Grand Rapids, Mich.—Mitch Holder had lifelong travel plans in 2020 that, like many plans, were interrupted by the pandemic. “When I was in grade school, I told myself that I wanted to do something really big when I turned 28, for my Golden Birthday,” said Mitch, referring to the year one’s date of birth corresponds with their age. “I was supposed to go to Thailand, but then COVID-19 happened.”
Instead, Mitch leaned into his love of backpacking, hiking locations like Pictured Rocks, Isle Royle and the North Country Trail. “But my soul was still craving an adventure,” he said, explaining that his backpacking experiences and canceled Golden Birthday trip prompted his decision to attempt to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. “I told myself either go for it now, or I’m never going to do it,” said Mitch, now 30 years old.
But “going for it” takes a significant amount of preparation ahead of the nearly 2,200 mile trail. Mitch, who works as a service technician for mechanical contractor Andy J Egan Co., has been coordinating with colleagues to manage his two primary accounts in his absence. There have been financial and physical preparations as well. To fund his journey, Mitch renovated and sold his house, and has been living with family for the last 8 months. In 2022, his “practice” hikes were up to 50 miles in length, and he’s continued to workout 3-5 days/week, focusing on cardio, incline walking and weight training.
While hiking the full Appalachian Trail is a more popular endeavor than it was 20-30 years ago, only 1 in 4 hikers complete the full trail. The rest end their journey early due to injury, illness, fatigue, financial difficulties, or a myriad of other reasons. “I’ve done everything I can to minimize all of those,” said Mitch, who will officially begin his adventure on February 15. He’ll start off with everything he needs on his back – a tent, food, clothes and sleep system – at an elevation of about 3,700 feet, in 20-degree weather at Springer Mountain, Georgia. The average hiker takes between 5 and 7 months to complete the trail, so if all goes as planned, Mitch will return home in late July or early August. In the meantime, his colleagues at Egan – along with his family and friends – will be back home cheering him on!