It seems like an improbable story: two people each decide to hike the Appalachian Trail, beginning in separate states, finishing at different times and in different places, but after meeting and hiking over 1000 miles together, a bond is formed.
For two South Dakotans, that bond began as a friendship, became love, and lasted after each completed their journey and their dream. Anna Ball and Jason Brocar now live together in Piedmont, South Dakota. They shared their story at the Dahl Mountain Culture Festival hosted by the Rapid City Arts Council, and illustrated it with some of the more than 5000 pictures they took on the trek.
The pair completed a thru-trail hike, covering the 2,185.3-mile hike within 12 months of starting it. Thousands of hikers attempt this feat every year, but only one in four completes it, according to the website AppalachianTrail.org.
Anna started her hike on April 6, 2014. She began in Georgia, intending to hike straight to Maine, but after 724 miles and only in Virginia, she realized she wouldn’t reach her destination before the cold weather hit. So she hopped on a bus to Maine, and headed out again, this time going south. Jason was hiking south from Maine and the two met 200 miles down the trail in the small town of Rangeley. Jason was hiking in a small group when he met Anna, and since she was hiking alone she just stuck with them – and the pair hiked the next 1300 miles together. They clicked, and became friends.
Gretchen Carroll is hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine to raise money for Rippleffect, an organization focusing on outdoor education for youth. In her blog reporting about her days on the trail Carroll says that hiking the Appalachian Trail is a very simple way of life. You “wake up, eat, pack everything in one bag, then snack as you cover the miles along the way. At the end of the day, you find a campsite and set up house, cook dinner and perhaps meet new people before getting much-needed sleep.” Although her routine is much the same daily, the scenery isn’t, and Carroll savors this once-in-a-lifetime chance to spend six months outdoors.
Nature-lover and bird watcher Anna had met a hiker as a little girl, and was inspired by the idea she could carry what she needed in a backpack and explore anywhere in the world. Jason, who served 13 years in the Marine Corps and 11 in the Army, retired as a Staff Sergeant and wanted to do something “epic” after all of his time in the service, according to the Rapid City Journal.
Anna’s trip had taken seven and a half months when she finished in Virginia on November 16. Jason did the complete hike in about five and a half months, finishing on December 31 in Georgia. With their big accomplishment under their belts, the two met up again in South Dakota to begin the next adventure – this time as a couple.