One resident said that after hiking for five months and more than 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine, he feels as if he can overcome any challenge life throws his way.
After graduating from UConn with a degree in journalism in the spring of 2016, Shelton native Nick Shigo said, he was almost ready to embark on what he anticipated to be the most difficult challenge in his 23 years of life.
Before setting out on his 2,189-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail (AT) on March 31, 2017, Shigo said, he spent the year leading up to his departure date saving money to be able to afford the equipment required for his journey.
Before he purchased any equipment, Shigo said, he spent much of his free time reading and watching product reviews, as well as speaking with other through-hikers with experience on the trail.
He said packing for the hike proved to be a task within itself and a learning experience for future hikes.
“There were probably only three or four things that stayed consistent throughout my entire trip,” said Shigo. “You can do as much research as you want. You can go on as many smaller hikes as you want, but 2,200 miles is a long time, and most days that I was trying to make miles, I was hiking about 20. There’s no kind of preparation that gets you ready for that.
“I had a sleeping bag that I thought was a really nice sleeping bag, and it was, but as I hiked, the weather got warmer, so I didn’t really need that one as much. I ended up buying a newer, lighter sleeping bag and sent my old one home.
“I had my backpack, for the short weekend hikes that I did, and it was fine, but after hiking that amount of time I did on the AT with a backpack, the small annoyances of it became much more pronounced. I knew it didn’t fit right. My shoulders hurt. My hips hurt, so I had to get a new backpack.”
Jumping right in
One year after he graduated from college, the day had finally come for Shigo to head out and begin the hike he had been preparing for both physically and financially.
Shigo has been backpacking since he was 13 or 14 years old with the Boy Scouts, but he said this was by far the longest trip he’s done.
“I did an 80-mile hike in New Mexico with Boy Scouts, a 100-mile hike in New York as a part of a college orientation program, and a bunch of overnights or couple of days as a part of a summer camp for a few years, but none of those compare to this experience.”
Surprisingly, Shigo said, he did very little mental preparation for his trip.
“I trained a bit to get ready for the physical test, but I really just jumped right in,” said Shigo.
He explained that organization was essential in being able to complete the hike, more than in all his previous experiences.
“I spent a lot of time planning out food and how I would schedule drops from my parents with food supplies that would last me about five or six days of hiking,” said Shigo. “It was a lot of paying attention to detail and planning how much hiking I could get done in a span of days.”
Shigo said he’s always described himself as an “outdoorsman,” and explained that his decision to hike the Appalachian Trail was supported by his family, but some people he spoke with thought he was crazy.
“The support from my family and friends meant everything to me,” said Shigo. “Some people didn’t really understand why I would want to do this, but I just did.”
On March 31 Shigo began his longest hike to date at the base of Springer Mountain in Georgia, and admittedly had no idea what to expect in his journey to come.
A test of commitment came early
Reflecting back on his experience, Shigo said he entered the hike knowing it would be difficult, but he had no idea how much of a test of will the journey would be for him.
Within his first few weeks on the trail, he said, he began to understand just how long a road he had ahead of him.
“I realized pretty quickly that my previous assumptions of the trail were a little far from the mark. I had to re-evaluate my plans a bit, but it was just kind of something I wanted to do and wasn’t just something I would stop doing until I finished.
“There was one point on the trail that I seriously thought, ‘I made a mistake with this,’ and ‘This was a bad idea’ and ‘I shouldn’t be here.’ But that was pretty early on in the trail. I think everyone kind of goes through that within that first week or so.”
Shigo elaborated on the tough time he experienced early in his hike and said it is where his new life mantra came to pass.
“It’s not as bad as Tray Mountain,” Shigo said jokingly, explaining he used the saying to prove he could overcome most challenges he encountered because he completed the 4,430-foot hike up to the mountain peak in Georgia. “I got stuck on top of this mountain, a week after I started the trail. It started snowing on me, I had been having some muscle problems because I had overextended myself the first couple of days on the trail and I was really sore. The combination of the snow, the weather and the fact that I wasn’t making as many miles as I anticipated really weighed on me at that time.”
In an effort to help snap out of his negative headspace at the time, Shigo said, he stopped at a shelter on top of Tray Mountain, called his mother and had a “moment there.”
“She talked me down and said ‘hunker down, wait it out and then tomorrow keep going.’ And that’s what I did, and that honestly served as my mantra for the rest of the trail. I became confident that if I could overcome that, then I could overcome pretty much anything.”
The trail is a ‘weird microcosm’
“It’s a very solo endeavor in that you have to hike this trail and you have to get yourself from Georgia to Maine, but at any given time there could be a couple of thousand people hiking the same 2,200 miles,” said Shigo. “We see all of the same things and hike all of the same miles, but everyone has their own experiences and interpretation of it. You’ll spend days hiking with the same people, some people spend almost the entire hike together, and sometimes you end up hiking alone at your own pace.”
Shigo explained that although he wouldn’t describe his journey along the Appalachian Trail as “enjoyable,” there was plenty of scenery that made the hike well worth his troubles.
“Despite all of that, I think it was 100% worth it,” said Shigo. “You slog through muddy sections, rainy weather, rocky climbs, but every time you get through that, there’s a beautiful mountain view or forest to walk through. These are the things that make the trail worth it.”
During his 151-day hike, Shigo did his best to document his experience via a blog that included photos and detailed descriptions of his trip and interactions with other hikers. He said he felt frustrated when he saw some people’s response to what he was sharing on https://nickshigo.com.
“At a lot of times when I would talk about what I was doing, people would say things like, ‘That’s really cool that you can take a vacation like that,’ and after a few weeks on the trail I realized that this wasn’t a vacation at all — I’m working hard; this is difficult.”
Life on the road for five months
After living on the road for five months, Shigo said, he dearly missed home-cooked meals, as his diet consisted of anything but that during his hike.
“Most of my trail diet consisted of instant oatmeal, instant breakfast shakes and Pop-Tarts for breakfast … a tortilla wrap with peanut butter and dried fruit for lunch — with lots of snacks during the course of the day to keep my energy up,” said Shigo. “My dinners usually consisted of some kind of instant noodles and tuna packets for extra protein. It’s not exactly five-course meals, but it gives you what you need.”
Shigo said that periodically he went into the nearest town, where he would shower, do laundry and get his food package to hold him over for his next few days of hiking.
“I felt behind at one point, but after a while I got onto a schedule,” said Shigo.
While hiking, Shigo said, he encountered wild ponies, plenty of deer and even a family of black bear.
“You see so many that you just learn to accept that in most cases, if you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone,” said Shigo.
Five months of hard work rewarded
After reaching the peak of Katahdin Mountain in Maine on Aug. 28, which completed his hike of the Appalachian Trail, Shigo said, he was excited to get home.
“The first thing I did as soon as I got home was shower,” said Shigo enthusiastically. “Not that I hadn’t done that during the trail — it was just nice to be in the comfort of my own shower for as long as I wanted. I also ate a lot of really good home-cooked food.”
While looking back on his hiking experience, Shigo said, he loves the feeling of putting himself against insurmountable odds.
He advises anyone thinking of hiking the Appalachian Trail to be ready for a challenging experience.
“You have to realize that there’s only so much you can prepare for. So much will change on the trail, so much will happen that you can’t anticipate, and you just need to be ready to roll with that. You need to be ready to completely change your area of thinking and what you’re doing, because if something’s not working, there’s no use in forcing it.”
Shigo said he wants to hike the last 100 miles of the trail because he said he was in the mind-set of “I just want to finish this,” rather than enjoying the scenery. He said he hasn’t decided on where his next adventure will take him, but he’s in no rush to commit just yet.
“That’s half of the fun,” said Shigo.