Before she begins a doctor of chiropractic degree, Emma Berntheizel ’15 is hiking the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, passing through 12 other states along the way.
Sponsored by Vasque apparel’s “Thru-Hike Syndicate,” Berntheizel began her journey in Georgia in mid-March, which meant she had to deal with the remnants of winter. In the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, she and fellow hikers ran into a blizzard.
“We were up at 6,000 feet in elevation and the wind speeds were absolutely brutal,” she says. “On our last night/early morning, it was 15 degrees with a wind chill down to -5, and we had six inches of snow. We called it our Everest day because if I stopped hiking even for a few minutes to force myself to eat something, I would lose feeling in my hands and feet.”
The weather proved stubborn through the more than 500 miles of trail through Virginia, when it rained for 28 straight days.
“I’ve officially given into the fact that weather forecasts mean nothing,” Berntheizel says. “I always assume that it will rain and am pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t.”
On the “thru-hike” from one end of the trail to the other, Appalachian Trail hikers experience 464,500 feet of elevation gain and loss, which, Berntheizel explains, made it difficult to focus on the challenges of the trail immediately in front of her.
“Trying to conceptualize walking all the way from Georgia to Maine is the quickest way to psych yourself out, and it’s the only thing on your mind on the first day,” she says.
Now four months into the expedition, Berntheizel has passed the 1,600-mile mark and plans to reach Maine in mid-August. She will begin a clinical internship this fall at Naturally Chiropractic, P.C. in Buffalo, N.Y., and will attend Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa in the Fall of 2017.
“I think the most amazing part of this entire journey is how we have truly lost all concept of time,” Berntheizel says. “We wake up with the sun, break down camp, eat breakfast, hike for 8-10 hours, get to camp, stretch, eat, make a fire, take care of our bodies as best we can and go to sleep as the sun goes down.”
At HWS, Berntheizel majored in psychology and minored in French & Francophone studies.