Daniel and Lizzy met working in Wilderness Therapy in the United States, a place for adolescents that are struggling, to go on backpacking trips for three months and be enriched by nature. Lizzy mentioned she was going on the thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail back in 2020 and invited Daniel along, then just as friends. The pandemic hit, thwarting travel plans, but the pair started dating and had a year to plan for their trip now as a couple.
After getting to know each other more as a couple and saving enough money, Daniel and Lizzy started the Appalachian Trail on February 4th 2021. An epic blog and over 2000 miles later, they finished the trail last month.
We find out about all the peaks and troughs of this adventure. Including why every couple should step out of their comfort zones and the daily domestic drudgery to give travelling together with a go once in a while!
Congratulations on completing the Appalachian Trail last month! What does the trail involve and what was your reason behind the decision to give it a go?
Daniel: So it’s a 2193 mile trail. It took us about eight months to do it because we really enjoyed doing it and took our time. A lot of people try and go really fast to make it into a race, but we took 10-15 mile days or sometimes zero, and went on little side adventures too. It entails just backpacking from town to town, starting in Georgia and going all the way up the south-eastern states and the Appalachian mountains to Canada essentially.
I did a section of it when I went to Summer camp as a kid and I fell in love with it. I always wanted to do it. When I grew up, I worked in psychology and worked in mental health, which is where we met. We did a lot of wilderness stuff in Wilderness Therapy where we worked and I was always really interested in the trail. It seemed like a really fun adventure to do.
Lizzy: For me, I grew up on a farm, outside and well it starts with my background. My grandma was really sick, and then my mum got sick. I watched that, and so I had this deeply embedded fear that my body would stop working but my mind would still be racing. My main motivation going into college was that I wanted to get it done fast and get out into the world. I found a degree doing psychology, as well as using my degree for working at Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness. Through that programme, I taught backpacking classes and met some really cool people who had finished the trail.
How did you prepare for the trail?
Daniel: Well we were working in the woods, so we were hiking a lot for that already. Then a couple months before, I started going on runs and doing workouts. I went and planned out where the different towns were and how much food we’d need to get from town to town, with my mum.
Lizzy: Due to the pandemic, part of the planning was just figuring out what places were open, what places wanted you there. But when we were there, by the end of the Summer, no one really spoke about it. One thing I took out of planning is have a plan, but be ready to throw it out the window. The itinerary changed pretty quick and you just have to figure it out as you go, especially with gear.
The first weekend we had a crazy snowstorm, and the single-wall tent that we had just did not work. The snow collapsed the tent and everything got wet. Also, for us as a couple, the single-wall tent just had that condensation and a lot of heat. Trial and error, and learning as you do it really is the best.
What were your highlights of the trail?
Lizzy: Well we got engaged, so that was the highlight for me! It was in the White Mountains, the highest peak in the North-eastern United States. The mountain range and alpine zone means you can see for miles and miles. Being from Ohio, I have never seen anything like that. It was unreal and we’re actually living there now.
Daniel: I really loved this place in Tennessee called the Mountain Grasslands. They’re these big grassy mountains where you can just see for miles and miles. A few of them have wild ponies that you can close to and pet them. The last mountain, Mount Katahdin, was also really cool. It’s this long, epic climb and at the end you’re just climbing up rocks and stuff to get to the peak.
Were there any points where you wanted to give up? How did you keep motivated?
Lizzy: At first people found it hard to understand why we were doing it at the start. But we had a lot of support and lot of people were routing for us. That really helped. I was in love with the lifestyle. Some days were hard and I didn’t wants to do that day. But there was never a point where I wanted to completely stop. Not every day was fun, but if you are still able to find enjoyment hiking in the rain or on the days that you’re out of food, the pain is kind of enjoyable sometimes. You can put up with anything, find enjoyment in the process.
One of the challenging parts about doing it as a couple is you’re not always motivated on the same days. Something later that really worked for us was having a fuck it card: we pull it if we just need to say I’m done, we need to relax and take a break.
Daniel: Our first few days was a big shakedown and we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. It was really cold and we ran into that snowstorm. There was never really a moment when I wanted to quit, but on a day like that I really wanted to go to a hotel room and get a cheeseburger. we would get off trail for a day but usually by the next day I was ready to get back on. There was never a time where I didn’t want to finish this.
Would you encourage other couples to go travelling together?
D & L: (In sync) Yes!
Daniel: It puts you in the position to learn a lot about the other person. We got good at talking and communicating, but also walking quietly together, being in silence and it not being awkward. It teaches you a lot about who you are in the relationship and how you are as a couple.
Lizzy: It gets intimate quick. I mean those tents aren’t big. They’re small and you’re smelly for a couple of days. I think when you get to see someone’s most raw self, you get to break down those walls of trying to impress the other person and it becomes more real. You get to show up and be whoever you want.
We would find ways so that we still had our own thing, like listening to different podcasts, then sharing what we found out. You definitely figure out whether it’s going to work or not, and both things are good to know.
What were your lives like before you undertook the trail? Has it had an affect on you or are you back to your normal routines now?
Lizzy: I don’t think anyone gets off the trail and is the same. How it’s life-changing is different for everyone, but I still think it is for everyone that does it or is a part of it. Even being connected to the Appalachian Trail community, with the hostels or the shuttle drivers or the towns that it goes through which rely on us for income. It’s touching, you’re part of something really pretty. It gave me a new sense of who I am and how I view the world.
I think before, and the news with COVID is just full of what is wrong and it teaches you to be scared of other people too. But this taught me there is a lot of beauty, you just have to want to see it. I feel more empowered now too. Right now I’m a ski instructor, and I’m from Ohio where there are cornfields and tiny hills, but not mountains. I’m just kind of faking it till I make it, I can figure it out. That’s definitely what the trail taught me, you can just figure it out.
Daniel: I think for me I can definitely relate to what she has to say. Before the Appalachian Trail, I was in a routine of working, then coming home and watching TV. Just work and coming home. The trail made me a lot more open to new experiences, and mindful of how much adventure and getting outdoors plays in my life and happiness. I know I need to spend time outside in nature and try to put new things, push myself and learn to remain a healthy happy existence.
I learned that I need to break up the routine of life, get out of the work and sleep mentality. I’m building houses now after realising I wanted to work with my hands and use my body.
Do you have any upcoming plans or ideas for future travels?
Daniel: So this winter we’re skiing and snowboarding in the mountains. We’re working a whole lot to save money. There’s another long trail on the Pacific side of the States called the Pacific Crest Trail which we’re hoping to save enough money for starting that in 2023. We want to do the Comino and other stuff in Europe too.
Lizzy: We also bought a van and plan to remodel it so that we can live out of it and travel around the United States.