New Brunswick

'I needed to do it': Tabusintac woman conquers Appalachian Trail

Jessica MacLean had to prepare physically and mentally to hike from Georgia to Maine. It took her more than five months to complete the journey.

It took Jessica MacLean five months and five days to complete her journey

Jessica MacLean of Tabusintac, N.B., celebrates completing the Appalachian Trail on Mount Katahdin in Maine. (Submitted by Jessica MacLean)

When a post about the Appalachian Trail appeared on Facebook, Jessica MacLean's curiosity got the best of her. She began searching what it was all about.

"You start getting into this internet wormhole where you're finding out about this trail and it just clicked. I was like, 'Oh, I want to do this.'

"The more I looked into it, the more it made sense that I needed to do it." 

MacLean, a 26-year-old university graduate, spent five months and five days hiking the 3,500-kilometre trail from Georgia to Maine.

She finished her journey on Oct. 9, just in time to spend Thanksgiving with her family in Tabusintac, N.B.

While her journey began on May 4 in Georgia, mere days after her graduation, MacLean said she had been preparing for months. She got in better shape, purchased what she required and learned to carry around a backpack.

Mental challenge

But MacLean said the biggest challenge was to get mentally prepared. 

"The trail is challenging physically, but it's also more challenging mentally," she said. "It's more of a mental game because you can get used to hiking, but can you get used to being wet every day? Can you get used to the pain and just pushing through?"

Jessica MacLean, 26, began her journey to walk the Appalachian Trail on May 4 on Springer Mountain in Georgia. (Submitted by Jessica MacLean)

To prepare for that side of it, MacLean did some reading.

"Can I do it, can I do it? And if you convince yourself you can do it, you end up doing it."

She said she faced a mental challenge on her first day on the trail. As she hiked up Springer Mountain, it began raining heavily. 

She wondered what she was doing. "The rain was pouring down so hard that the water was coming down the trail like chocolate milk." 

But MacLean kept going. She said every day brought new challenges, but she quickly learned how to adapt and each day got easier.  

"It's a lifestyle change when you leave all your comforts at home to just jump into the woods." 

Adventurous side

MacLean said she gets her adventurous side from her father, Ferris, a retired RCMP officer who wanted to hike the trail with her.

Her mother, Janie, was not so keen for her youngest child to head out on the adventure alone, but soon realized her daughter was going to do it anyway. 

But Janie became her daughter's biggest cheerleader. She shared photos and information on Facebook that she received from her daughter on the journey. 

Jessica MacLean said the views of the mountains along the trail were breathtaking. (Submitted by Jessica MacLean)

MacLean said she grew to be more independent over the five months.

"I'm more self-reliant," she said. "I can go out there and take care of myself and sustain this way of living." 

MacLean was given the trail name Maple Leaf on her first day.

She said because she met so many different people she learned to accept everyone had different views on many things and it was OK. 

Overall, she said there was nothing about the hike she regrets. She said she'd do it again.

"There definitely were tough days where I was like, 'I want to quit, I want to go home, this sucks,' because there are parts of the trail that suck. But I never had this feeling of, 'OK, I'm done.'" 

Blackflies, rain and pain

She said battling blackflies, hot and cold temperatures, rain, pain and more was hard, but she said she learned to go on.

Jessica MacLean said she spent a lot of time getting mentally prepared to walk the trail. (Submitted by Jessica MacLean)

As she neared the end, MacLean said she was on an emotional roller-coaster. She craved the comforts of home, but then realized she'd miss being on the trail with friends she had met along the way. 

"I'm going to miss them," she said of the group that hiked with her from start to finish. "I was also shocked every day that I had made it this far."

MacLean said she became emotional when she reached the end of the trail on Mount Katahdin in Maine. 

"Once you get there, you can't believe it," she said. "I teared up. I'm laughing. I'm looking around. It's surreal.

"It's an unexplainable feeling because you walked all the way there, and it's impossible you think in your brain to walk all the way from Georgia to Maine." 

What's next

MacLean's parents were waiting when she and her friends came down from the mountain. They had a champagne celebration with them before everyone started for home.

MacLean said she's now planning to head to northern Canada to teach music.

But her long-term plans include hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. The 4,265-kilometre trail starts on the U.S.-Mexico border and goes north through California, Oregon, and Washington before ending at the U.S.-Canada border.

But for now, MacLean is enjoying her time with her family and friends before her next adventure begins.