Sunday, February 25, 2024
Home Backpacking It’s One of the World’s Longest Trails—and She’s the First Woman to Hike it All

It’s One of the World’s Longest Trails—and She’s the First Woman to Hike it All

by Staff

“], “filter”: { “nextExceptions”: “img, blockquote, div”, “nextContainsExceptions”: “img, blockquote, a.btn, a.o-button”} }”>

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members!
>”,”name”:”in-content-cta”,”type”:”link”}}”>Download the app.

Briana “Rocky Mountain High ” DeSanctis, 40, was 43 miles away from the Pacific Coast on a 6,800-mile thru-hike of the American Discovery Trail (ADT) when she picked up the phone for an interview. She was sitting in a hostel in San Francisco, a little over two years after beginning her venture to become the first recorded woman to thru-hike the entirety of the ADT.

The ADT stretches from the coast of Delaware to the Pacific Coast through 15 states, 16 national forests, and 14 national parks. The trail started to come to fruition in 1989 when the American Hiking Society and Backpacker proposed building a coast-to-coast hike. But most people who set foot on the ADT use it as a local recreational trail, and only a few people have ever attempted to hike the whole thing from end to end.

After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2015, DeSanctis was hunting for her next big adventure when she discovered the ADT.

“I just Googled ‘longest trails in America’ and this image popped up of the United States with all these different colored lines on it,” she says. “I saw this really long one and I thought: ‘Man that would suck really bad.’ But it was the longest one.” The idea stuck.

As the concept of a nearly 7,000-mile thru-hike lodged itself in her brain, DeSanctis realized that the ADT could provide the solitary experience that the Appalachian Trail lacked. She was attracted to the idea of becoming a pioneer: A few quick e-mails with the American Discovery Trail Society told her that only two hikers had tackled the trail from end to end on both routes – and neither of them were women. Upon reaching the Midwest, the ADT splits into two different routes, creating an oval before meeting up again in Colorado. DeSanctis’s thru-hike of choice involved not just hiking from coast to coast but completing both the northern and southern routes. (Several women have completed an end-to-end hike of one of the trail’s branches).

On January 1, 2022, she began her trek to the west from Delaware. The beginning wasn’t what you would call pristine: One of the first things she noticed was the trash: it was everywhere. Bottles on roadsides, sleeping pads in the wilderness, and other debris littered the 45-mile section of trail that wound through the state.

As she continued to hike west, the trash disappeared, but greater obstacles appeared. She struggled to find camping spots in the Midwest. Then there was hip-deep snow. Then came the injuries.

On some desert segments of the ADT, water could be hard to come by. (Photo: Courtesy)

About a year after DeSanctis began her journey on the ADT, she discovered she had a stress fracture. “The first 20 days that I consecutively took off, it was either because I had a stress fracture or shin splints. It was right around this time last year,” she says. “After I climbed up over Dolly Sods the snow was up to my waist.” While much of the trail was flat, the winter conditions made parts of it all but impossible to tackle, and it seemed like DeSanctis was always running behind schedule.

Then she got news that her Appalachian Trail dad, and legendary Trail Angel, Joe Mitchell, was on his deathbed. By that time she’d made it to Ohio. She booked a flight out of Chicago and flew to Virginia. The break from the trail was good for her body, but hard on her mind.

Another surprise came when her hike started to gain national attention. Locals in the towns through which she walked started sharing her journey until it ricocheted into the spotlight. In some ways, the notoriety changed the experience.

“It’s been such a different hike from the Appalachian Trail,” DeSanctis says. “I feel a lot of pressure. I feel very rushed. I’m dealing with a very large volume of people that don’t understand it because there are no hikers out here.”

While detailing her journey for the Daily Bulldog, she wrote, “Social media has been taking its toll on me mentally. It seems as though many are wanting to ‘watch [me] walk into the water.’ I find this to be quite silly, and this is a perfect example of how alternatively I see things. How could I measure one step differently from well over 15,547,520 others?”

By the time DeSanctis made it to Colorado, she was exhausted from the Midwest, and excited to be in a state in which she lived for many years.

“I needed a break to regain focus,” she recalls. “But then I had people asking where I was, and why I wasn’t posting. They asked if I was going to quit. And I said: ‘Are you out of your mind? You’re going to have to pry my trekking poles out of my cold, dead hands.’” All in all, she took about 4 months off over the course of two years.

Hiking through the Rocky Mountains, the range that had inspired her trail name, revitalized DeSanctis. After months of slogging through the plains, she was excited to finally be in mountainous terrain and amongst other hikes. She gained momentum that would carry her through hard days ahead: In Utah, she faced scorching days and water shortages. In Nevada, she was greeted by kind strangers who took her in for the night.

When asked how it feels to be reaching the end of a two-year project, DeSanctis says it’s been “devastating.”

“I’ve actually blocked it out in the past two weeks,” she says. “I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to be done hiking because there’s always the uncertainty of what am i going to do next. When I hike, I go all out. I quit my job, move out of my apartment and cut all my ties…I know when I come out of something like this my head is going to be in a totally different space.” As for what’s next, DeSanctis demures.

“I don’t know,” she says.“There are so many other trails out there. It really depends on what trail calls you next.”

But one thing is certain, she says: “I’m not done hiking.”

Leave a Comment

Copyright ©️ All rights reserved. | Tourism Trends