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Home Backpacking Briana DeSanctis Becomes First Solo Woman To Complete 6,800-Mile American Discovery Trail

Briana DeSanctis Becomes First Solo Woman To Complete 6,800-Mile American Discovery Trail

by Staff

In a remarkable display of endurance and determination, Briana “Rocky Mountain High” DeSanctis took her finishing steps on the 6,800-mile American Discovery  Trail (ADT) on Saturday, February 10, 2024. Crossing the metaphorical finish line on California’s Limantour Beach on Point Reyes National Seashore made her the first woman to solo thru-hike this continuous coast-to-coast trail.

DeSanctis’s historic  journey, which began as a personal quest for adventure two years ago, evolved into an epic odyssey of self-discovery and empowerment.

A 6,800-Mile Journey Across America

DeSanctis at the start of her two-year journey on the American Discovery Trail. Via @brianadesanctis on Instagram

DeSanctis got hooked on long-distance backpacking when she thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail back in 2015. Upon completion, she was hungry for more — longer trails, tougher terrain. In search of her next great challenge, she set her sights on the behemoth ADT.

The ADT spans 6,800 miles from Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware to Point Reyes National Seashore in California. It traverses 14 national parks, 15 states, 16 national forests, and 10,000 sites of historical importance. Most utilize this trail for day or section hikes; few have completed the entire thing in one push.

A Solitary Journey

“The American Discovery Trail is still only a few decades old and I met less than 4 other hikers who were attempting to hike coast-to-coast while I was on it,” said DeSanctis. “My best moments on trail were the times I was completely alone for days on end without seeing another human. To be in tune with oneself and to have the mental fortitude to enjoy these solitary instances for so long — 5 days sometimes — is so good for us.

Embarking on her trek from the eastern shores of Delaware, DeSanctis traversed a myriad of terrains. From the verdant forests of the Appalachian Mountains to the arid deserts of the southwest and the familiar rugged Rocky Mountain peaks of Colorado, she embraced the beauty and challenges of the American landscape with unwavering resolve.

“You’ve got to understand, I’m a mountain girl. I hiked from Delaware to Denver first, taking the southern route: 2,700-ish miles. Most of this was on rail trails, secondary roads, and bike paths. I had to hike through lots of flat land, and it was mid-September by the time I crossed the border into colorful Colorado. The elation of finally being in my Rocky Mountain homeland was short-lived,” recalled DeSanctis about the first half of her journey.

Northern Route or Southern Route … Why Not Both?

The trail adds a bit of spice to one’s journey, where it splits in Ohio for a northern or southern route, ultimately reconvening in Denver. Motivated by the purity of hiking the entirety of this trail, DeSanctis impressively covered both routes.

DeSanctis hiked through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and as much of Colorado’s mountains as she could before winter fell. In early December, she retracted her steps with a flight back to Cincinnati to then tackle the northern route: Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and once again Colorado.

“All that hiking to get to the sunny, wondrous mountains, just to be shat out of an airplane in the middle of a cold, grey winter in the Midwest. It was mostly the anticipation that brought me down, but a couple of great friends hung out with me for a couple days before dropping me back at the intersection. That definitely boosted my mental state from the initial blow.”

NEXT – Backpacker Radio #206: Briana DeSanctis on Hiking the 6,800-Mile American Discovery Trail

Trail Magic

As DeSanctis pressed forward on her westward trek, she encountered a tapestry of experiences that enriched her journey beyond measure. From the kindness of strangers offering shelter and sustenance to the solitude of the wilderness, each encounter left an indelible mark on her soul.

Atop Webster Pass in Colorado with trail angels Karen (right), Howard (left), and Kodiak (the four-legged one in the front). Via @brianadesanctis on Instagram

In contrast to the crowded AT, DeSanctis said that on the ADT, “there would be no hiker camaraderie, bubble, or trail family. That left only the civilians of society; the dog walkers, joggers, vehicular passers-by. 97 percent of the people I met did not even know the American Discovery Trail existed,” she said. “The human interactions I had hardly fell short of positive. If you put the love out there, it will come right back to you in many different ways.”

A Two-Year Trek Comes to an End

As DeSanctis reached the Pacific Ocean early in the morning on February 10th, she was greeted by a chorus of cheers and applause from friends, family, and fellow adventurers. Tears of joy streamed down her face as she embraced her loved ones, her heart overflowing with reflection for the journey that had brought her to this moment.

“You can see my tracks in the sand in a social media photo, but I feel like my feet have not even hit the ground since I completed my hike,” DeSanctis reflected.

Briana DeSanctis took the final few steps of her 6,800-mile journey into the Pacific. Via @brianadesanctis on Instagram

Looking ahead, DeSanctis’s journey is far from over. Although her two-year trek across America has come to an end, there’s no doubt there’s more of that to come. In addition to regularly sharing about her hike on social media to an amassed audience, DeSanctis also regularly wrote for Maine’s the Daily Bulldog and strives to empower people with stories of her journey, especially young girls, as a public speaker.

Since her return, she has been working every day, handling media interviews, attending talk shows in New York City, writing her memoir, and booking motivational speaking tours across the country. She also has a new website forthcoming.

“My mission is to inspire others and to empower women to do what they truly want to do,” explained DeSanctis. “There are so many challenges we face in life, and sometimes it feels like the world is against us. With a lot of hard work and perseverance, nearly anything is possible.”

So, what’s next for DeSanctis? When I asked her, she simply winked and responded, “I can’t give away secrets.”

Featured image courtesty of @brianadesanctis via Instagram.

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