If you’ve ever fantasized about pulling a Wild and hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, you’ll appreciate the virtual escape that is thru hiker TikTok, a hashtag that boasts over 16 million views. With bear spray, a Diva Cup, and a pack full of dehydrated meals, these hikers weather tough trails over the course of weeks or months, documenting everything from making new friends to pooping outside.
Shannon, 25, an electrical energy systems engineer, is currently on the East Coast, hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) and sharing it with her 19,000 followers on TikTok. It’s her second thru hike, after cutting her teeth on the 300-mile-long Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) back in September. The Minnesota native’s videos have garnered nearly a million likes.
Shannon’s first thru hike was the result of having a few weeks off of work during the pandemic and “want[ing] to do something cool,” she tells Bustle — and that’s why she thinks people are drawn to her videos. “I think thru hiking is becoming much more popular right now — especially with people getting back out there [post-pandemic],” Shannon tells Bustle. “Without cellphone service, you don’t feel obligated to answer every Snap, email, and text that comes your way — it's a slower, but healthier way of life that lets you focus on what’s important,” she adds.
But you don’t need to be a survivalist to get started on the trail. “I had never backpacked for more than a weekend, I had never hiked alone, and I had never camped alone,” she tells Bustle, of her first thru hike. “When I made my final summit on the SHT, I had a major feeling of not wanting to be done. I had been outside for three weeks straight but I wanted more.” That was when she decided the AT was next. “I am 12 days into the trail and I am happier than I have ever been in my life,” she tells Bustle from a hotel pitstop in Washington, D.C.
Curious what it’s like to not have regular access to WiFi or dry socks for weeks on end? Here’s what a day in Shannon’s life on the trail looks like.
The first thing I do when I wake up every day is ungracefully shuffle around and find my phone, which I keep in the bottom of my sleeping bag so the battery doesn't get cold overnight. I take my phone off Airplane mode (keeping it in Airplane mode saves battery) and see if I got any messages from my friends or family. I check the weather if I can. I then debate going back to sleep for another hour, but I can usually hear other hikers packing up and making breakfast, which inspires me to do the same.
If it’s cold I will start to boil some water on my stove. I put dehydrated fruits and oatmeal in a cup and add hot water for my breakfast. If it’s hot, I enjoy the oatmeal cold. If I’m feeling really fancy, I might have dehydrated eggs, scrambled. I also love having instant coffee with some dehydrated milk in it to make myself a "hiker latte."
After eating, I will pack up the tent, food, and sleep system into my backpack. I make sure to put my snacks for the day in my pocket, so I can get quick fuel during the day. Then I mentally go through my checklist to make sure I didn't forget anything at the campsite. I also look at my map to make a plan for the day. I make a goal of where I want to get to that night, and any stops I want to make during the day. Sometimes I pass through an area with showers, so I will take one, or stay the night at that camp or hostel.
I start hiking. I usually eat a bar of some kind every hour between breakfast and lunch while hiking to ensure I am getting enough calories in the day.
I always stop for lunch. I love eating peanut butter and jelly, hard cheeses with crackers, "pita pizza" (a pita pocket with pizza squeeze and cheese in it), and maybe even instant mashed potatoes. If I feel like it, I might even take a quick nap on a flat area right off trail.
Back on the trail. I have snacks throughout the day and filter water when I cross streams. I will usually make it to the campsite I set as a goal, but if I am exhausted or in pain, it's not good to push your body too far, so I will hike a bit more and then rest at my first opportunity.
If the weather sucks, but isn’t dangerous, then I just try to take it in and keep hiking. The rain brings a lot of beauty to the trail that you might not see other times. In dangerous weather, I follow the best line of safety precautions and try to find the first available shelter.
6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
I do my best to not hike at night, but sometimes, I get in a bit after dark. When I arrive at camp, I do everything in order of how much it sucks to do in the dark, in order of most terrible to least terrible. Tasks are: find a spot to hang the bear bag; put up my tent and throwing everything I sleep with inside; cook dinner and clean up; hang all my scented things (food, toothbrush/ paste, soaps) on the bear bag rope; set up the inside of my tent; and put my hiking clothes into a bag to use as a second pillow. I also put my water filter, phone, and spare battery in the bottom of my sleeping bag so they don't get cold overnight.
If I’m lucky, others will be at the site and we can build a fire together, and I’ll chat with them before I get into my tent for the night. People have taught me so much about hiking, camping, and life in general. I’ve met some of the most amazing people ever on the trail.
We call 9:00 "hiker midnight" — everyone falls asleep. I get to sleep and the next day, do it all again.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.