Stephanie Jones is preparing for a 3555km hike across the Appalachian Trail. Photo: suppliedCome March 28, Stephanie Jones will be starting a 3555km, six-month hike she expects to push her to the very edge of her physical and mental limits – and perhaps beyond.
But the Eatons Hill 27-year-old isn’t being subjected to some sort of cruel and unusual punishment, instead she’s paying thousands of dollars for the privilege of hiking the Appalachian Trail on the United States east coast.
Ms Jones believes she’ll be one of just five Australians ‘thru-hiking’ the trail this year. Meaning she plans to walk the whole track in one big block.
The former Navy sailor first heard about the trail on a cop show a few years back but it didn’t take for her long to become utterly obsessed.
First it was a book by author Bill Bryson, then discovering blogs and first-person accounts and by last year she was following the personal journeys of a couple of walkers and even sending them care packages.
A huge online community has sprung up around the 2000-3000 people who walk the trail every year, making it easy to become involved.
She left the Navy in July last year and made the call a few months later.
“I don’t really know what it is that draws me to want to challenge myself in that way,” she said.
“It’s sort of something that stuck in my mind and I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I was just like, I have to do this.”
The Navy helped prepare Jones for the mental anguish of spending months away from family friends and she’s been hiking as much as possible for physical training. But she knows that no preparation can really be enough.
“How you prepare for 21 days straight of rain I don’t know,” she said.
“The impact that it has on your body to walk up and down X amount of miles worth of mountain, you know the knees and the ankles and the feet.
“Blisters will just be a small thing compared to the way the rest of my body will be feeling by the end of it.”
With a failure rate believed to be 70-80 per cent, Ms Jones knows she’s up against it.
Even a 2011 journey along the Kokoda Track, following in the footsteps of her grandfather, isn’t quite the same experience as six months in the mountains.
Where four years ago she was with friends from the Navy, this time she will be flying solo.
The hikers start out together but make their own way through the 14-state journey stopping only occasionally in towns to resupply. She plans to allow herself a handful of nights in a hotel along the way to help get herself through.
She’s almost ready to go but is looking for reader support to win an invaluable collection of hiking gear in a competition, which closes Monday.
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