Photo by Kate Stelfox
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My Trail Story featuring Croc

Kate Stelfox, a.k.a. Croc, talks about her experiences thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail.

Natalie McMillan      My Trail Story       01/31/2019
Natalie McMillan
My Trail Story
01/31/2019

What trail(s) did you hike? 

  • The Appalachian Trail in 2016 northbound
  • The Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 southbound

 

What was one thing you wish you knew before you started?

Honestly, nothing? I think one of the reasons the Appalachian Trail was so special to me, and the Pacific Crest Trail suffered from a bit of ‘second child syndrome,’ was because I didn’t know anything about anything before heading out on the Appalachian Trail. I grew up outdoorsy and spending time outside, so I suppose I knew more than some people, but I didn’t know much about thru-hiking or trail culture. This made every moment challenging, exciting, and incredibly rewarding. I was constantly surprised by trail life. I would tell people not to stress about not knowing everything before hitting the trail because most things can be learned as you go.

 

What was your favorite food on the trail?

Ramen has a serious place in my heart. I never tired of it. In fact, I think it’s a big reason why I’m seriously considering walking across a portion of Japan. Think of the ramen selection. There is also no way I could do a thru-hike without hot coffee in the morning. When my food bag allows, I’ll carry hazelnut coffee creamer powder with me. It’s delicious and turns my coffee into a 250 calorie breakfast drink. Some people have pointed out the extra weight that I carry because of this, but I maintain it’s worth it for a sunny disposition in the morning.

A woman stands with a cigar next to the southern terminus monument of the Pacific Crest Trail.
“Croc” Photo by Kate Stelfox

What advice would you give to someone who has never done a thru hike before?

Remember that thru-hiking is a privilege. You’re going to spend a lot of money to look like you’re pretty hard done by. Not everyone is going to be able to do what you’re about to. So when it’s rained for the fourth day in a row, you’ve been snowed out of the mountains, or you’re just plain tired, remember how lucky you are to be out there.

 

Would you do another thru-hike? If yes, which trail is next?

I would love to continue finding elaborate ways to avoid working, and thru-hiking seems to be my favorite way so far, so yes. I have a few hiking aspirations for some smaller trails in the next year or so, but my plan is to be on the Continental Divide Trail for Spring 2020. And as I mentioned earlier, I would love to walk across a section of Japan.

A woman poses next to the Mount Washington Summit sign.
Photo by Kate Stelfox
A girl sits on the ground next to a trail sign post.
Photo by Kate Stelfox
A hiker with a backpack poses on top of a rock pile.
Photo by Kate Stelfox

What was your favorite feature in our app?

I loved the elevation profile feature, more so when I was heading down the climb instead of up it. The elevation profile allowed me to plan my day based on how difficult I thought it was going to be. It gave me a realistic expectation of how far I would make it that day. My second favorite would be the map feature that shows your direction and location as a moving blue arrow along the trail, or off the trail more importantly. This feature came in handy on Mount Washington when I and a couple of other hikers were making our way down to the Madison Spring Hut. It was a bit of a white out rain storm that day and we could hardly see the cairns meant to guide our way. We managed to get completely off trail and were headed down the wrong side of the mountain. Using the map feature we were able to steer ourselves back up in the right direction, rejoin the trail, and make it safely to the hut in time for hot chocolate.

 

How many pairs of shoes did you go through?

On both the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail I went through four pairs of shoes. I’ve gone back and forth between Solomon trail runners and HOKAs. I would have to say my favorite shoe has been the Torrent by HOKA. With that said, I have also hiked over five hundred miles of trail in my Crocs and found it incredibly comfortable, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

What do you wish you had done differently?

After my first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I was looking back on photos and I couldn’t believe how many I took of the same mountain or lake. All the landscape photos seemed to blur together, and I can honestly say I hardly look back on them. But the pictures I have of people and videos of us goofing off on the trail – those are the ones I look back on all the time. I wish I had taken more photos of my friends and enjoyed the views of the mountains without my phone more. On the Pacific Crest Trail, I took way more photos of people and less of the views. I’m pretty happy with that decision.

 

I also wish I had not sent myself re-supply packages ahead of time for the Pacific Crest Trail. Resupplying along the entire trail is a breeze, and wasn’t worth the stress of making it to post offices on time before they closed or tracking down packages that didn’t arrive on time. Even as a sobo going through the High Sierras during low season, I still felt it wasn’t necessary to send food resupplies ahead of myself. 

A woman with a backpack climbs up a snowy mountain.
Photo by Kate Stelfox
A woman posing against a wall with street art.
Photo by Kate Stelfox

Did you ever reach a point where you wanted to quit? How did you stay motivated to finish?

I remember walking into Harpers Ferry, the ceremonial midway point on the Appalachian Trail, crying. I had found out a few days prior that I was accepted into graduate school in the fall. I felt like I should go home to mentally prepare, not to mention save up some more money before heading back to school. I had this feeling like I wasn’t in the right place. I never seriously considered quitting, but that night I was feeling sorry for myself and toying with the idea when a section hiker asked me to dinner. It was her first night on the trail and she was feeling nervous. Sitting at the restaurant that night she told me her life story and how she hoped the trail would bring the necessary changes she needed in her life. She wanted to know what the trail had done for me so far, and why I was still hiking on to Maine. Opening up to her about how the trail had changed my perspective on life and what I wanted out of it, I realized I was exactly where I was meant to be and got back on the trail the next morning.


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Get our hiking guide for this area!

Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail is an epic journey of over 2650 miles (4260 km) and is one of the most popular thru-hiking trails in the United States. Its path travels from the US-Mexico border to the northern US-Canada border, passing through California, Oregon, and Washington.

2650 miles
$29.99 full guide
Explore the Trail
About the Author
A woman wearing a baseball cap and American flag tank top stands in front of a beautiful view.

Natalie McMillan

Natalie grew up hiking in Arizona where she fell in love with the outdoors. Her favorite hikes are to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon and Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, UT. She loves taking pictures of people and places and nature, which might explain why she has almost 23,000 photos currently residing on her phone. She takes care of all things social media/marketing-related and might be seen frolicking around Flagstaff taking photos of the Arizona Trail.