Amber Verdecchia was looking for a particular kind of adventure – something challenging, but simple.
Going on a through-hike of the Appalachian Trail seemed perfect. No experience was required.
“It’s kind of funny, because before this, I hadn’t done any hiking or backpacking through the mountains,” said Verdecchia.
The 2016 Poynette High School graduate, now 23, gave a talk about her experiences Nov. 13 at The Crooked Branch Coffee Shop in Pardeeville. Going solo, she started the 2,193-mile hike on May 1 and finished Oct. 7. She said that’s about the usual amount of time it takes.
Verdecchia, who lived in DeForest as a toddler, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in math. She is looking to go to graduate school to train to become a math teacher.
Verdecchia had been dreaming about hiking the Appalachian Trail since she first heard about the idea.
“I thought about it for four to five years,” said Verdecchia. “I wondered if I had it in me.”
“It’s a social trail,” said Verdecchia. “Most people imagine it as being all alone in the woods, but I meet people from all over the world. That was one of my favorite parts of the experience.”
To go on the hike, Verdecchia decided to put off graduate school. It’s not something that can be done over the course of one summer alone, she said. Verdecchia figured she needed to do it now, before she started a career and life obligations got in the way.
Aside from spending a couple of nights in the backcountry and trying to get in good shape beforehand, Verdecchia didn’t do much to prepare.
“Obviously, around here, there aren’t a lot of mountains to climb,” said Verdecchia.
COVID-19 complicated her plans. The conservancy that oversees the Appalachian Trail was discouraging hikes until around May 10. Then, she was able to do online registration. Verdecchia pushed it off a little later to avoid overcrowding. She also wanted to start after getting vaccinated.
Improving her fitness went a long way to minimizing the risk of injury. Verdecchia also had to save up money for gear, accommodations, and food – things that can make the hike expensive.
For the most part, it went well, but there were hardships.
“I think the hardest part was sticking through really bad weather,” said Verdecchia. “It really gets you down when you’re walking all day in the rain, and there’s no shelter and you have to set up camp.”
Verdecchia said there were a couple of days like that, but luck was on her side.
“From what I heard, it was a really good year for weather,” said Verdecchia.
Smartly, she headed out on the trail in late May, so she avoided bad weather caused by hurricanes. Verdecchio also finished before she could encounter any wintry conditions.
The trail is extremely well-traveled, according to Verdecchio. Thousands attempt it every year, she said. Still, Verdecchio thought the terrain would be easier. There were times when she was rock climbing. Most of the bouldering took place in Maine and New Hampshire, with a 30-pound pack on her back.
Usually, Appalachian Trail hikers start in Georgia and end up in Maine. Verdecchia began her hike in the middle in West Virginia by heading up to Maine and doubling back down to West Virginia and then to Georgia.
Verdecchia said she was relieved when it was over.
“I felt I was really ready for it to be done,” said Verdecchia. “Honestly, I was getting bored of walking all the time.”
Nevertheless, she pushed on to the finish line. For the first week afterward, Verdecchia just rested. While she was on the trail, she wasn’t thinking of the next big hike, although many she encountered along the way were doing just that.
Now that Verdecchia has been away from it for a bit, she’s considering taking on smaller through-hikes, like the John Muir Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, during the summer. Stay tuned for her next adventure.