Emily Sklar ’15 could be found hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) for 144 days, from March 24, 2014 until Aug. 15. Her close friend and Kalamazoo College alumna, Margaux Reckard ‘13, accompanied Sklar.
Sklar used these experiences on the AT in her Senior Individualized Project (SIP). The inspiration came to her because she sought to boil all of the aspects of Kalamazoo College she enjoys most. “I wanted to do something that I felt incorporated all the aspects of Kalamazoo College that are really important to me,” said Sklar.
Land Sea had largely fueled her outdoor passion. “I saw that I cared about my biology classes a lot more when I went on a hike after and saw things, and it solidified what I learned in class,” Sklar said.
Through the journey Sklar recalls several ways to help ease the difficulty. Snacks, or “trail magic,” were often set near the trail by Trail Angels. Regular trips into town to grab supplies occurred weekly throughout the trip. Supplies in the beginning initially consisted of healthy hiker food but quickly transitioned to Pop Tarts, Snickers, ramen noodles, and an occasional bagel or beer if they were lucky.
“It’s really hard to choose between my three meals which were Pop Tarts, Snickers, and ramen noodles,” said Sklar. “My favorite trail snack was definitely a bagel or beer.”
These high calorie snacks helped fuel her through the trail’s 2185.3 miles. The AT slips into 14 different states on the East Coast, from the mountains and coasts of Maine down to the plateaus in Georgia. And Sklar hiked through each one of them.
Not only did Sklar gain the material for a SIP, she said she felt like she grew up and learned more about commitment and trust.
“I think for every time that you spend five months doing something, you grow up. Every five months is incredibly impactful. It’s a commitment. There were plenty of times when I just wanted to quit and I just kept pushing through and I’m so glad that I did,” said Sklar.
Despite the struggles, she remained optimistic. Her experiences led her to believe that all people are good. There were no singular challenge that initiated her lessons, but several that later culminated in her understanding.
During the journey, Sklar and Reckard met several dozen people, and a few of them became a community that hiked together. In fact, the AT was first proposed in 1921 by Benton MacKaye, and he envisioned to create multiple small communities that supported his socialist ideas.
“I can not put a number [on the amount of people] … some of them stuck around, some of them didn’t,” said Sklar. “Captain, Breakfast, and Bones were with us most of the trail.”
Along with meeting these characters and trekking through diverse terrains, Sklar said her most memorable experience on the trail was the final 5 miles.
“We all got up, there were a dozen hikers staying at the campground, and we all got up before sunrise,” said Sklar. “It was a beautiful moment, hiking with so many people, it was so wonderful to share that moment.”
Sklar stresses the importance of experiencing the world around us through the accessibility of the AT. “The trail is so accessible. If you love hiking, if you love being outside, and if you have the time to do it, chances are that you can pace yourself in a way that you can do it,” said Sklar. “There’s something to be gained for having some sort of wilderness experience, for everyone, and they’re all going to do that differently.”