bri on the AT

Adventure Time on the Appalachian Trail

2,193 miles and counting

It was August 22, 2020 and there I was waking in the Birches Campsite (reserved for Thru-Hikers) only 5 miles from Kathadin. In my own single woman tent on a platform next to my two kids.

Cambyr’s brother begged to join us when we were in Monson, ME at the last hiker hostel on the trip. The Covid quarantine had warped his brain so much that he now knew he could make the 120 mile journey with us even though at the start of the trip he flat out told me “hiking wasn’t my thing”. I knew it would mean the trip would not be the relaxing, casual endeavor Cambyr and I had been waiting for, but I would do whatever it would take to expose him to this experience….I saw the effect first hand what it did for myself and Cambyr…I knew what it could do for him.

Maybe that’s the mom in me, the one that yearns to introduce my kids to the wonders of life and the values nature hold. Or maybe it’s just my personality to take on extra in order to share the amazing with them. Either way, my vision was fulfilled! Having Trey join us was my ultimate dream! What an amazing way to end this journey and to have my kids reacquaint themselves with each other and nature.

We left Monson with a 4 day supply of food knowing we’d get a supply drop half-way through. Trey used some of my older and heavier gear from home and understood that we were attempting 13 mile days on average for the duration of the hike. The first half of day one we took a lunch break about 7 miles in and he carried all his own stuff (including his luxury items: a stuffed monkey and Yu-gi-oh cards). At that point, I knew he needed to lighten his load if he was to make the rest of the miles…so I took his food and we hiked on.

That first day was a glorious day and spirits were high. Trey got his trail name within the first few miles hiking, G-fuel (for Grape fueled) he was into this big time! Conversations revolved around those that would entertain Trey and help him feel involved….mostly about his card game and how much he wanted to play with us. He did really well, as good as could be expected from an 11-year-old who didn’t think he’d ever hike this many miles at all, let alone in one day! Cambyr stepped up to the plate and made him a great bacon dinner while I set up camp and Trey hung out talking about his cards.

After realizing we had slowed to about one mile an hour near the last 2-3 miles of the day I knew the only way to speed things back up was to take on the bulk of Trey’s load. So, I repacked in the morning carrying 3 days of food for both of us, two sleeping bags, a tent, cookware and my clothes and misc. Trey took his monkey, snacks and clothes (and the card game). Taking the bulk of his weight helped a ton, especially over the bigger peaks, but we were still slowing way down after lunch. The next day I took everything but his snacks and we had a much better day time-wise. It was a far cry from the effortless 15 miles by noon that Cambyr and I were capable of, but a huge improvement on 13 miles in 12 hours! By day 4 the food was almost gone and the legs were much more adapted to the daily grind. But then came the real challenge…rain.

Trey had gotten his feet wet a couple of times already during some stream crossings and he did NOT handle those well…swearing and yelling and demanding changing socks regardless of how wet his shoes were. It took a toll on our time and our patience, but we allowed him to make the needed adjustments because it was what he needed. Cambyr and I practiced often the techniques we learned throughout our time on trail by thinking better feeling thoughts and they did manage to help us gracefully move through the tough moments in transition with her brother.

But when we got our new resupply (and I had to pack two four day supplies of food and all of Trey’s gear/clothes) AND it started to rain after the cold pizza and drinks they brought with the drop…it was harder for us all to get through the breakdown that ensued. But harder didn’t equate to impossible! Cambyr and I kept our focus on the positive reminding ourselves of the walls we would hit in the first month of our trip and were able to give Trey the space and time he needed to work through it his own way. And he never did disappoint! He’d take the time he needed and expressed any way he needed and when it was over it was a beautiful love fest of “I love you Mommy!”‘s. I was so proud to see how Cambyr could walk away in frustration and come back in a better space and how Trey was learning to do the same. I couldn’t stop smiling through it all…I was living my dream…that was all that mattered!

The day before we got to Abol Campground we finally managed to take a much needed break at Nahmakanta Lake for most of the day…it ended up fueling us for a beautiful, fast evening hike! We napped and ate and swam and played in the sand and ate some more until we were ready to leave because we wanted to, not because we had to. It was divine! And since Cambyr did her thing most of the time, Trey and I got some really nice quality time together.

He had thanked me for all the Yu-gi-oh playing we had done with him since the trip began, so much so that Cambyr actually really enjoyed playing with him. We had the kind of talks I dreamed of with him surpassing those of card and computer games, moving into dreams and feeling and desires. He expressed to me how much he really liked being out there with us and how he’d like to do more with us in the future…we started making plans, BIG plans!

When we got to the lean-to it was a bit solemn for me and Cambyr….the last one of the trip. How was THAT possible? We met a 19-year-old kid a day earlier, just starting his thru-hike, only a few days in. It was wild to be on the flip-side of things, we were the experienced ones he was looking to for advice. He studiously took notes and Cambyr freely chimed in, while he stared fixed in awe. Just like me. I looked at her in awe constantly at what she had already accomplished in such a short amount of time. This amazing girl that I was so privileged to hike with for 5 and a half months!

We woke up and headed for the Baxter State Park entrance and the Abol campground boasting of all-you-can-eat breakfast for campers. Trey took so much pride as he crossed the 100-mile line and took a selfie documenting the momentous occasion. As we hit the road I heard Trey exclaim something to the extent of “hell yeah, finally” as his ankles and feet were tired of the roots and rocks of the last 100 miles. It was a joyous walk along that road for sure and when we crossed the bridge over the river on the Golden Road we stood in awe of the view of Kathadin! Couldn’t really catch my breath…here we were only two nights away and we would be DONE…one in four.

I treated the kids to a cabin and we had our own bunks for the night. No electricity or heat, totally rustic and they LOVED it! It was such a huge step up from the camping and lean-tos. We met a few thru-hikers there that we had never seen or heard of in the 5 months we were out; Tailspin and Burn…yet, there they were always within a day or so of us only to finally cross paths just before it ended. Funny how things work out on the trail like that. Just like how funny it was to see people before the 100-mile wilderness that we never thought we would see again! Diane showed up who we hadn’t seen since day 2 or 3 and she was hiking partners with Pepper and Jack (her dog) who we met in Hiawassee, GA with Pop-Rocks doing the trail magic. Then we saw “Hiking with Braids” who is the first person I recognized from Instagram who was NOBO then had to flip. We also met “Tennesee Joe” from Instagram who was following me and recognized me! Then we met Pan our buddy from way back who was in the Tramily with Downhill, Cascade and Mash Pit. I told him Downhill was about a week behind us now and he told us about his working at Angels Rest in VA. It was so great to see him back hiking “for the quads” So many happy memories and reunions and only one more night in a tent ahead of us.

We had the absolute worst breakfast on trail in the morning and then it rained again…but my spirits were unbreakably high! We did have a challenging river crossing where a bridge was out just after the park entrance, but like the rest of the melt-downs, we survived that one too. We made it to camp and saw familiar faces a few new ones. I set up camp and the kids played Yu-gi-oh all night, giggling and laughing in the background, then I joined the crew of hikers at the fire and settled in for a night with a temporary night only tramily. We laughed about our journey, talked about familiar names and places and shared beer and food. The ranger came by and gave us our permits to climb the sacred mountain and Cambyr and I would officially be in the top 100 of finishers. Wow, what a huge accomplishment of the thousands that attempt it!

I went to bed content. SUPER CONTENT! I wanted to soak it all in…because as Cambyr reminded me…it was all going to end, and tomorrow was the day.

We headed to the ranger station where we packed up the gear and took only minimal food and layers with G (my guitar had to finish the rest of the journey!) met the kids dad and we all hiked up together at 7am. It was a gloriously sunny day and we were all on top of the world! Everything was always working out for us and our timing was always perfect. There were plenty of people, but not nearly what it would have been for a typical summer Saturday morning. We easily managed to pass most everyone on the Hunt trail until the dreaded “staple”; the crux of the whole climb. It was a very exposed section of trail, .7 miles long, that had made other thru-hikers end there journey there. The “staple” was at the beginning of the exposed area and the toughest part…if you can make it past there the rest is totally manageable. Trey hesitated…it was too exposed, it freaked him out uncontrollably. Cambyr kept her cool while her dad and I sat back watching it all unfold. It took about 40 minutes but she managed to find a way and technique for getting him up the section with minimal freaking out. And he was fine once he faced it. He’s been known to fear heights for awhile now and has been finding more and more moments to face them. Trey is so brave that he forces himself to face them rather than back off out of fear. Often it will take a long time, but he always gets through it. THAT is TRUE bravery! He is the bravest person I know.

After that .7 mile it was literally a cake walk. We snacked and willed the clouds to keep their distance so we could have a clear view on top. As we approached the long steps up to the peak Cambyr and I once again found ourselves hiking alone together, now not wanting to hold back our hiker legs for anyone! This was our journey, we started together and we were going to finish together. It wasn’t quite what we had imagined. I had pictured us there with Jay, Cody, Paul, Groovy and Brad early on. But Groovy had already finished, Paul left the trail, Brad was at least a month behind us and Paul and Jay a week or so ahead of him. Then I had imagined us being there with Punchline, Dirty Jobs, Serpent, Pearl, and Dexter. But Pearl and Dexter coupled up and left us in the Shenandoahs and the other three were a few weeks behind us too. It wasn’t until later that we found out Pearl, Dexter and Punchline all finished together a week or so before Serpent and Dirty Jobs (who were determined to finally take their time and stop pushing so hard so they could enjoy it).

Yeah, things didn’t end as planned, we also weren’t there with Cookie (who we had traveled with for a few months and only him the last month and who Trey loved playing Yu-gi-oh with) who had hiked up with his mom before we got there, but we never passed him on the way up.

So, there we were….Kaleidoscope and I reminiscing about each state as we got closer and closer to the infamous sign. What a journey, what a crazy, lovely, amazing, indescribable journey! And here we were…DONE.

I took G out of her wrap and held her high over my head…I honestly don’t think I could have made it as focused and gracefully as I did without her. She saved my soul. I may not be a very good guitar player, but this trip proved to me I will be someday…it is apart of my life now, my blood, I can’t see me going anywhere without her ever. We did it together and made so many moments that much sweeter with her around. She helped me gain confidence, friends, understanding, patience, and to see things differently. She spoke to me in strange and beautiful ways and guided me often. She helped me to constantly raise my vibration. I am forever in her debt!

And then I put my arm around Kaleidoscope and leaned into each other for the picture….YAHOOOOOOO was all I could muster up….all the words were left behind…there was nothing to say and everything to feel. How could words even do what we were feeling any justice….how do you explain this kind of journey!?

Even though we took the final picture and the deed was officially done, it didn’t really seem to hit us until we climbed back down the mountain, waited for two hours for our ride with the kids dad only to end up hitching down with a ranger and sat in the back of his truck in the open-air letting it all sink in. Now, it felt done. We weren’t hiking, no packs on the back, an RV waiting for us to take us to Acadia National Park for a week of decompression. And the tears started to stream down Cambyr’s face. And then my eyes welled up…it’s over. Neither one of us wanted it to end. We could have easily kept going, in fact I heard there is a trail all the way up to Canada! But life called us back.. and we smiled wiping the tears away…there were so many more adventures waiting for us, and we needed time to plan!

(*please see past Instagram Posts for more details and pictures)

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13 Comments

  1. Alan September 17, 2020

    Good to hear from you and congratulations on your completion of the famous Appalachian Trail. I have been following your progress since leaving GA and watching the map when working always interested to hear about your travels. Once again, congratulations to you both!

  2. Dennis September 17, 2020

    I throughly enjoyed reading your posts. What a great accomplishment for you and your children. Memories made to last a lifetime. Congratulations!

  3. Maureen September 17, 2020

    Bri and Cambyr!!!! You did it!!! We’ve been reading and watching and cheering and now we’re high-fiving you both again. What a fabulous finish and I give you all the credit in the world for helping trey reunite and triumph with you both in his own way. Can’t wait to hear more when we see you all. Xo Mo and Paul and family.

  4. Jack Santos September 17, 2020

    Beautiful! What a wonderful end to a perfect journey. So glad you shared it with us.

    May the best day on the trail be the worst day of your future…

  5. RADIOMAN September 17, 2020

    I have been watching you since the beginning. I am very impressed and jealous. I am sure you got a lot from this experience.

  6. Paul September 17, 2020

    Congratulations on completing such a wonderful adventure. I followed your blog from the beginning and enjoyed reading every entry.

  7. Todd Gaddy September 17, 2020

    Great job guys,I have been following your hike since meeting you at Hog pen gap in Ga (March). We were the ones finishing up trail magic and cambrey finished up our hot dogs.

  8. Shana September 17, 2020

    What a beautiful story!!!! Congrats to u and ur amazing daughter!! I think she is the bravest kid I ever heard of. U have given those kids an education like nothing else they will ever receive. And created lifetime memories. What a special person and mother you are!!!!

  9. Jim Lobley September 17, 2020

    Congratulations Bri and Cambyr, what a wonderful and amazing accomplishment. Bri, you have got to be so proud of your daughter and your son but also yourself, what a wonderful example for other mothers! Next is the Camino De Santiago, a mere drop in the bucket compared to what you have just finished. May God Bless you with Love, Happiness and a life filled with Adventures! Big Jim

  10. Barbara September 17, 2020

    A huge congratulations to you both on completing the AT, your truly an inspiration. Thanks to you two ladies I successfully completed my first overnight solo in the whites this past weekend and learned a great deal about pack weight and elevation lol. Again, congrats and happy trails

    • briana September 18, 2020 — Post Author

      Barbara ! This is fantastic news! Congratulations to you on your big accomplishment! So happy we could share our journey with you! Where did you go in the whites and how was the experience over all?

      • Barbara September 18, 2020

        I hiked from Zealand lot, bagging Zealand then unloaded gear at Guyot, set up camp and grabbed my day pack. I hiked Bond and Bondcliff, was too tired for west bond on the way back to camp, intended to get it in the morning but listened to the body and hiked back out. I learned my pack was not the right size for my torso so sore everywhere making the hike out rough. Regardless, there were tears or pain and tears of joy and memories to last forever. I have a fitted pack now and hope to get 1 more overnight in before the snow flys, and someday maybe the AT.

  11. Marie thibault September 20, 2020

    Félicitations Briana,Camber er Trey,
    Quel accomplissement! Vous êtes mes nouveaux héros. Merci d’avoir fait ton blog. Tu nous as fait voyager avec vous.
    Marie,
    Mansonville Québec, Canada

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