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Oct 06, 2021

Colts Neck Resident Hikes from Georgia to Maine on Appalachian Trail

By Lauren Lavelle

For many, post-college grad life is filled to the brim with job applications, a sense of longing for those late college nights, and overall relief when you realize submitting your essay on time is no longer a worry. For Colts Neck resident James Lowell though, post-grad life involved mother nature, living off the land and searching for a signal. 

After graduating from Rutgers Business School, Lowell took a leap of faith and set out on a solo trip hiking along the Appalachian Trail, a trek that took him nearly six months and about 2193 miles. Lowell kicked off his trip on March 1, 2021 at Springer Mountain in Georgia where he set off with the clothes on his back, some basic survival gear and a ton of determination. 

“I’ve always loved hiking, but before the trip, I never slept in the woods for more than two nights,” he said. “Starting in March [was tough] because I had to have some winter gear, and I hit snow. My shoes would freeze when it rained which was pretty rough, and my [sleeping] pad popped twice so I ended up sleeping on the actual ground for two weeks. It was a lot of walking, a lot of thinking, and it got boring at times.”

Lowell eventually got the hang of it and began embracing life on the trail, which often meant frequent hitchhiking and a diverse cast of characters. 

“You basically rely on hitchhiking to get re-supplied,” Lowell said. “My faith in humanity is restored because I got a bunch of help from a bunch of people.”

Lowell detailed his experience with “Trail Angels,” a group of Appalachian Trail fans who often supplied hikers with food and water. 

“One time, I was walking down the street because I couldn’t get a hitch and it would be seven miles back to the trail. Some guy came running out of a Denny’s and yelled at me across the highway so I ran to him and he sat down with me, doubled his order, and I ended up eating with this random stranger,” he said. “Those were the kind of interactions that were the most fun, meeting these people who cared so much just because we had the same interests.”

To pass the time during his trek, Lowell listened to audio books and playlists he created based on which state he was passing through. Surprisingly, he had a cell phone signal for the majority of his trip. 

“I actually had connection for most of the trail,” he said. “[To charge my portable charger], I would hang out outside of Walmart and sit near a vending machine to charge for a few hours or wherever I could find an outlet.”

As for the weather, Lowell said the trip was pretty rain-free, but certain states brought along more challenges than others. 

“It’s been pretty dry on this whole coast, so I’ve heard it wasn’t as bad as previous years,” Lowell said. “Once I got to Maine, it was pretty wet. I think Vermont is known for their mud. It was very muddy up there as well. The worst part about the rain was that if it rained for a few days straight, all my gear was wet. It seeps through everything.”

Another aspect that took some getting used to, according to Lowell, was the smell of his fellow hikers.

“No one uses deodorant,” he said. “No one brings deodorant because of the weight and you can’t hide the smell. It’s really gross and you’ll notice, when you go to restaurants, they’ll seat you outside or in the corner away from the other customers.”

As his journey came to an end and Lowell hiked into Baxter State Park in Maine, the trail’s northernmost location, on Aug. 6, 2021, he reflected on his expedition along the Appalachian. 

“I was number 274 to finish going northbound this year,” Lowell said. “They predicted about 1,200 hikers will finish this year going northbound.”

Now, after arriving home, reuniting with family and securing a job as a financial analyst, Lowell is ready to move forward with his post-grad life. For those wishing to tackle the trail themselves, Lowell has some helpful advice. 

“Go for it,” he said. “You don’t need to train; you can train on trail. If you want technical advice, do only 10 miles a day for the first two to three weeks because you’ll hurt yourself. Honestly, anyone can hike this trail.”