On Saturday morning, Sept. 22, it was rainy, foggy, windy atop Mount Katahdin, 5,268 feet, in Maine. Mandy Bland trudged the last few yards and then she was there. “I made it!” she cried.
The grueling 155-day journey was finished. She had conquered the Appalachian Trail.
“To finish was inspiring,” she explains.” I wanted to see if I could physically do it.”
The Appalachian Trail stretches 2,184 miles, starting at Springer Mountain in Georgia and traversing Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
Bland planned the hike for two years, saving money to buy gear and supplies. “I decided to do it, accept the challenge,” she said. So on Friday, April 20, she took off.
“I averaged 14 miles a day,” she said. “Mostly by myself; sometimes with other hikers.”
Camping at night in the woods, she had a food supply in a backpack and an arrangement with a friend to pick up food every four or five days at a previously arranged location.
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She kept going. No serious spills. “I was sick one day, that’s all,” she said.
The Appalachian Trail attracts serious hikers. Many traverse a section or two or several states. Many of the hikers, about 85 to 90 percent, never reach the end. The majority of the trail is in wilderness.
“The 241 miles in Maine was incredibly difficult,” Bland said. “There were mountains and the trail was not as well-kept. I had to push it to do 10 miles a day.”
There is a mile-long stretch of boulders in Maine, some of which hikers must pass under, at Mahoosuc Notch. The most isolated portion of the Appalachian Trail, known as the “100 mile wilderness,” heads northeast from the town of Monson and ends outside Baxter State Park, the location of Mount Katahdin.
Before tackling the trail, the 30-year-old Bland lived for six years in Portland, Ore., and was employed in vocational services. She also has worked in Alaska. She attended schools in Bemidji, Minn., and college in Mankato. Minn. Her parents, Kelly and Charlie Bland, live in Bethany.
“I’m taking a year off,” she said. “My boyfriend and I are going to Guatemala, maybe for four or five years. My next challenge? I’d like to do long distance bike riding.”