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Iowan tells tales from the trail at O.W.L.S. presentation
April 17, 2017

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On October 2, 2016 Toni Proescholdt stood on top of Mount Katahdin. With her arms thrown in the air she captured a photo celebrating her 5 month, 10-day trek through the Appalachian Trail. That same day also happened to be her 24th birthday. Toni grew up in Lamoille, Iowa. She attended Iowa State University where she obtained a degree in biology. On Friday, April 7 Toni came to Otter Creek Lake and Park to share her experiences on the trail at an O.W.L.S. program event.

The Appalachian Trail is a National Scenic Trail that spans through 14 states from Georgia to Maine. The trail is 2,189.1 miles long. Originally suggested by Benton MacKaye in 1921, the Appalachian Trail was later completed in 1937. Toni set out on her journey in March of 2016 in Georgia. From there, she hiked the trail through 13 states including Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The trail contains all different types of terrain from mountains to lush, green forests as well as a variety of seasonal climate conditions. While on the trail Toni saw a all sorts of wildlife including bears, salamanders, rattle snakes, newts and wild ponies.

Some of the areas Toni hiked through included the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the State of Maryland with its lush vegetation and the Hemlock Forests of Massachusetts. The longest portion of the trail goes through Virginia. It took Toni over a month to make it through the state. While in Virginia the state recorded its rainiest month. The halfway point of the hike was in Pennsylvania. During Toni's presentation, she expressed feeling both a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of not ever wanting to do it again. In New Jersey, she experienced the hottest weather of the trail. To escape the heat some hikers would do most of their hiking in the morning and evening hours. During the day they would sometimes take a long break to go swimming or to rest.

Once she hit Vermont there was only a quarter of the trail remaining. Ironically this last portion of the trail was some of the most difficult terrain. The homestretch portion of the hike went through Maine. Toni said it was very rugged and remote with 100 miles of wilderness.

Hikers who hike the entire trail are referred to as "thru hikers." They carry all their supplies on their backs. The most common age for hikers according to Toni were folks in their 20s but she encountered people of all ages and from all walks of life while on the trail. Some people hiked solo while others hiked as couples or in groups. Toni started out the trip solo and made several friends along the way. Hikers were each given a unique trail name. Toni's trail name was Sphagnum P.I. which pleased the self-proclaimed biology nerd (Sphagnum is a type of moss) as it allowed for the rare Tom Selleck-peat moss word play opportunity.

The trail was marked with white blazes. Elevation changes were the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest 16 times. On the trail itself, you could find campsites, shelters, lakes and waterfalls. Hiking was done on or near roads, rivers, dirt tracks or on boulder scrambles which is basically climbing through boulders to continue on the trail.

Important gear to have really depends on the needs of each individual hiker. Some staples include a pack, shoes, sleep system, cook system, water treatment, clothes, trekking poles and first aid and food. Toni went through two pairs of Merrell hiking boots while on the trail. Toni touched briefly on the amount of money a hiker may need to get through the trail. She put in roughly $5000 and that included all her gear. Toni said that you could get by with less than that.

Regarding food, Toni consumed roughly 4,000-6,000 calories each day. While in town and before leaving for the trail she prepared dehydrated dinners. Some other food she ate on the trail included cereal with powdered milk, protein or granola bars, dried fruit, hard cheese, oatmeal, nuts, trail mix and any snacks or sweets. Toni admitted that towards the end of the trail she ate quite a few Little Debbie snacks just to get her calories in for the day.

Some of Toni's favorite memories were of two side trips to Washington D.C. and New York City where she had friends living. Toni was also on the news in Virginia sharing about bear sightings. While on the trail she saw seven black bears. A bigger fear for Toni however was the concern of ticks and Lyme disease. She did a thorough tick check after each day of hiking. She also got to see the Atlantic Ocean. Toni spoke fondly of the people she met and the community that is not only created on the trail but in towns surrounding the trail as several of them are very hiker friendly.

After finishing the trail Toni gained confidence in herself. Some of the things she learned were that she can take care of herself and accomplish goals. She also stated she gained a calmness in knowing she can handle situations that come her way.

Toni is currently living at home preparing for her next big adventure. She is prepping to hike the Pacific Crest Trail most commonly referred to as the PCT.

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