This article was written by Madie Wittmann, a 2020 Long Trail End-To-Ender. All photos courtesy of Madie.
We started as a group of three: one of my best friends from high school (Lotte), my boyfriend (Max), and I. Lotte and I are both from New Jersey and Max is from Brooklyn. We were all unemployed due to COVID-19 and were looking for a new challenge, a better way to spend our time than watching Netflix, and – most importantly – a way out of our parents’ houses.
Max and I worked at an overnight summer camp for the past 6+ years and had led trips with kids, but more recently we were working in “real world jobs.” Lotte had been working in TV production. Having never done a backpacking trip longer than eight days in the past, we started looking for options that were closer to home and shorter than some of the big thru hikes we’d heard about. After some brief research and a recommendation from a friend, we quickly decided the Long Trail was the adventure for us.
By the time we decided to embark on this journey it was already the end of June, so we made our start date August 17th. Lotte’s sister’s wedding was already set for September 4th, so we set out with the ambitious plan to reach Journey’s End in 17 days. We didn’t know if it was doable, but we figured we’d give it our best shot. We bought our maps, organized our gear, and weighed our packs in a whirlwind of two weeks. Soon enough, there we were on the morning of the 17th taking our first steps towards Canada (or so we thought).
We started our first thru-hike going the wrong direction. We went about a mile and a half southbound on the Appalachian Trail before we realized we were hiking towards Georgia instead of the land of maple leaves and ice hockey. We continued our navigation errors on Day 2, making a wrong turn at an intersection and walking 2 miles out of the way before realizing we were on an ATV path, not the path to Canada. The day ended up being 17 miles instead of 13, an incredibly rigorous endeavor for a body that had not moved for most of quarantine.
By the time we made it to Manchester for a resupply on our fifth day, the pain in my body and the depleted level of my morale made it very clear a zero day would be necessary. After talking to the group, Lotte decided to continue her journey without Max and I in order to make it as far as possible before the wedding. After a day of rest and good food, we followed after her.
There were definitely a few moments after that first week where it felt like my body just couldn’t recover fast enough. We had some serious conversations about if we needed to consider getting off the trail for good.
We decided to take our 2nd zero day at The Swanson Inn near Appalachian Gap, which was one of the best places we have ever stayed. We spent the day with fellow hikers, exchanging stories and feasting on great food. It was also where we heard about the infamous northern LT, full of the hardest hiking we would encounter on the trip. I was a bit nervous, but as we started hiking towards Burnt Rock and Camel’s Hump the next morning I realized something incredible happened in that Inn: I had finally found my trail legs.
The rest of the trip was absolutely spectacular. Cruising through elevation changes while enjoying some of the best views and wilderness areas I have ever been in was a remarkable experience. Then, after 27 days on the trail, we made it to Journey’s End!
The overwhelming feeling of accomplishment in seeing that sign was something I will never forget. Our rocky start, wrong turns, and personal struggles along the way helped me come to a great realization: there are no wrong turns. All of our mistakes made our adventure uniquely our own, and they were what made that feeling of finishing so incredible.
We’d like to extend a massive thank you to the entire Long Trail Community, from the people we met along the way to the Green Mountain Club employees and volunteers that made our experience possible. It is an extraordinary honor to now consider ourselves members of that community. If the world were as kind and friendly as the trail, it’d be a much better place.