When Fort Wayne native Trevor Krall took his first step Feb. 22 on the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, his main goal was to finish before his 30th birthday and complete the hike in about five months. On July 25, he completed his journey, two weeks before his self-imposed deadline.
When he started out on the trail that spans from Georgia to Maine, little did he know that at one point along the way he’d find himself buried in a blizzard in the Smokey Mountains, not knowing if he would freeze to death before morning. At another point, he found himself crammed into a small bit of old canal near Harper’s Fair for four hours while a tornado swirled around him.
He also hadn’t expected to find himself in the hands of a caring elderly couple in New Hampshire’s White Mountains who fed him and gave him Tylenol to help him shake a fever that was threatening to bring his adventure to an early close.
Documenting the journey
Krall, a 2007 Homestead High School graduate, documented these adventures and others with video, photos and daily journal. He plans to use the material to produce a documentary.
“It’s not going to be an instructional piece on how to tackle the trail,” Krall said, “but portray the overall experience from an emotional and physical standpoint and highlight the challenges facing a hiker on the Appalachian Trail.”
More information about the upcoming documentary can be found in a few months on Instagram and Facebook at ripplemakingwaves. Ripple was his trail name (nobody uses their given name on the trail).
Looking back, Krall said he didn’t decide to challenge the trail on a whim. He started thinking about it while playing bass guitar on tour with Pink Droyd between 2012 and 2015.
The book “Hiking Thru” peaked his interest and with a copy of a trail map he was able to mentally follow the writer every step of the way. He really got serious when he did the math and learned that if he put $11 a day in a shoebox for two years, he’d have enough money to make the journey a reality.
Taking the first step
Krall’s experience in the woods, however, was limited to a three-day camp-out and the furthest he’d ever hiked was around six miles on flat ground. After four months of sweating on a Stairmaster machine it dawned on him that it wasn’t really helping that much and that the best way to approach it was to let the trail whip him into shape.
Krall and his girlfriend — Julia Tankel, a North Side High School graduate now living in New Orleans — drove to the Smoky Mountains, parked at Clingman Dome in North Carolina and hiked a mile to the first trail marker.
“I touched it,” said Krall, “and at that moment decided to go for it. Julia was in total support and said that when I come upon this marker I should remember this day, think of her and be proud of myself.”
He decided to begin at the original starting point for the trail, which was in Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia.
“Though it added 10 miles to the trip, I decided to begin there out of respect for the trail and to honor what it stands for,” Krall said. “I was really excited to get started, but truthfully I was terrified. I knew I was a beginner and a lot of things were going through my mind, particularly how I would survive as a backpacker during the next five months.”
“Julia hiked the first 10 miles with me to Spring Mountain, Georgia, which is now the official trailhead. It was good to have her by my side. I think it helped calm me down and get me focused on the daunting task ahead,” he said. “Thinking of her throughout the next 2,000 miles kept me going when the going was really tough.”
In his 30-pound backpack Krall carried a tent, inflatable air mattress, goose down quilt, butane stove, head lamp, two sets of all-wool clothing, a titanium cup for his daily morning coffee and his GoPro camera, which he used to video his progress and shoot more than 1,000 photos.
An unplanned addition to his pack was a ukulele given him at his going away party in New Orleans.
“I had never played one, but figured my experience on the bass guitar should help me pick it up and give me something to do when camped along the trail,” he said.
Finding his way
It took Krall three weeks to get his legs solidly under him and 500 miles before he could climb from the bottom of a mountain to the top with only a few seconds rest along the way.
“I think that having played ice hockey for 17 years helped maintain balance on sloppy, rocky trails,” he said. “It would have been easy to turn an ankle or even break a leg. I was blessed that nothing like that happened to me.”
“One of the biggest concerns was getting norovirus from other hikers in the shelters,” Krall said. “That’s one of the reasons I decided to start my hike in February instead of March like most do. I did what is called ‘stealth camping’ on my own rather than with a bunch of other hikers. My tent was camouflaged, so when the sun went down my camp was practically invisible.”
The first five states were fairly “forgiving” said Krall, but Pennsylvania was another story.
“The trail was basically mud and rocks, and there were no beautiful vistas to observe. I was, however, able to record my best distance day. I covered 40 miles in 22 hours and passed the half-way sign at 2:30 a.m. Not surprisingly, there was no fanfare because I was the only one there,” he said.
“Things got tougher when I hit New Hampshire and Maine where at times the inclines were so steep I had to go on my hands and knees. At times I was above the tree line (4,000 feet) and able to see 80 to 100 miles in every direction,” he said.
“I was getting close to the finish line at the summit of Mt. Katahdin so I pushed hard to beat a coming storm. Once again, I was the only one there. Even though there was nobody to celebrate with, it was a powerful moment and brought out every possible emotion at the same time.
“It was the greatest feeling ever!”