Nevis resident treks entire 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail
The journey is equivalent to climbing Mount Everest 16 times. Only 25% of "thru-hikers" successfully traverse the whole trail.
Ella Lundstrom, 23, conquered the Appalachian Trail (AT) – all 2,200 miles of it.
Thousands of hikers attempt a “thru-hike” each year. It’s a feat that only about one in four accomplishes, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Lundstrom traversed the AT in six months.
It was her first backpacking trip.
“Which worked out really well for me, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it,” she said. “I’m very grateful that it went so very smoothly, with the amendment that I did tons of research and I knew that I liked being outside.”
Very deep seasonal roots
Originally from Arlington, Minn., Lundstrom currently lives in Nevis and works at The Good Life Cafe.
“I grew up coming to Nevis for the summers because my grandparents are on Belle Taine and my dad bought a place that we frequented in the summer, 10 years ago now,” she said.
“So I worked all my summers in late middle school and high school at Muskie Waters. I have seasonal roots here and family connections.”
During the COVID summer of 2020, Lundstroom returned to Nevis. The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM), where she was studying anthropology and psychology, had shut down.
Lundstrom planned her AT hike over the course of a year-and-a-half. After graduating from UWM in 2021, she returned to Nevis to work before departing on her grand adventure.
An investment in herself
“I always sought out outdoor activities. I really like long-distance running,” Lundstrom said of her desire to tackle the AT.
She peripherally knew a few people who had done it.
On average, it takes five to seven months for the typical thru-hiker to complete the entire trail.
“I did really want to invest in myself in that way and give myself the opportunity to learn about something I was very interested in, which was feeling very capable outside,” Lundstrom said.
She gave herself enough time and money to accomplish her goal. She invested in specific backpacking gear.
She tapped into social media and YouTube about other AT hikers’ experiences.
“I knew that the only thing that could stop me was something going terribly wrong in my home life,” or something with her physical and emotional health, she said. “I knew, if something happened, it would be out of my control, essentially.”
The AT was built in 1937, fully connecting Georgia to Maine.
According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, “The terrain is mountainous for its entire length, with an elevation gain and loss equivalent to hiking Mount Everest from sea level and back 16 times.
“Women represented 15% or less of those who completed the entire AT in the trail’s first several decades. Trends are changing, though. The percentage of women has grown steadily over the years. By 2018, women represented a third of thru-hikers.”
Lundstrom hiked from south to north, launching her trek on March 19, 2022.
She reached the northern terminus of the AT on Sept. 21, 2022.
“There’s an iconic peak you go up: Katahdin. It’s in Baxter State Park in Maine.”
Lundstrom says she focused on segments from town to town. For example, a 70-mile section that should take roughly three days. Once that was accomplished, she’d plan the next stretch.
“The mindset is less of ‘How am I going to get to Maine?’ and more of ‘How am I going to get from Standing Bear to Hot Springs?’” she recalled.
The AT has a “brilliant” interactive map that shows elevation and GPS locations. She would download a 200- to 300-mile map section at a time.
Cell service varied from state to state. As a whole, Lundstrom said, “It wasn’t a challenge to stay connected with the outside world.”
Going it alone
Like many thru-hikers, Lundstrom embarked on the journey alone, but befriended other “2,000-milers” along the way.
The base weight of her backpack was 16.5 pounds. Food and water added another 10 pounds.
She carried a tent, sleeping bag, trekking poles, tiny stove, water filter, portable phone charger, rain jacket, wool leggings and top, winter coat, hat, 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of underwear, 1 pair of shorts and a shirt.
Most of her gear lasted the entire trip.
She used Salomon Speedcross trail runners – five pairs – due to their light weight and ability to dry quickly.
Anticipating changes in weather as she proceeded north, Lundstrom budgeted for trading out equipment. In March, she encountered wintry conditions, but hit heat and humidity by summer.
She ventured into town about every four or so days to restock food or make gear swaps.
“The AT is the most established of the long trails, so it really has some nice community connections. There are ‘trail towns’ that are generally very hiker-friendly and cater to hikers because they understand a lot of people coming through are hopping off and hopping back on the trail.”
The AT has water sources, but the 2022 drought dried up a lot of those, particularly in New York. “Hikers really benefited from water caches that community members would leave,” she said. “At trailheads, folks would leave jugs of water.”
Hikers call this “trail magic” or “trail angels.”
Sometimes people would offer hot coffee, a cold drink or a free ride into town.
“They’ll take your trash for you because you have to pack everything out,” she added.
The North Country Trail is a similar economic opportunity for Park Rapids and other neighboring communities, Lundstrom noted, especially when an interactive map becomes available.
‘Never quit on a bad day’
There were “definitely” physically and mentally challenging days on the trail.
“Some of the most tangibly bad days were days I got sick,” Lundstrom said.
She came down with COVID on the trail, and later, Norovirus. Several hikers got Lyme’s disease.
Lundstrom never considered quitting. “There’s a saying on the trail: ‘Never quit on a bad day.’ If it’s a good day, and you still want to go home, maybe it’s time to go home.”
AT thru-hikers deal with snow, rain and heat.
“It’s not fair-weather camping,” she points out.
Two weeks of dangerously hot weather were especially challenging.
She saw a number of rattlesnakes, mostly in Virginia. Deer, black bear and lizards were common.
To keep up her energy and avoid injury, Lundstrom aimed for 4,000-plus calories per day. She ate high-calorie items, like candy bars, granola bars, Pop-Tarts, instant mashed potatoes, ramen and macaroni and cheese.
Lundstrom loved the people she met on the trail, particularly their kindness. People offered a drink, a place to stay or words of encouragement.
She was grateful to walk through beautiful forests.
“The Appalachian Trail is known as ‘The Green Tunnel’ because there’s rhododendron and trees and no views,” she said.
In New Hampshire and Maine, she crossed “big, wild” mountain peaks.
‘A thru-hike for everyone’
Post-trail, Lundstrom said she feels more confident and unfazed by things.
Lundstrom accepted a managerial role at The Good Life. She’s planning to stay in Nevis for a couple years.
Then in 2025, Lundstrom is eyeing the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for her next adventure. The PCT is 2,650 miles long. It typically takes five months to walk.
“Once you do something that feels almost impossible and that everyone tells you is impossible, and you come out the other side and you not only did it, but you loved it, it’s a whole new mindset of things don’t feel impossible anymore,” she said.
Nothing about it was easy.
“The hardest part is getting yourself to the starting line,” she said.
Not everyone wants to hike the AT, Lundstrom said, “but I do think there’s a ‘thru-hike’ for everyone. There’s something you can do that you love and that will challenge you.”