KINGSPORT — When most folks tell you they’re going for a walk you expect that means a couple of times around the block.
Kingsport’s Ryan Ankabrandt went a few steps farther. How about 2,180 miles!
Ankabrandt recently spent five months hiking the iconic Appalachian Trail. He started on June 2 at Mount Katahdin in Maine and stepped off the trail on Nov. 2 at Springer Mountain in Georgia.
“I had been a Boy Scout and had done some hiking when I was younger,” said Ankabrandt. “Hiking the A.T. (Appalachian Trail) was something I’d always thought about doing.”
Most A.T. through hikers begin their journey in Georgia in March or April and hike north to Maine. Because Ankabrandt didn’t graduate from the University of Tennessee until May, his start was delayed and became problematic.
“They close Baxter Park in Maine in October so I knew I couldn’t make it south to north in that time. So I decided to start at the top and work my way down.”
About 10 percent of A.T. through hikers do the north-south route.
Ankabrandt began his planning for the momentous trip a few months ahead of time.
“When I first told my parents that I was going to do this their response was ‘yeah, right.’ But once they saw me packing boxes with food and mapping out my trip they knew I was serious.”
A support team is a must for such an endeavor, and Ankabrandt had great backup.
“I packed about 20 boxes of food and needed to have them mailed to towns along the route so I could pick them up,” said Ankabrandt. “My parents did a super job.”
Ryan’s father, Steve, took him to Maine for the start and actually hiked up Mount Katahdin with him.
“That was a nice way to get under way,” said Ryan.
The first 100 miles of the A.T. through Maine was dreary.
“It just rained constantly,” said Ankabrandt. “And the hiking was tough. You do more climbing than hiking because it is so rocky.
“But after that stretch I felt like I could go the distance.”
One positive about the northern end of the A.T. is the vistas.
“You can see for miles in that terrain. There were some beautiful sights.”
Including moose, loons and porcupines.
“You learn pretty quick to put up with about anything,” added Ankabrandt. “One night I woke up in a shelter hearing all these noises. It was porcupines eating the bark off the shelter. I just rolled over and went back to sleep.”
Averaging 15 miles a day, Ankabrandt made his way south. He kept in touch with his family through text messages.
“Through the messaging, my parents were able to plan to visit with me along the trail. I saw them a few times in Virginia and Tennessee. That was nice.”
His days were a steady routine. Up at dawn, eat a Pop Tart and a protein bar and head out onto the trail.
“I ate trail mix, candy bars and anything with high calories,” said Ankabrandt. “You try to consume as much as you can because you burn so many calories.”
In fact, he lost 40 pounds during the experience.
Starting off with a pack that weighed 54 pounds, Ankabrandt quickly reduced that to 35-40 pounds.
“The first time I saw my parents I lightened the load. You make decisions based on weight. Food is heavy, so you get down to basics pretty fast.”
Traveling south in the summer, Ankabrandt left the vistas of the northern section of the A.T. and experienced the “green tunnel” effect of the southern portion of the trail.
“With all the vegetation, it’s like walking through a tunnel. Instead of looking around you get into the rhythm of walking. I’d just let my mind wander. Sing and whistle some and keep walking.”
Eventually, Ankabrandt made his way to the southern terminus of the A.T. in Georgia.
Those last couple of days seemed to go on forever. I was so anxious to be done.”
Ankabrandt did experience some “trail magic” near the end of his hike.
“There are people who leave nice things for you along the trail, food and such. I ran into a guy who had set up a buffet. He served me hot dogs, pancakes, an omelet and some fresh fruit. That was really, really nice.”
His parents were there when he completed his journey, and they brought him back to Kingsport.
“It was tough at first being home,” said Ankabrandt. “My sleep patterns were so weird and I sort of had to learn to drive again.
“And the taste of real food took some getting used to,” joked Ankabrandt.
As Ankabrandt, who has a degree in structural engineering, begins to look for work, he can reflect on his recently completed journey.
“I learned a greater respect and appreciation for the outdoors,” said Ankabrandt. “And I learned to appreciate running water.
"I also learned that I can tolerate a lot, inclement weather doesn’t seem to bother me much.”
Anything else about his trip that will stand out?
“Well, I learned that going north to south is downhill all the way,” joked Ankabrandt.