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  • Writer's pictureBriana DeSanctis

America on Two Feet

Updated: Feb 28

Greetings and welcome to the second installment of my column! In this issue, I bring you the best news! I’ve done much research and asked the right people, and I’ve gotten the answer I’ve been looking for: I’ll be the FIRST RECORDED WOMAN to solo thru-hike the Southern official backpacking route of the American Discovery Trail! When I originally decided for this 5,057+ trail to be my next endeavor, I wanted to be able to set a record. After many months of searching, I finally was told by members of the Discovery Trail Society that my dream of becoming the first woman was actually a reality. Now all I have to do is walk this trail from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

That last sentence is a blatant lie. I have to walk, yes, first and foremost. I also have to set up my tent in the cold and maybe in the snow every day, then take it down in the morning, using rocks or other objects to dislodge the stakes from the frozen ground. I have to feed myself and make sure I find water to drink (but not before I filter out any bacteria that could make me sick. I also have to make sure my filter doesn’t freeze, rendering it useless), I have to put frozen shoes and cold, wet socks on my feet most mornings. I have to manage my times wisely for relieving myself as to use the Leave-No-Trace principles. I have to keep myself healthy. I HAVE TO KEEP MYSELF ALIVE. On the other realm of things, I need to book speaking gigs. I need to write this article. I need to write my blog. I need to write my book. I need to talk to the media. I need to talk to the men, women and children of America. I need to write letters. I need to call my mom and dad. I haven’t mentioned the most important thing here… I need to sleep.

As I sit here at my computer inside of a roof and four walls and look out the window at the blowing, freezing rain it reminds me of how much discomfort I’ll have, not just sometimes but usually. This is an important fact to keep in mind; not only is it crucial to obtain the correct mindset beforehand, but it makes me appreciate everything SO MUCH MORE. This new year will be a year of importance and purpose, accountability and responsibility, struggle and triumph and growth.

I was in Colorado for an extended Thanksgiving holiday (and also for work), and finding a couple days of down time meant going for an overnight hike. My cousin’s fiancé recommended one of his favorite hikes, 12,965′ Mt. Sopris in the Elk Mountain range of the Rockies. They brought me out to the trailhead, which was quite an adventure in itself, using 4-wheel drive to navigate the red, muddy dirt road, the behemoth peak commanding attention throughout the entire drive. It took over an hour to get there from the Vail Valley and by the time they dropped me off my ears had popped more than once.

The hike itself was not difficult for me at all, save for the one section nearly impassible from deep, slick, slimy mud. Judging by the horse and cattle tracks I decided that it was only half mud.

As I climbed to Thomas Lakes where I would set up camp for the night, the snow became deeper and more animal tracks became apparent. There were a few different sets of human tracks, domestic dog tracks, then I saw smaller dog tracks belonging to coyote or fox. There were rabbit tracks zig-zagging across the trail, squirrel tracks, deer tracks, and I stopped dead in my own tracks when I saw the large, round, un-clawed prints of a larger-than-domestic kitty cat.

As I mentioned before, the trail to Thomas lakes was not hard by any means, nor was I pushing myself (or so I thought). I stood up after pounding the first tent stake into the ground and instantly began dry-heaving. The altitude. I’m used to hiking in the White Mountains of NH, but this was at least 6,000 feet higher and the lack of oxygen was very apparent. I’ll be honest. It was slightly difficult to catch my breath all night. The woods were quiet, and I set my tent up on a flat surface beside one of the frozen lakes, whose far shores erupted into this immediate, aggressively steep mountainside. It was beautiful, wild, desolate and cold. The stars were as breathtaking as the altitude itself.

I didn’t hike up that mountain the next day, but I did have a wonderful time enjoying leisurely breakfast at camp, spilling hot chili mac with beef all over my backpack (I do it every damn time). I hiked out and then I also hiked another 6 miles down until the dirt road turned to pavement and Patrick’s truck came around the corner.

I had a substantial surgery at the beginning of October which restricted my cardio allowance to almost nothing, and of course you know I overdid it on my first hike. But no damage was done except that to my ego for not summitting Mt. Sopris, and I’ll have many more mountains to climb to get over it in this next year. I’ll chalk it up to a gear-testing hike during which everything worked and fit appropriately.

More and more questions have been asked since my article last month. I am very humbled by the number of people who have wanted to give me financial support and have donated to me through Venmo, and I also understand that not everyone uses or feels comfortable with online applications. If you are one of these people and would love to donate to support my trip, feel free to stop into Aptuitiv at 224 Broadway in Farmington. My mother can be seen right at the front desk during business hours and is one of the nicest ladies you’ll ever meet. She will make sure I receive your donations, and again, THANK YOU for being so supportive. In turn, I will be sure to make this trek across America nothing short of amazing.

Another question I’ve been frequently asked is how I’ve been physically training for this trip. This is probably the best physical training I’ve ever done for a hike and it’s so easy, anyone can do it. Here’s the regimen: I eat whatever I want, when I want, and my logic is that I am going to be needing every calorie and fat roll I can accumulate for my winter start. Weight is a number and it does not always define body type. Being a long-distance backpacker has greatly impacted my stance on body image and in that aspect alone I’ve learned to enjoy my life a hell of a lot more. Muscle will replace fat and muscle is much heavier than fat. When I began the Appalachian Trail I weighed 140 and was only 2 lbs. less after hiking nearly 2,200 miles. I now weigh somewhere between 153 and 160 and I don’t expect to lose a lot, nor do I care! As long as my body stays healthy and able to hike, I’m happy.

The next most asked question I get is about my gear and if I have everything I need. I can tell you right now that if I filled my water bladder I could put on my pack and walk out that door immediately. However, I do still have a couple items to purchase, including the camera I will be using to record video and take pictures. The Nikon Coolpix rugged edition served me well on the AT and this time I might try a comparable camera that Olympus makes.

The most recent factor on my mind is the idea of whether I may be able to get away with starting in regular winter boots. It’s a thought I’ve had for a while now which becomes more practical on a daily basis. I most certainly will not need trail runners for the beginning of the trail, and if the Delaware through Cincinatti region is going to be soggy and cold and road-like, why waste a $170 pair of trail sneakers? Additionally, I have micro spikes for icy conditions. I guess it is all a matter of personal choice, just like everything else. At the end of the day I could walk in flip-flops and not die, so really this is an example of overthinking. I’m experienced enough to know if I’m in trouble and won’t be far from services until I’ve already had ample time to dial it in.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with Stu and Brenda Hotchkiss of Heritage Knives in Carroll, NH. They’re making me a custom, fixed-blade knife to bring with me on my journey. They are incredibly kind and talented people, and I’m very excited to see what he creates for me based on our conversation. Can’t you just see me now, sauntering through the wild west, a badass, handcrafted knife in its sheath strapped to my leg? Now that’s what I’m talking about!

If you’d like to say good bye, good luck or good riddance to me before I leave, I’m having a very casual, drop-in event. No presentation, no frills, but I will be there to answer questions and give fist bumps!

WHEN: December 26

WHERE: Downtown Farmington Gazebo from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. (for those who have children with them, or prefer to be outside)Tuck’s Ale House from 12 p.m.-3 p.m.

To get more updated information about my hike across America, as well as to see pictures and videos, find my Facebook page which is called Rocky Mountain High on the American Discovery Trail. Thank you for reading and following along! Your support is my fuel for success, and next month when you read this column, I will be actively hiking the American Discovery Trail! Happy Holidays and I hope to see you on the 26th!

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