The toughest part for Neva, perhaps, was the lack of consistent companionship. While many who hike the trail meet up with other, like-minded souls, Neva had a physical challenge that prevented that consistent comradery.
“I was, maybe, at most five feet tall at the time, so I only went about a mile and a half per hour,” Neva explained. “Which is too slow for most hikers. I met a lot of hikers, and the Trail does bring out the best people. But I wasn’t able to keep a companion for more than a day or two because they got tired of going slow for me.”
The other challenge for Neva wasn’t physical.
“I decided to quit the trail and to leave to trail around 2:00 every day,” Neva said. “But continuing on is more a signal of strength. I’ve been kicked down, I’m in the mud, I’ve rolled both ankles, but I’m going to get up and keep going because that’s what I have to do. I saw a lot of people drop off the trail. The thing that kept me going…I cried every day, and I sobbed all of the time. I kept thinking that I’m not going to make it to Maine…all of these people are telling me that I’m not going to summit in time.
“I didn’t pretend,” Neva continued. “Being able to cry, and being able to say, this is really hard, and to keep going while I was crying… I can’t count the number of big, burly men with beards who dropped off. You can’t maintain that attitude. You can’t pretend that you’re stronger than the trail.”
Neva was 14 years old when she began her journey, and she turned 15 during her hike. After six months and 22 days, she completed her goal. But she not only was able to fulfill her personal quest, she also was able to help others because of her trek.
“Most of the time, what took me off of the trail to rest was struggles with depression,” Neva explained. “We have a long family history of depression and being out in the woods with nothing to distract you is like being put in a sensory deprivation chamber. That triggered more depression for me. I was trying to raise awareness for mental health.”
To that end, Neva partnered with Hike for Mental Health in order to raise money for her cause.
Now a sophomore English major at the University of South Florida, Neva is preparing to go to Ireland in the fall to study abroad, and she’s planning her next adventure. Her Appalachian Trail conquest has served her well.
“I think it gave me an unshakeable strength,” Neva concluded. “When I came to college, right away I took 17 credits, and took a part-time job and I’m writing for the school newspaper. For many people, this is their first time away from their parents. I knew I had the strength, I knew I didn’t have to worry. I know I can work through it and keep working on. That’s the greatest gift the Trail gave me.”
Don’t Say, “I Can’t”
Interesting that her time alone on the trail actually made her depression worse and triggered more depression. On the other hand, that time alone may have made her more aware of her mental state which made it possible for Neva to cope better with her depression. I would say anything that helps you become more self-aware of your strengths and weaknesses (who you are) is a good thing.