Flossmoor resident walks the 2,192 miles of the Appalachian Trail

Each year, fewer than 1,000 people walk the Appalachian Trail from end to end. Madeline Morris of Flossmoor is now one of them.
Morris hiked 2,192 miles, leaving from Griffin, Georgia, on March 16 and finishing at Mt. Katahdin in Maine on Sept. 25. She admits it was the hardest thing she’s done, and the most fulfilling. 
“I would recommend it in a heartbeat,” she said. “If you have that mental drive, then anybody can do it.”  
Yet it took her two years to commit to the idea of walking the trail that was first traveled from end-to-end in 1936. The Appalachian Trail, stretching 14 states, is the longest hiking-only trail in the world. 
“I knew I wanted a change and I wasn’t happy with what I was doing, and I was at my unhealthiest. I needed to do something. It was kind of like a little seed that got planted in my brain.”
She started researching the hike while completing her bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences at Colorado State University. She joined several Facebook groups to learn how others did it, what they recommended hikers bring with them, and how to prepare.
Before her trek, Morris, 24, had only gone on one hike.
“It’s what they call your shakedown. You take all your gear and make sure it all works out.” The hike was only four days and Morris admits there was “a very real possibility that I’d be defeated” walking from the south to the north of the United States.
But she was serious about her intentions and purchased all the gear she would carry on her back – a free-standing tent, a sleeping pad, a stove, food, a water filtration system, a bear bag, three sets of clothes, a trawl and a necessary supply of drugs, including an EpiPen which she used twice when she was stung by bees. The pack was 36 pounds at the start. By the end she’d gotten it down to 28 pounds. “You really figure out what you need when you’re carrying that on your back,” she said.
Morris quit her job as a medical scribe at University of Chicago/Ingalls Hospital and flew to Georgia and the start of the trail with her parents, George and Denise Morris. There’s an eight-mile approach – including 604 stairs at Amicalola Falls State Park—up to the top of Springer Mountain where the trail begins. She walked that with her dad. Her parents were supportive, but concerned and they caught up with her several times for short visits during her months away.
She walked alone the first few days and then joined up with two sisters and a brother from Georgia. She met people of all ages and from all regions of the country.
“The best thing (about the hike) is the people. It’s just a crazy community that I never thought I’d be a part of, and I never knew what it would mean to me. Everyone’s out there with the same goal and most of them are there for a dream of a lifetime. 
“It’s an emotional experience. You really, really get to know the people” because talking is the biggest part of passing time, she said. “They see you at your worst and they still are wanting to spend time with you and you’re still having the time of your life.”
Most days, Morris walked about 15 miles, but there were days when she’d take a break because of the weather, or make a trip into town for food. Her diet was Raman noodles, tuna packets and lots of wraps. 

/“I burned out on peanut butter really early. You try not to eat the same thing every time you buy food,” she said. Between the walking and a limited diet, she lost 50 pounds.
Hikers follow white markers that point the way. Today they also have apps that give them information on distance to the next shelter or town, the altitude and water sources.
Morris never found that the ground was flat – like Illinois. She walked through farm fields and cow pastures, along rivers, up and down hills and mountains. The scenery was spectacular, and fortunately the weather most days was good. One night the temperature dropped to 17 degrees, but it didn’t rain until her 10th day on the trail, which she considered a blessing.
“The hardest thing is the mental game. Physically you get used to the work you’re doing, but if you don’t have the reason or gumption about why you’re doing it it’s very easy to sit in your tent,” she said. “When it’s day 2 of rain, you’re soaked and miserable, there’s not enough food to get to the next town, you wonder: ‘Why am I actually out here?’ I had a couple of bad days, but most of the time it just felt right.”
The last few days were a real test. Hikers climb one mountain after another.
“You don’t have an option. You just do it. If you’re grumbling about the climbs then you’re kind of in trouble. In New Hampshire, you’re in the White Mt. National Park. The trail is straight up and straight down,” and at one point “you’re literally walking through a water fall.”
Morris said hiking is her passion now, although she won’t take a hike as long as the Appalachian Trail again. She’s planning to go back to school for a career as a physician’s assistant. What she did learn from her six-month experience is that “you can unplug from the life you think is so important. Nothing really matters on social media.”

Provided photos.

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