You probably know that Saddleback is part of the Appalachian Trail. The AT crosses Saddleback’s summit and ascends The Horn and Saddleback Junior, before winding northeast to Carrabassett Valley. You probably don’t not know the story of Jenny Bush, a 24-year-old AT thru-hiker and Saddleback employee. In the span of a few short months Jenny went from loading lifts to loading up her pack and everything she owned on her back to complete the 2,190+ mile AT trek crossing through 14 states all the way from Georgia to Maine.

As one can imagine, AT thru-hiking is no easy feat. Rather than completing the trail in sections, AT thru-hikers opt to do the trail in its entirety, only stopping to camp and restock food, water and supplies. Jenny faced many physical and mental struggles but never gave up. She’s back in Maine and looking forward to a fun winter season at Saddleback. We caught up with Jenny to learn more about her adventure of a lifetime.

What inspired you to go on this adventure?

Jenny: My thru-hike was inspired by many things. I spent a lot of time during my summer throughout high school hiking the White Mountains in New Hampshire with my mom. We often would come across thru-hikers on certain trails and I thought they were the coolest people and found myself envying their adventure. I ultimately set a goal for myself that I too, someday would hike the Appalachian Trail. Never did I believe that it would happen so soon but I am so grateful to have had the time and opportunity to hike the trail this past summer.

What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

Jenny: The biggest challenge that I faced on the trail was my mental health. I have struggled with my mental health since high school and believed that hiking the trail would provide a physical coping mechanism. Early on, I struggled with severe homesickness. I remember asking myself why I had left my family, friends and Saddleback to go live in the woods alone for six months. I felt like my mental health was getting worse and I feared that I would have to get off trail so early on. Due to my competitive nature, there was absolutely no way that I would quit on day two. It was not an option for me. After some tough love from my parents, I pushed forward and ended up meeting two guys the next day who I ended up hiking with for two months. A few days later, I met a girl who I would finish the trail with.

About a month into my trek, I dealt with a severe case of norovirus that knocked me off trail for 4-5 days. Looking back, this was certainly one of the worst experiences I had while on the trail, physically and maybe mentally. I went from hiking 17 miles a day to barely being able to walk down to the Super 8 lobby in Erwin, TN to add another night to my stay. I was unable to eat anything which made me incredibly weak but after many sleeves of saltines and two bottles of Pedialyte, I summoned the strength to get back on trail.

Before I began, I found myself texting my parents telling them I could not do it. As I cried at the trail head, I was once again given tough love. My dad said to me, “fine come home then”. That one statement lit a fire in me (he knew it would) and I persevered. The four-mile hike that I had to do to the first shelter proved to be the hardest miles I would do on the entire trail. I have my parents to thank for using some good old reverse psychology and the rest was history. Throughout my journey I learned that many hikers share similar stories and struggles just like me. It made me feel seen, understood, and reiterated the fact that I am not alone. The trail has made me a stronger and more confident woman and I am so grateful for that.

How did your experience working at Saddleback/ties to Rangeley influence your journey?

Jenny: Being a part of the Saddleback and Rangeley environment had a profound impact on me while on the trail. I received so much support from my co-workers and the entire Saddleback family from start to finish. I felt like the luckiest hiker having this place to come back to. I often would brag about how the trail crosses right over my place of work. Not sure how many hikers got to say that. Although I fell in love with the AT, my excitement to return to Saddleback and Rangeley allowed me to conquer the trail physically and mentally.

What date did you start the AT and when did you finish?

Jenny: I started the Appalachian Trail on April 1st, and I finished on September 26th.

What advice do you have for other hikers or someone thinking about going on a similar journey?

Jenny: My biggest advice to someone considering hiking the trail would be to not be afraid. Take a leap of faith and get out there and try it. The trail truly does provide in ways you can’t imagine. It was the best decision I ever made and it’s a time in my life that I will not forget.

Mid April in the Smoky Mountains

 

The best visit from my parents in Bland, VA over memorial day weekend

Mid May entering Damascus, VA (the start of the longest state in trail)

The end of the Journey, September 26th, 2021, Mt. Katahdin

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