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One Milwaukeean's Journey to the Appalachian Trail

Image courtesy of Patricia Weir
Rhesia Baron (left) and Lauren Groh at the start of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.

The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only public foot path in the world. It runs 2,190 miles from Georgia all the way to the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine. It takes months to complete and a good amount of preparation for novice and experienced hikers alike.

Milwaukee native Lauren Groh is embarking on that journey with her wife, and Lake Effect will be bringing a series of updates from her as she hikes north on the trail this spring. But before making that call to the wild, Groh explains what inspired her to go on such a significant and challenging journey.

"It kind of started when I read the book Wild...and from there it was in my mind," she says. Then, following a trip on the West coast, Groh met a woman at the airport who recounted her son's journey on the trail. "She was just making it sound like it was so doable, and I just said, 'let's do it.'"

Groh came to find with all the research, buying gear and logistics of planning such an extensive hike, the term "doable" might've been an understatement, she jokes.

Credit appalachiantrail.org
The Appalachian Trail runs 2,190 miles through 14 states, with 464,500' of approximate gain/loss in elevation, and attracts 3 million visitors each year.

Groh started planning for the trip, logistically and financially, a year in advance. She moved back to her childhood home, continued to work her full-time job along with several odd jobs and set a budget for herself. Most of the money saved went to finding the proper gear, which "was a whole different ball game," Groh says.

"Whenever I thought, 'I'm completely ready, I'm done, I have all my gear,' then there's just one more thing, or one more thing I want to change out for something else. So it ended up being a big expense. Way bigger than I had ever imagined," she adds.

If all goes relatively according to plan, Groh will be on the trail from April to September of 2017. While she planned extensively for the trip, what will happen when she returns is not set in stone. Groh admits that she may not have a job or a place to stay secured once she returns.

"That's been a big source of stress and focus, but also kind of exhilarating," she says. "Because it's six months away and I have no idea what's going to happen, so it's kind of exciting....I'm not planning too much because this could be potentially a life-changing experience and I might not want the same things that I want right now."

Part of Groh's motivation to go on the Appalachian Trail is not only for the physical challenge, but the mental. "I hope to find a way to cope with stress a little easier (when I get back)," she says. "There's going to be no stress like figuring out how to get through a horrible thunderstorm or awful cold...in my normal life."

While everything is a variable when embarking on a challenge for the first time, Groh is confident that this experience will make her stronger and her relationship with her wife, Rhesia Baron, even better. Having embarked on numerous adventures together - hiking in England and teaching in China for a year - they are both diving into the trail head (or feet) first.

Groh also hopes that six months of hiking will also help her view things with a more positive attitude, even if life after the trail cannot compare to what she is about to experience. "I can only come back and try to live my life in an adventurous way, even without being out there," she says.

You can also follow Groh's adventure on the Appalachian trail on her Two Tents Down blog, YouTube and social media channels for a behind-the-scenes look.

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.