Two of our Shreveport team members, Will Ferguson and Heath Garner, are about to embark on one of the longest continuously marked footpaths in the world—the Appalachian Trail, or AT. Measuring roughly 2,180 miles and stretching from Georgia to Maine, the trail follows the valleys and crests of the Appalachian mountain range. Completed in 1937, the AT is managed under a unique partnership between the public and private sectors includes, among others, the National Park Service (NPS), the USDA Forest Service (USFS), an array of state agencies, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and 31 local Trail-maintaining clubs.
We will follow Will and Heath's journey as they trek across 14 states for the next four and a half months. They will start on March 1, and hope to finish by mid-July. Both Will and Heath will be maintaining a blog and keeping us updated. Most of our post will come from their own words as they experience the vast American woodlands. We wanted you to get to know them a little so we asked them a few questions about their trip.
Born and raised in Shreveport, La., I developed a love for the outdoors at an early age. By my junior year of college this love turned into a passion, and I looked for every opportunity to go hike in Arkansas or hammock with my friends in the park. Now at 22, and recently graduated, I am attempting a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail before I begin the grueling demands of medical school. I begin my adventure on March 1, and it can’t come soon enough!
My name is Will Ferguson (trail name to come). I am 21 years old. I was born in San Francisco, Cali., lived in Austin, Texas, most my life, and most recently moved to Shreveport, La., where I work at Gearhead Outfitters. I love the outdoors, getting out and hiking with my dog every chance I get (sad he can't come with on the AT), and have done just about a little of everything when it comes to outdoor sports. Definitely a little weird at times, but who from Austin isn't? I always try to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves, which landed me the opportunity to hike the AT.
Question 1: Why are you doing the AT?
Heath: This is the question I have been asked the most since deciding to thru hike. There are a lot of reasons why I want to attempt to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. I want to challenge myself, I want to be immersed in nature, I want the thrill of climbing massive mountains and navigating treacherous terrain. However, the main reason for attempting a thru hike is pretty simple, this is my only shot. This is really my only chance to go on adventure of this magnitude. I start medical school on July 31, and then that will be it for me for a long while. My life will be dedicated to studying medicine and being the best doctor I can be. I can’t express how excited I am to get to Springer Mountain and start my journey.
Will: To grow in my relationship with Christ and put Him before myself on a daily basis. To learn the teachings in the Bible as much as I can, and develop a daily routine I can bring back to my everyday life. To have an amazing time in the great outdoors, and hopefully a good story to tell at the end of the day.
Question 2: What have you done to prepare for the hike?
Heath: Just like any other person that attempts a thru hike, I have spent an unhealthy amount of time obsessing over gear. I researched every piece of my gear for hours, making sure it wasn’t too heavy and it was durable enough to endure the trek. I have also spent a lot of time reading about the trail itself. Some of the books I've read (and would recommend) are: A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson, Appalachian Trials, by Zach Davis, and Becoming Odyssa, by Jennifer Phar Davis. As far as preparing physically … there hasn’t been much. Every thru hiker I have talked to has told me although being in shape is definitely helpful, the only way to prepare for a thru hike is to hike as much as possible. This has been difficult because I have been trying to work as much as possible in an attempt to save enough money for this adventure. There is no doubt in my mind there will be mornings when I crawl out of my tent and wish I would have hiked more before the trip.
Will: Well funny story there … I only fully decided I was going around January 1, so my preparing so far has mostly been making sure I get all the gear I need in time and do my best to make sure it's the right gear, which means doing lots of research before I make any gear choice. Also since we are going fairly light weight (pack should be under 15 lbs. base weight which is without food and water; right now I'm at about 14 lbs.), you have to do a lot of extra research to make sure they are not cutting corners to make the gear lighter, like not adding velcro cuffs to a rain coat or draw cord hem on a down jacket or just using cheap, light-weight materials. As far as preparing for the hike, I have not done much yet. I've been practicing some with my sleeping and cooking systems, but need more for sure. Now that we are in the last three weeks till we leave, it has started to hit me what I'm getting myself into and I'm not gonna lie, I feel a little under prepared.
Question 3: How long do you plan to take?
Heath: Although I want to finish the trail, medical school takes precedent over everything else. Therefore, I absolutely have to be home by July 20th. This gives me four and a half months to finish my hike. As much as I want to stand on Mount Katahdin in Maine and finish the trail in its entirety, I refuse to rush through it. I would rather leave the trail in New Hampshire knowing that I hiked the way I wanted to, than to finish and wish I would’ve taken more time to enjoy the trail. I hope I have enough time to have the best of both, finish and enjoy my journey.
Will: The plan is four and a half months, because Heath has to be back for medical school in mid-July. So our start date is March 1, and that will put us at an average of about 16-17 miles a day (at best). Though if we can we will try to finish sooner.
Question 4: How do you think the trial will change you (if at all)?
Heath: This is kind of a tough question to answer at the moment. I know without a doubt this trip will change me in some way. There’s a great quote by Warren Doyle, a man who has thru hiked 16 times, regarding this question. He states “The trail will change you. Walking more than 2,000 miles with everything you need to survive on your back has a way of doing that to a man. If you do not want to change, then you should reconsider hiking the Appalachian Trail altogether.”
Will: Hopefully I will grow a greater understanding of who God is and have a deeper relationship with Him.
Question 5: Any additional information you want to tell us?
Heath: Not at the moment. However, check my blog occasionally. I plan to put addresses of places I will stop for mail. That way if people want to send me a letter (or maybe even food!) they can.
Will: I have never gone backpacking longer than three days,so this should be interesting!