Grand Rapids, Mich.—In February, Mitch Holder took a sabbatical from his job as an Andy J. Egan. Co. Service Technician to tackle an ambitious goal. He set out to hike the entire Appalachian Trail – a 2,198.4-mile trek – after also selling his house and his truck to fund his journey. Despite an early setback, Mitch completed the thru-hike on July 17. After catching up with family and settling back into the “real world,” he returned to his role at Egan and shared the highs and lows of his time on the trail.
Though most of Mitch’s hike went as planned, a knee injury set him back several days while he was still in the Smokey Mountains. He spent a few days resting in a local hostel to recover and credits his pre-hike weight training regimen with his quick return to the trail. “It helped me bounce back and prevented other injuries,” explained Mitch, who said he never considered quitting. “It wasn’t an option because I had too much on the line after selling my house and my truck. Your ‘why’ has to be very strong. I watched some of the best hikers quit because they got homesick and didn’t have a strong enough reason to continue.”
To combat homesickness himself, Mitch’s family and girlfriend visited him at key points along the route. Even with these short breaks from his trek, Mitch was among the first hikers of the year to complete the full Appalachian Trail. An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 hikers attempt the hike each year, with only 20 to 25% of those completing it. Mitch was the 81st Northbound (or “NoBo”) hiker to check in the endpoint of Mt. Katahdin in Maine.
As he closed in on the end of his journey, Mitch found southern Maine to be most mentally challenging. “Both New Hampshire and Maine had record rainfalls and parts of the trail were ankle to waist deep with water,” he said. “I woke up wet and went to bed wet. I was wet all day, and the bugs were the worst I’d ever seen in my life. I had hundreds of bites on my legs.” His only regret is not starting the trail even earlier to avoid the bugs and rainfall. “The cold is easier to deal with than the bugs,” explained Mitch, whose route started when the temperature was regularly below freezing.
“It was the hardest but most fun thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he continued. Mitch especially enjoyed the views as he made his way through the Triple Crown of Virginia’s Blue Ridge, which consists of Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs. It’s the memory of the mountains themselves that will stick with Mitch in his everyday life. “Whenever I hit an obstacle or a roadblock, I’ll look at it like a mountain I thought was impassable,” he said. “But it’s just one more hill I need to climb and get over.”