Students embark on Appalachian adventure
With his passion for hiking and the outdoors, not even the recent snowfall could keep junior physical education major Ryan Thomas from tackling a portion of the Appalachian Trail before the spring semester starts.
After pushing the departure date back a day due to the snow, Thomas and several other Towson students left from Sky Meadows State Park in Virginia Wednesday for a 37.4-mile, four-day, intensive winter backpacking trip through a section of the Appalachian Trail.
“Most people who hike have hiked a part of the Appalachian Trail but few actually hike it from Georgia to Maine. Everyone who showed interest wanted to try a part of the trail they hadn’t done before, so we decided that a part of the Virginia section would be the most exciting,” Thomas said.
Originally planning to go only with his friend, junior information technology major Ben Deibert, the two decided to open the opportunity to other Towson students. After other friends began to show interest in going on the trip, they put together a page on Facebook and the group began to grow.
“Originally there were close to 15 people interested in the trip, but now it looks like there will only be three or four of us doing the hike,” Thomas said. “The plan that was laid out might have been a bit ambitious for a large group, but with this smaller group the plan actually works very well for us.”
The change in group size was due to the extensive amount of planning and equipment necessary for a backpacking trip such as this. Those planning the trip had to ensure that anyone accompanying them with less experience would still be able to complete the hike.
“Hiking can be a challenge and over the course of four days you can really plan something that is far too difficult for someone to accomplish,” Deibert said. “In the winter, this is something that must be taken into serious consideration due to the wide variety of weather conditions that can change the capabilities. We needed to plan a trip that would be welcoming to anyone with limited experience and gear and allow for them to grow and have fun.”
After determining which trails they wanted to hike the group still had a lot of planning to do before they were ready to leave.
“We had to get the appropriate maps and trail guides to help us find where we could camp and where we could find springs to fill our water,” Thomas said. “Meals had to be planned and we had to make sure that everyone had the appropriate gear.”
Without the appropriate gear, Thomas said, it would have been likely that they would have had to respond to a medical emergency within the group.
“Backpacking is more intense than hiking because you carry all the supplies you need to camp in the woods for multiple days. It requires incredible endurance,” junior environmental studies major and trip participant Amy Moore said.
The difficulty of the trip has only enticed these students more, as the physical and mental challenge is inspiring to them.
“When your feet, legs, and shoulders hurt from hiking difficult terrain and you still have hours of hiking to do until you reach your campsite and days until you finish your hike you learn a lot about yourself,” Thomas said. “A lot of growth happens when people need to be mentally tough enough to finish a hard hike.”
Deibert said another appeal of hiking, even in the winter is being “unplugged” from technology.
“Watching the sun set over a fall forest after a long day of hiking or hiking through a pine forest while it is snowing and hearing the incredible silence is truly amazing,” Deibert said. “In the city, there is always noise. That constant noise leads to unrest in your heart and mind. When you get outside you detach from all the things that make you uneasy and life is suddenly simple again and you can find peace.”
The satisfaction Thomas, Deibert and Moore receive from completing a difficult hike makes it worth the effort and endurance it requires, the group said.
“The best part about outdoor trips is the unexpectedness,” Moore said. “You never know what crazy, funny or thrilling things that might happen. These trips always lead to incredible bonding with friends and lasting memories.”