On Sunday I attended a “hiker feed” event on the Appalachian Trail called the Feast in the Forest. While I was enjoying burgers and lasagna I didn’t realize I was in the presence of a trail celebrity.
Neva Warren is a typical young woman of fifteen. She has a dog named Coco she plays with and listens to Green Day and One Direction. Unlike other women her age, she’s also through hiked the Appalachian Trail.
The young Ms. Warren previous to this had already led an adventurous life. As a nine year old she was racing BMX, and as a twelve year old participated in a lengthy bike tour with her parents. Neva, who is home schooled, decided she wanted to hike the entirety of the AT after a family trip to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. After completing the trail she’s given a TEDx talk and appeared at AT events to support her favorite not for profit, HIKE For Mental Health. In an age where young women continue to be objectified and told they need to confirm to some ideal for appearance, she says, according to her father, “its not what your body looks like that’s important, its what you physically do with it that counts.”
Neither the Appalachian Trail Conservancy nor the Guinness Book of World Records awards ‘titles’ for hiking the world’s most famous footpath, but Warren’s seven month solo trek makes her the youngest person ever to solo through hike. Her trail name was Chipmunk, and her mother kept a blog of the hike at Ridethenation.org. Warren agreed to this impromptu interview, and after getting approval from her father I’m happy to share it with our readers.
A Taste For The Woods: When did you start your hike?
Neva Warren: I started April 1 at Springer Mountain.
ATFTW: How long did it take you to complete the hike?
NW: I hiked seven months.
ATFTW: What were your highs and lows of the trip?
NW: The high for me was seeing the wild horses at Grayson Highlands [State Park in Virginia.]
ATFTW: Not climbing Mount Katahdin in Maine at the end of the trail?
NW: No. Katahdin seemed almost an anti-climax. My parents were going to meet me at the top, and they were coming by a different trail. My mom took a wrong turn and had some problems on the mountain. Also, I didn’t finish at Katahdin. Because I had to get in the bubble of hikers climbing the mountain before it was closed for the season, I had to skip ahead. After I climbed the mountain I had to go back and hike a hundred miles in Maine to complete the trail.
ATFTW: That hundred miles, was it the notorious 100 Mile Wilderness?
NW: No, this was in southern Maine.
ATFTW: And the low?
NW: Definitely Blood Mountain in Georgia. I’d rolled one ankle on the first day of the hike. The second day, I rolled the other ankle. My mom took me to REI and I got new Vasque boots, and I went on the trail. It began to rain, and it was a cold rain. Everything was coming down, rain, hail, and I was soaked and freezing. But I got off the trail at the hostel in Neel’s Gap and had some hot chocolate and put on dry clothes and I felt better.
(I asked Warren about safety, since while she was a determined 14 year old when she started, she was still a 14 year old girl.)
NW: I never felt unsafe on the trail. In towns, that was another story.
ATFTW: Did you ever have moments you felt uncomfortable?
NW: There was one time a boy followed me from a town into the woods. That was a little creepy. He wasn’t a hiker, and he gave up after a couple of miles. But I felt safe on the trail. I had a Spot tracker with me, and my parents could follow my progress. And I had a code I could put in it that would mean “the helicopters should come.” I had that covered up so I couldn’t press it by accident.
Also, I had a lot of big brothers and big sisters on the trail. Other hikers, once they learned what I was doing, were really cool and supportive, and they helped me a lot.
(As mentioned, Neva’s parents followed her progress electronically and with periodic phone calls. They also physically followed in an RV and met their daughter at some trailheads. Warren spent some nights in the RV but she carried a full pack and also spent nights at shelters and trail campsites.)
ATFTW: What was your pack weight?
NW: When I started it was about forty pounds. I quickly got it down to about thirty.
ATFTW: Seven months is a long time, and the AT is a tough trail. What kept you motivated?
NW: This is going to sound silly, but I had a poster of One Direction on my bedroom wall, and I wrote at the bottom “Welcome back!” I then forged all of their signatures on the poster. I wanted to see that poster, and that helped keep me focused.
ATFTW: Did you listen to music when hiking?
ATFTW: Did you sing One Direction songs on the trail?
NW: No, they are a little outside my vocal range.
(At this point the conversation turned to popular music and I was completely lost on the subject. I thanked Warren for the interview and her time.)