Photo by Kyle O’Grady
Read something else

My Trail Story featuring Nar Nar

Kyle O'Grady, a.k.a Nar Nar, shares the story of how he became a thru-hiker from his first ever hike to summiting Mt. Katahdin on the Appalachian Trail.

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

Trail Name: Nar Nar

Trails Hiked: Long Trail (section, 2012-2013, thru-hiked in 2016), Appalachian Trail, thru-hiked in 2018

Age: 23

 

My Trail Story: I was fortunate to have grown up in the Burlington, Vermont area. It’s a fantastic place for anybody into outdoor recreation, and this certainly holds true for people who are into hiking. The High Peaks of the Adirondacks lay to the West, just on the opposite side of Lake Champlain. The White Mountains in New Hampshire are an easy weekend drive to the East. And perhaps the best perk of the area is that the country’s oldest long distance trail, the Long Trail, is easily accessible from anywhere within Vermont. This makes it hard to find an excuse not to head into the woods when you need to get away for a night or two.

I didn’t realize that I was living in a hiker’s paradise until I was 15 years old. A few friend’s took me up Mount Mansfield, the highest peak in Vermont, and as cliche as it sounds, by the time our parents picked us up at the bottom I knew I wanted to get back out there ASAP. A few weeks later we did Camels Hump, another 4,000 foot peak in the area. It wasn’t long before I was on YouTube, learning all about the challenge of hiking the Long Trail end-to-end. I also found out about the Appalachian Trail through this research, and couldn’t believe that some people were crazy enough to hike over 2,000 miles in one shot. If only.

A hiker stands on the Mount Katahdin sign on the Appalachian Trail.
Photo by Kyle O’Grady
A teenage boy hiking.
Photo by Kyle O’Grady

I was still in high school when I learned about the Appalachian Trail, so rather than making big plans for a thru-hike, I figured I should start small and knock out sections of the Long Trail during my summer breaks. After recruiting my friend Dan “Goobs” Pierce, we began to bug our parents about shuttling us up and down the trail when we had free time from our summer jobs. By the time our Junior year of high school rolled around, we had officially completed the entire trail. I felt great about this accomplishment, but knew I wanted more. At this point I had pretty much decided that I was going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail at the first available opportunity. Somehow, my 17 year old self had the foresight to anticipate this opportunity coming immediately following my college graduation.

During my four years in college I spent as much time as I could in the mountains. I began to work towards hiking every 4,000 foot peak in New England and New York. I finished the 48 New Hampshire peaks in July of 2017, and also summited 40 of the 46 peaks in the Adirondacks. In addition, I managed to squeeze in a failed attempt of the Northville-Placid Trail, and round two of the Long Trail, this time as a thru-hike.

Every time I got into the backcountry, I thought about the Appalachian Trail, trying to get a jump start on the mental preparation needed to hike over 2,000 miles in one summer. Every hike I did was leading up to the AT. I was having so much fun that I didn’t even realize this until I was standing on top of Springer Mountain.

On May 12th, 2018, I graduated college. Most of my friends spent the following days visiting with family and friends, celebrating their accomplishment, but I had no such desire. I wanted to get on the trail as fast as possible. My parents and sister were incredibly supportive of my goal and drove me 1,000 miles from Potsdam NY, a tiny college town just shy of the Canadian border, to Amicalola Falls State Park in Northern Georgia. I summited Springer Mountain around 48 hours after I walked on stage and received my diploma.

A group of guys hiking pose by a trail sign on the Appalachian Trail.
Photo by Kyle O’Grady
A guy hiking the Appalachian Trail sits on the steps of a building with his backpack next to him.
Photo by Kyle O’Grady
A hiker stands in the woods pointing at an Appalchian Trail sign.
Photo by Kyle O’Grady

“This is it,” I thought. “I am now starting this goal I’ve been thinking about for the past 5 years.” I wish I could say I was excited when I passed under the arch and headed up the Approach Trail, but the truth is, I was extremely nervous. In the past I had hiked through nasty thunderstorms, unbearable heat waves, and seemingly never-ending rain. Knowing that I was going to have to push myself through all of these things for months on end was a daunting realization, and for my first few days I questioned whether or not this was something I really wanted to do. Despite the rough start, I kept pushing North, and can honestly say I never doubted myself again once I got a hundred miles under my belt.

It seemed like the further I hiked, the faster my experience went by. It felt ages before I reached Damascus ,Virginia, about 470 miles into the trail. From there, the next 550 miles flew by and I before I knew it, I was in Harpers Ferry. Some hikers complain of getting the Virginia Blues during this stretch, but I tried to focus on how far I had come at the end of every day. I tried not to dwell on how many miles I had left. That being said, it sure felt damn good walking out of Harpers Ferry and over the border into Maryland.

At this point, my confidence was running high; I knew that the second half of the trail would be no joke, but thought, “Hey, if I could get past the first half, why shouldn’t I be able to crush the second half?!” For those of you who will be thru-hiking in the future, I still believe this is true! Don’t focus on making it to Katahdin; focus on making it to Harpers Ferry, or even Damascus. If you can make it there, you can make it to Harpers Ferry, and then you’ll be standing on top the famous mountain before you know it.

I kept grinding through rain storms and heat waves, trying to take things a day at a time. Even though I was more than halfway, I still didn’t want to think too much about Katahdin. I was able to continue this mindset until I made it to Vermont. I still had over 500 miles to go, but making it back to my home state felt so damn good! Not only was I back in familiar territory, but when I had started the trail, Vermont seemed so far away that it might as well have been the same distance as Katahdin. At this point, the realization that I was likely going to finish the Appalachian Trail started to become clear.

From Vermont onwards, I fought a constant battle with my ego. The end to my hike seemed tangible, so I was trying extra hard to enjoy the time I had left. But I had been on the trail for 3 months at this point, and getting a taste of the finish line was enough to get me excited for my post-trail life. I was walking the fine line of trying to soak in the experience, while still hauling ass to Katahdin so I could finish what I started. By the time I made it to Maine, I knew that I needed to do something to stay involved with the trail community once I integrated back into normal society. “Why not start a podcast?” I thought to myself. I told some fellow hikers about this at the time, and I don’t think they realized I was serious.

A group of guys hiking the Appalachian Trail sit on a bench with their backpacks.
Photo by Kyle O’Grady

I summited Katahdin on October 1st, 2018. Walking up to the famous “Northern Terminus” sign, a moment I had tried so hard not to think about, had finally happened. I celebrated with my trail friends, shed a few tears, and hiked back down the mountain. Now it was time to get back to real life. What a strange concept.

My trail friends soon found out that I wasn’t blowing smoke about the podcast, and by the beginning of November I launched my first three episodes of “Trail Tales.” Those same friends would be my first guests on the show, and their insight helped me go from a clueless podcaster, to a slightly-less clueless podcaster with a bit of experience under my belt. Running the show has given me a great outlet to share my stories, and highlight the experiences of other backpackers who have amazing insight on a magnitude of different subjects. I learn something new with every episode I make.

Thank you for reading my trail story. It was fun being able to put this in writing, but I feel the need to say that you’re reading only part of a story which will hopefully continue for many years to come. Most thru-hikers will agree that once you’ve become accustomed to life on the trail, it’s tough to ever imagine yourself going too long without it. Fortunately for me, I think Vermont has got me covered on that end. I look forward to more in the future; thru-hikes, day hikes, and everything in between.

A hiker stands on top of the Mount Katahdin sign on the Appalachian Trail.
Photo by Kyle O’Grady

Want to keep up with all that’s going on at Atlas Guides? Sign up for our newsletter!

Read more!

Check out some related blog posts!

Get our trail guide for this area!

Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is one of the oldest National Scenic Trails in the US. Its path takes you from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

2200 mi (3540 km)       $59.99 full guide
Learn more
Pennsylvania, Appalachian Trail
Photo by Zoë Symon
Pennsylvania, Appalachian Trail
Photo by Zoë Symon

Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is one of the oldest National Scenic Trails in the US. Its path takes you from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

2200 mi (3540 km)
$59.99 full guide
Learn more
Get our trail guide for this area!
About the Author
A woman wearing a denim jacket and a brown hat stands in a field of wildflowers.

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, places, and nature, which might explain why she has almost 47,000 photos currently residing on her phone. She takes care of all things related to social media and marketing and recently moved to Denver, CO from Flagstaff, AZ. You may find her frolicking around the trails and mountains of Colorado, or exploring the new city she gets to call home.