Valrico Friends Start Six-Month Appalachian Trail Journey

By Michelle Colesanti

Katelyn Kennedy and friend, Gene Buchli, recently left Valrico for what will hopefully be a trip of a lifetime. They will not be spending their time at five-star resorts or jetting around the world. Instead they will spend about six months hiking 2,200 miles on the Appalachian Trail.

Kennedy, ninth in her high school class with a 6.7 GPA and a National Merit Scholar, graduated Durant High School in 2012. Buchli has also recently graduated from Durant and the pair plan to continue with their college education upon their return.

Kennedy has experience in backpacking through the wilderness. She spent three weeks at High Uintas Wilderness in Utah with a group of 20 other students, and has also been on two mission trips to Brazil.

Always a love for the outdoors, Kennedy said, “When other girls were at the mall, I was out playing paintball in the woods or hiking at a nearby park. My passion for the outdoors and travel has steered me to pursue a degree in Geology. Since I have already finished two years of college after only graduating high school a year ago, I wanted to take some time off from the classroom and combine my two passions. Thus began my planning to backpack the Appalachian Trail.”

Buchli, who was a Boy Scout and has camping and backpacking experience said, “Katelyn shared her dream of backpacking the entire Appalachian Trail a few months back; her parents did not support her going alone. It intrigued me to start researching the trail on my own, and I grew fonder of the idea of joining her in this journey. Since I have not yet started college, the timing is perfect.” He feels postponing college for a few months is worth this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Believing this journey will afford him a great sense of accomplishment and personal growth, he also said, “I believe the challenges that will come from this long journey will test my limits and prepare me for the challenges of college and my life ahead of me.”

After months of planning and budgeting for the approximately $3,000 in expenses and fees, they began their hike at the northern end of the Trail on 5,267 ft. high Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park the end of May, and will end in Georgia at Amicalola Falls. Packing lightly is a necessity since they will be walking daily. They have to carry everything; their supplies, clothes and food with them. They will have a small stove with a burner and one pot. Most of the food is freeze-dried and can be warmed up in this manner. There are post office outposts along the way where they can plan to have food shipped from home.

Karen Kennedy, Katelyn’s mom, was apprehensive at first about letting her daughter do the hike, but as she learned about some of the safety features the students would incorporate, her apprehension turned to excitement for their adventure. They will have a satellite solar powered phone with them. Also, on the trail, there is a sign-in every 15 miles. The trail is very popular at this time of year and they plan to meet others who will start at the same point around the same time. Annually, about 2,500 attempt to hike the entire trail.  Statistics show that only one in four will actually finish. Kennedy and Buchli are confident that they have prepared adequately for the long haul.

Contact Karen Kennedy, karen@familyfencecompany.com.