Misti and her husband Chris thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2010 and the Florida Trail in 2011. Together they have also backpacked shorter adventures throughout Florida, the Enchantment Lakes region of Washington state, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and the Eagle Rock Loop in Arkansas, as well as enjoying as many day hikes as possible. Currently she lives outside of Houston with her husband and three month old son whom she hopes to introduce to backpacking as soon as she can. She blogs at OceanicWilderness.com.
What makes the outdoors a compelling place for you to be?
Being outdoors challenges me to learn more about my surroundings. It was traipsing about remote areas of Florida that led to an interest in learning more botany and understanding the areas I hiked in from an ecological standpoint. When hiking through an area I learn about habitat as I walk, taking in the subtle changes in environment from wetland to upland, from rocky hillside to pine forest, learning what flora and fauna live in each area. It makes hiking far more interesting, knowing what you may or may not see while out on an adventure.
Birds are something I’ve slowly become more intrigued with during my hikes as I am a hiker who eschews music while hiking, preferring to take in the sounds of the wind and birds, or listening for the scuttle of small mammals in leaf litter. I love listening for the cry of crows in hardwood forest, sometimes the only bird echoing in the woods on an overcast day. The whine of a red-shouldred hawk is also a special animal for me as I loved listening to them cry overheard as I explored the swampy areas of Florida.
You never know what kind of rare or uncommon plant or animal you may discover while in the wild. It may even be an interesting animal event, such as the one we encountered on our last day of thru-hiking the Florida Trail. We were on the back dunes of a beach walk when we watched a bald eagle chase down an osprey that was carrying a fish. There was bird fighting and the osprey relenquished its meal to the bald eagle. If I hadn’t been tuned into the world around me I would have missed that experience.
A place or interaction on the trail that made a major impression on you
The final miles of our thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail with the climb up Katahdin and sunrise summit is probably the most spiritual and exciting event in my hiking history. We left in the cover of darkness, scrambling up Katahdin’s rocky outcroppings with only a headlamp. The wind that pierced through on the crystal clear night as we rounded corners took our breath away. Not being able to constantly see the mountain’s false summits kept us on our toes, preventing us from getting our hopes up of being ‘amost there’. But when we arrived at the sign at the top with the first light of dawn rising over the Atlantic ocean to the east, having a the mountain to just the five of us there…you can’t be the feeling. We’d completed a huge goal, something five months before we’d been unsure of the outcome, but we’d also done the final stretch during a time period that most people don’t get to enjoy, a sunrise summit bid. It’s still probably the best hiking day of my life.
A memorable challenge you dealt with on a hike
My dad had come to Pearisburg, Virginia to join my husband and I on our AT thru-hike for a week. We’d been hiking a day outside of Pearisburg when by chance my husband had left our cell phone on that morning and it rang. Unfortunately it was my mom calling to deliver bad news about my baby niece who had been born 3 months premature and had been living in NICU for 104 days. She had passed away the evening before. We were then faced with a quick logistical challenge of getting to the next road crossing and hoping to be able to flag down a ride (which we did) and getting to the airport that evening for a flight we were able to get booked on top of the ridge before descending out of cell service. Instead of waiting with our thumbs out for a ride I dramatically waved my arms at the first truck that passed by and kindly got a ride back to Pearisburg where we hooked up with a local Trail Angel who drove us to the airport in Blacksburg.
Thru-hiking any trail offers up its mental challenges in various forms but it was then I knew that it was a such a trivial thing we were doing, that my brother and sister-in-law were going through many more mental challenges than we were. Returning to the trail after that was difficult but we did it, and I thought about my niece daily after that, sometimes crying silently as I followed the white blazes north.
How have you helped other women to get outdoors?
Any time I am around friends or family that aren’t as into nature and the outdoors as I am, I just like to continue talking about what I do as a completely normal event. I think I’ve finally warmed my mom up to the idea of doing a short backpack in the future as she has now become more physically fit. I think the idea of being dirty and digging a hole is what scares most women off. However, once you ease yourself into these things, maybe taking wipes for a short trip to make you feel more comfortable or just peeing behind a bush on a day hike, you open yourself up to the knowledge that being dirty for days on end and digging a cathole really isn’t such a big deal. Plus, catholes are much more pleasant and scenic than most gas station toilets and port-o-potties.
My sister-in-law recently went on her first week long backpacking trip with my brother. I think she had been intrigued by his backpacking experiences but also with mine and my husband’s experiences, paired with her getting into physical shape enough, she went for her first multi-night backpacking trip, in Colorado no less, needless to say she’s now hooked.
The more you are active about talking about the outdoors and sharing it with other women I think the more likely they will eventually become a little more interested. Of course you won’t convert everyone, but at least you can make it seem less foreign and more normalized.