Phase 1: Hiking the Appalachian Trail

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Hello Everyone!

So I began mentioning this project several months ago, but now the planning has begun for real. In short, I plan to through hike the Appalachian Trail and then eventually backpack across Australia.

As many of you know, I have spent the past three Summers working for a backpacking program for the Boy Scouts of America. I also was lucky enough to earn my two bachelor’s degrees from Virginia Tech, which just happens to be located right off of the Appalachian Trail, the most popular backpacking trail in the nation.

Naturally, living in this outdoor community for the past several years has given me the same bug that my fellow ‘townies’ all share, the love of any and everything outdoors. Those who leave Virginia Tech saying there is nothing to do in Southwest VA missed out on the world full of opportunities it has to offer: Hiking, Camping, Kayaking, Canoeing, Trail Running, Fishing, Hunting, Climbing and Rappelling, Horseback Riding, Biking, Rafting, and the list goes on. If you have never done these things, there are plenty of clubs in the area to join that WELCOME the chance to introduce noobies to this lifestyle. There is never a dull moment in the mountains.

These things have become my heart and soul, my passion, the things that get me up and going in the morning. Every slow, boring day at work is worth it when I get to spend the end of the day doing something outside with my friends and my little dog, Scout.

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And yes, then there are the horses.

It was never a life goal to work with horses. I didn’t grow up around them; It was never planned, it just sort of happened. Before I knew it, people began coming to me for help with behavior problems and for lessons and suddenly my resume was nothing but working with horses. I tell everyone that most of my family is very musical; they sing or play instruments or write music…and then there’s me. I’m tone deaf and can’t keep a strum to save my life.

But I can ride.

I can speak horse, and I can teach others to do the same. I’ve run the Horsemanship program for three years for Boy Scouts at the Blue Ridge Scout Reservation and spoken and helped put on numerous clinics, contests, open houses, sales and fundraisers for 4-H, FFA, and barns all over Virginia. I was on a collegiate judging team for years and I traveled across the country competitively judging horse shows. I’ve taken horses all over trails, camping, backpacking, swimming, midnight riding, on camp raids, you name it! Most of you have heard the story of Rebel, for those of you who haven’t, here’s the link to the story. Its the shortest and most accurate way to explain how this horse changed my life, and yet it doesn’t do justice to how much of an impact he really made.
https://hokiedove.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/rebels-story/

Well, on Sunday, October 20th I was doing what I love, guiding a horseback trail ride for a pumpkin festival fundraiser our farm participates in every year. (When I say ‘our’ farm, I mean Winterfrost, the horse rescue I have volunteered and worked for for the past 4 years). I riding my most recent project, Rowdy, a little paint gelding who I had broke and trained and been on SEVERAL successful trail rides with. He had been doing fantastic all day when something, I’m not sure what, set him off and spooked him. He bucked a few times, I lost the rein and he started running, I reached forward and pulled the reins to stop him, and other than a few fuzzy flashes the next thing I remember was being at the hospital. I had a concussion, memory loss, and a broken L4 vertebrae. I’m now stuck in a fancy back brace for the next three months until my physical therapy begins, which means no horseback riding for a while. I’d be on now if I could, I usually try to get back on a horse as soon as I get off so I can show them that bucking isn’t acceptable and won’t let them win.

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This photo really shows it well, this was the CAT scan of my spine. The 2nd bone from my tailbone is L4, you can see it is about 25% compressed and the front half has a nice crack down the center of it. Luckily it didn’t hit any nerves or my spinal chord!!!

It really put a damper on my plans. I had been fundraising for my entry into the 2013 American Heart Association Beach Ride, a 5 day camping adventure on Myrtle Beach with my horse friends. I begged friends and family for money and paid off my entry, and the broken back made me lose my place.

I also lost my job.

I worked as a vet tech in the large animal hospital at VA Tech 40hrs a week but was still “part time” wage with no benefits. Because I can no longer do the job, I was terminated from this position. Life’s not fair right? It seems like I was just getting my life together when it fell apart, but then I started looking at it a little differently.

Three months in a brace, plus a few months of physical therapy and I’ll be good as new. There was no nerve damage or damage to my spinal chord, just a crack and a compression fracture. The Dr. said I would be able to start hiking again slowly at the beginning of the year. That gives me several months to get back in shape and start training again for something I’ve wanted to do for a while now.

Enter Stage 1 of Backwoods 2 Outback.

I’m going to attempt a “thru-hike” on the Appalachian Trail.

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http://www.appalachiantrail.org/
The AT is a 2,180 mile backpacking trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine and takes about 5-6 months, on average, to complete. It showcases the beautiful scenery of the Appalachian mountains and its highlights and side trails attract nearly 3 million people a year. Hikers carry food and supplies for usually about a week at a time and plan food drops at towns and post offices spread along the trail. Hikers give up heating in the early Spring and AC in the Summer, trade beds for sleeping pads and tents, and endure 6 months of sweat, stink, and exhaustion. Its a hard, stressful, painful, hungry, aching, cold, hot, smelly, and sounds right up my alley.

I’m probably going to be asking Santa for a REALLY nice sleeping pad this year, having just broken my back and all, but the Drs say there is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do it in time. I want hike to push myself, to find myself, and to see if I can.

Thursday, March 20, 2014 is the first day of Spring. I will be starting down at Springer Mountain in Georgia, hiking across the 13 states, and ending at Mt. Katahdin in Maine. I plan on having Scout with me for the entire Virginia portion, from Damascus to Harper’s Ferry, West VA. The hike is hard on a dog’s feet and even though he has been on several backpacking adventures with me, I don’t want to push him more than a month or so and risk much more. Plus the entire length of the AT is not open to dogs, there are several spots where he would have to be shipped around in locations that are not dog-friendly. But I can’t resist taking him on part of my adventure, its just what we do!

Now, while I will be hiking for around 6 months, this means I will not have a pay check to support me. My 2,000+ mile journey is dependent on on thing in particular. Sponsors. All of YOU! It is estimated that, on average, a through hiker spends about $4,000-5,000 in food, gear, supplies and postage during this time. I already have a good set of backpacking gear but there are several things that will need to be replaced prior to and during the journey. A single pair of shoes, for example, will not last 2200 miles.

So, I am asking for help from my friends and family and anyone else who would like to be a sponsor! I have no problem carrying a logo or gear from a specific brand, I am looking to find funding for this adventure from all corners of the globe!
I have also begun writing. Writing letter after letter, to brand name companies asking to test products and gear, to outdoor clubs and trail clubs up and down the AT asking for sponsorship’s and help along the way with occasional rides to and from town, and looking for funding for this adventure. We’ll see where it gets me! =) Hope to see you all on the trail sometime, somewhere along the way!!!

You can track my progress towards my goal as well as updated information at my blog, Backwoods 2 Outback :
https://backwoods2outback.wordpress.com/

I will be putting up information on the gear I plan to use, a wishlist, who I plan to hike with, details on how to contact me, information about Scout the Adventure Beagle, etc. I look forward to working with you all and to hitting the trails this coming Spring!

Thank you all so much for your help, love and support!
Love
Brittany Neal
and Scout, The Adventure Beagle!

Here is the link to the GoFundMe Site!:

http://www.gofundme.com/2p2akc

Here is the link to my Hiking Pintrest Board:

http://www.pinterest.com/vtcowgirlup/hiking/

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