Alyssa Knobloch decided to take a long walk. A long walk of about 2,180 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine on the Appalachian Trail.
Knobloch, 25, is a graduate of Morris Area High School. Hiking 2,180 miles is part of Knobloch's version of pursuing the American Dream. She plans to hike the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail in the spring of 2019.
"I'm not somebody interested in the (classic) American Dream," Knobloch said. A big career and the things it may bring don't appeal to Knobloch.
Instead, "Life is about people and experiences. You can lose everything. Everything else can be lost or destroyed but relationships and experiences can't be taken away," Knobloch said.
But Knobloch doesn't just wander here and there for her experiences. She had deliberate goals when she chose to hike the Appalachian Trail.
"I love nature. I love being outside and adventures," Knobloch said. The roughly 2,180-mile hike was a challenge. "I'm a huge goal-setter. I like to push myself."
A desire to set goals and push herself has been part of her personality for a long time, Knobloch said.
When she graduated from high school, she also graduated with a two-year college degree.
Since high school, Knobloch has lost weight, lived in Haiti, ran 5Ks, 10Ks and a marathon. But the challenge of the Appalachian Trail is one that took months of preparation and months to complete.
She started on April 15 in Springer Mountain, Georgia, and finished on Aug. 30 at Mount Katahdin, Maine. "I set a goal to finish in five months. If I wasn't enjoying it, I'd slow down. I finished in four months."
The trail travels through woods and over mountains, through small towns and near larger towns. It gave her the physical and mental challenges she wanted, but also the rewards she had also anticipated.
Knobloch had been working with teens in a program in Fort Wayne, Indiana, when she began preparing for the hike. The job is rewarding but it also creates high stress and the possibility of burnout.
"I was looking for the quietness, getting away from the chaos of life and technology...," Knobloch said. "I'm passionate about working with kids, with older kids. One of the reasons I quit my job is I knew I needed a break if I wanted to do this in the future."
She was also attracted by stories from trail hikers who talk of the deep, meaningful relationships created with fellow hikers.
Conversation, "comes natural," on the trail, Knobloch said. It usually starts with an introduction and then moves to why they are hiking. Conversations can become deep as hikers share stories of life, work and other topics, Knobloch said. For her, some of those conversations have led to friendships.
She hiked with lone hikers and a few larger groups such as six hikers. "It's not like you are hiking with someone all day," Knobloch said. They may hike several miles together and plan where to meet again along the trail.
The hike included days slogging through mud up to her calves. One of the worst parts of the trail that summer was in Vermont. "Every step I was sinking deeper into mud for miles," Knobloch said. "I don't care if I ever go back to Vermont again."
One favorite part of the trail was White Mountain in New Hampshire. "It's a really steep rocky climb into the mountains. When you reach the top, above the tree line, you have a 360 (degree) view of the valley...It was stunning. I can't even say (how stunning)."
Knobloch had a roughly 30-pound backpack on her back. It rained at least part of the day on 51 days.
"Once you are wet, you are wet," she said.
"On the second day on the trail I was miserable, it was so cold."
And, "for three days in a row it hit over 100 (degrees). That was pretty brutal. You took many long breaks."
She hiked about 20 to 25 miles a day between 10 to 12 hours a day.
"On the average of every 2 ½ days I went into a town," Knobloch said of replenishing her food. When the trail didn't pass through a town, Knobloch would hitchhike or take a shuttle to the nearest town or was able to walk in.
Knobloch wore out four pairs of hiking shoes. She could order her shoes while on the trail and have them shipped to the nearest post office. While most towns are used to accommodating hikers, "it was kind of a big pain and took a lot of planning," Knobloch said of ordering shoes. She had to calculate when they'd arrive at an upcoming town and how long it may take to get there.
She estimates she spent about $1,000 a month on supplies during the hike.
She's been living with her mom in Hutchinson while she works and prepares for the Pacific Crest Trail.
Although the Pacific trail is about 500 miles longer than the Appalachian Trail, the terrain is less rough. She expects to complete the Pacific Crest Trail in four months. Knobloch plans to buy lighter weight gear for the Pacific Crest Trail.
After four months in nature she had to transition to being back in the regular world. "The noise got to me," Knobloch said of the first adjustment. And, also mentally and physically, she had to adjust to not exercising for 10 to 12 hours a day.
While she's not interested in pursuing the typical American Dream, Knobloch said she is considering pursuing a degree in music therapy and plans to work with children in the future. At 25, she has time for the job and career but her passion won't be money or things. There are experiences to be had, people to meet and adventures to take instead.