastic day with great memories,” Berger said, “It kind of makes me sad that I might lose some because I didn’t take as detailed notes as I should’ve.”

Despite this, every moment, even the tougher ones, made a good memory.

The thru-hiker said the hardest part was the physical aspect, but he never lost his motivation to keep going.

He enjoyed the challenges that the Appalachian Trail threw at him. His passion and love for the outdoors made his adventure on the Appalachian Trail consistently enjoyable.

“It was just a four-month-long vacation, that’s the way I view it,” Berger said with a smile. “It’s like asking what’s the easiest part of a vacation, ya know? Everything was great.”

 

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