“No Mr. Raccoon you are not getting my Snickers!”
The story is familiar yet extreme. A college student looking for their purpose in life and deciding to take a trip to find themselves. While Olivia Wiggins, aka Wrong Way, fit that mold at 19 years old and an undecided college Sophomore, her trek to clarity was not one of parentally funded international travel. Wiggins dropped out of school and started her plan to exit society and enter the Appalachian Trail.
Her decision was drastic, having never thru hiked a day her in her life, but her mindset was simple. “Let’s go out into the woods for a little bit. Let’s go on a little adventure,” Wiggins said.
The Appalachian Trail (AT) is approximately 2,200 miles of ever expanding hiking trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The trail spans 14 states, takes an average of 6 months to complete and is one of the three most popular United States trails that make up the informal Triple Crown of hiking.
Wiggins decided to take the journey solo in hopes of aiding in her transition to young adulthood. “Maybe walking alone with my thoughts… maybe something will come to me,” Wiggins said.
It took a year of research, saving and procuring before Wiggins was able to start off on the the trail March 18th, 2013. Her family was nervous but she was able to ease their concerns by showing them her multiple spreadsheets, stops and general itinerary.
With the extent of her planning, Wiggins did not account for actual experience on the trail. It was the first day before she found out whether her water filtration system was up to par. Luckily it was. She learned to purchase extra safety pins to dry out her socks on her pack while hiking. She learned how to stay warm inside her sleeping bag. “I was layering myself with clothes, my jacket my wool socks, and it still wasn’t enough,” Wiggins said. “I was using my extra hand warmers [to warm up] my butt because I was freezing.” That is when a fellow hiker told her that she needed to lose the layers and use her body heat against the down to stay warm.
“On the Northbound hike, something like 30 or 40 people start every day from March to April” Wiggins said. Which meant she was never far from fellow helpful travelers or the experience that comes with meeting new people
on the trail. This is also how she was renamed Wrong Way. “Everyone gets a trail name and you are not supposed to pick yours” Wrong Way said. She received the name after heading down the wrong trail almost immediately after being dropped off at the AT.
On top of basic knowledge she battled with many things hikers go through on such a long distance trail. “I literally experienced extreme dehydration, malnutrition, protein deficiency and I didn’t understand what all of these things were because I did not know how to handle my intake,” Wrong Way said. She also had a run in with an equally hungry raccoon. “I woke up to a raccoon trying to get in my food bag. I had to hit it with my hiking poles like no Mr. Raccoon you are not getting my snickers.”
But it was the people that made for a lot of her personal insight on the trail. She said the stereotypes don’t exist. Your status in society does not exist. “Everyone is dirty, everyone stinks.” Wrong Way said. Everyone is united under the same goal. To make it through another day.
“it changed me in a million ways when I was on the trail. It was the first time ever I had truly been alone with my thoughts in a way that I just don’t think you can find in society. Your food is accounted for, your shelter is accounted for, your water is accounted for, the only decision you have to make everyday is whether you want to walk forward,” Wrong Way said.
After five months on the trail and a stint with the Norovirus, Wrong Way’s lack of funds brought her back to civilization, but the experience will never leave her. “It feels like unfinished business for me,” Wiggins said.
She intends to complete the trail in 2019 with a lighter pack, larger funds, and expressed determination.