Hiking the Appalachian Trail doesn’t sound like something anyone would consider fun. It’s the longest hiking trail in the world at 2,200 miles long and it extends through 14 states from Springer Mountain, GA. to Mount Katahdin, Maine. It can take between five to seven months to complete a thru hike (those individuals who complete the hike in one attempt, from start to finish), which means you’re beginning your jaunt in extreme heat in Georgia and finishing in the cold of Maine.
Along the way you might encounter the American black bear, poisonous snakes like the timber rattlesnake and the copperhead, as well as wild boar, foxes, bobcats and coyote. If you’re not bothered by any of those critters, you have to deal with a multitude of deer ticks, mosquitoes and black flies (whose bite might be worse than a mosquito). Just in case none of that bothers you, there’s a plentiful supply of poison ivy that follows the trail for thousands of miles.
You have to do all of this with enough gear in your backpack so that you can survive a few days at a time, which might include a sleeping bag, some sort of rain gear, clothing, food, water, and some people carry a tent. Which amounts to carrying two school backpacks on your back – both full of textbooks.
According to most sources, only 10-15% of people who attempt to complete the Georgia-to-Maine excursion actually finish. Only 10-15%.
Neva Warren wanted to do it anyway.
“My parents had been interested in it, and I read a few books about it,” Neva said. “We went on a family vacation to Shenandoah National Park, and we did a three-mile hike on the Trail together. I really enjoyed it. It was cold and rainy…and I loved it.
“Once we got back to the lodge, I said, I think I’m going to do the whole thing,” Neva continued. “But not with you guys…I want to do it alone. When I found out that I would be the youngest, male or female, to complete the hike alone, part of my motivation became proving people wrong.”
Neva was 14 years old at the time, and barely five feet tall.
Training was difficult because her family lives in Florida, so no matter how many miles she was able to hike during training, there was no way to simulate the conditions on the Trail. Once on the Trail, she carried a full pack, which included a sleeping bag, food, clothes, sleeping pad, water pouch, snacks…and a keychain of Niall Horan from the British boy band, One Direction.
“The first day, maybe like two miles into the hike, I rolled my ankle and fell down,” Neva said. “At the time, I said to myself, well, this is my life now, and I broke off little sticks and tried to make a brace and laced my boot tight. I told myself that I had to keep going. The second day I rolled my other ankle. The third day I got new boots…
“I can’t say that I ever stopped rolling my ankles, I just eventually got used to it,” Neva went on. “It was never bad enough to take me off of the trail. I was lucky not to have any major injuries.”