RIT Alum Hikes 2,189 Miles Along The Appalachian Trail
by Cayla Keiser | published Feb. 11th, 2018
“‘How long does it take to hike the Appalachian Trail?’”
This was the very first thing Michael Conrad, an RIT American Sign Language and Interpreting Education (ASLIE) alum, Googled once he decided to embark on the 2,189 mile trek from Georgia to Maine.
The trip now behind him, Conrad shared the story of his adventure with the people gathered in the SDC on Feb. 8.
Conrad grew up in Maryland with his mom, father, stepfather and two siblings — Joey Conrad, an RIT ASLIE alum and Brianna Conrad, a fourth year ASLIE major. Conrad is a CODA, or a Child of Deaf Adults. He grew up in a Deaf household, and after high school, moved to Rochester for college. He had no desire to stay in the area post-graduation, however.
“The original dream was to move to Boston,” Conrad remarked. He planned to interpret in the city, but when he didn’t pass the required certification test, his dreams changed.
“Move home? Look, I love my mom. I love my parents. I love my family. I’m not moving home. I love being independent,” he said.
Conrad told his mom one afternoon at lunch that he was going to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). She didn’t believe him at first, but once he started having gear shipped to the house, it became a little bit more real for the both of them. Despite the initial doubts that he would actually follow through with this idea, he had a lot of support.
His girlfriend of four years was supportive. He recalls her saying “If this is something you wanna do, I’m not stopping you. I’m gonna support you.”
"If you have a dream, I think everyone owes it to themselves to at least try."
Before taking on the trail, Conrad had no prior hiking experience.
“The field test was me sleeping in my hammock outside in Maryland,” he said.
He hadn’t even talked to anyone who had successfully completed the journey until partly through the hike himself, and the advice he received was “you’ll figure it out.”
The first part of the hike, Conrad explained, was the hardest.
“I’m in the middle of the woods crying like a baby,” he recalled.
Conrad faced many adjustments. He had to adapt to living in the woods, the ever-changing weather and the daily hiking. He also had to learn to live alone. That is, until he met his trail families.
“We were the Hokey Pokey Artichokee Okey Dokey Smokey Mountain crew ... my trail name was Blueberry. There was Butt Trumpet, Downward Cow, and Nitro,” he said.
His trail family was comprised of people whom he met along the way. While they stayed together for a little bit on the trail, eventually their paces didn’t match up anymore, and they ended up going their separate ways. However, they still remain Facebook friends today and enjoyed seeing each other finish the trail. Butt Trumpet was the first to complete it, Conrad mentioned.
Along the trail, Conrad experienced many funny moments and collected stories that will last him a lifetime. He recalls one of the funniest stories occurred on a cold, windy night when he set up camp with one of his buddies. They put up their hammocks and crawled into bed.
Conrad spoke of how in the middle of the night, if he needed to use the bathroom, he had to get up to do his business. His buddy, on the other hand, had a pee bag attached to his hammock.
“My buddy’s pee bag froze in the middle of the night ... I was dying. I was like, 'You have to carry frozen piss. Like you can’t even do anything with that,'” Conrad said. “As soon as it started to melt a little he was like banging on it trying to break it up and I was like, ‘Dude that smells like absolute garbage, get that outta here.’”
Conrad remarked that this is essentially the definition of "hiker trash," a term that is used to describe a hiker or group of hikers who have sunk down to a lower standard of living.
Despite the good times, there were also many instances in which Conrad came close to quitting. He experienced trying times with terrible weather; when he was in Vermont, it rained for eight straight days.. There was no time to fully dry off in between.
Conrad faced another incredibly trying day when one of his later trail families was taking off at a pace he was having trouble keeping up with, and within that day alone he remembers thinking about quitting a total of 13 times. He pushed through the struggles and ultimately kept going.
“Hike your own hike. Doesn’t matter how fast, doesn’t matter how slow, doesn’t matter how you do it: hike your own hike.”
When Conrad was asked whether he would hike the trail again, he responded enthusiastically, without a second thought.
"Yes. 100 percent ... I'm planning to," he said.
The personal growth he experienced over the course of the 4,463,779-step journey isn’t quantifiable, but he did come away with some takeaways that will guide the rest of his life, and he hopes will help others as well.
“Life’s real short, and you’ve gotta take every advantage you can take now. If you have a dream, I think everyone owes it to themselves to at least try. You gotta just go ... if you fail, that’s cool ... the biggest disservice you can do to yourself is to stand still,” Conrad said.
To anyone who aspires to potentially hike the Appalachian Trail, or accomplish any other goal, Conrad’s advice is solid.
“Hike your own hike. Doesn’t matter how fast, doesn’t matter how slow, doesn’t matter how you do it: hike your own hike,” he said.
Currently, Conrad is working as a freelance interpreter in the Rochester area. His next adventure includes biking from Boston to Seattle. He plans on starting in late March of this year. However, if he doesn't succeed he wouldn’t have a problem with it.
“Maybe I’ll get 200 miles and I’ll give up. And that’s okay. I tried,” he said.