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“Yeah, I walk a lot” laughs Mandy Redpath. This is quite an understatement considering this year Redpath has joined only 260 individuals since its inception, recorded as completing the “Triple Crown of Backpacking” (Maloney). The “Triple Crown” consists of the Pacific Trail (PCT), the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT); a total of 7900 miles of hiking. To put this into perspective, that’s like walking from New York to California…nearly three times…and don’t forget the 30-pound backpack.
Mandy’s backpacking career started her freshman year when she met the members of the Syracuse University Outing Club (SUOC) at a club fair. In high school she played lacrosse. Every season. When she went up to the club lacrosse table she expected to keep doing the same. “But they were so unhappy” Mandy reminisced. “They all had the same clothing on, their hair was in the same way, and just looked annoyed. And so I was like ‘uhhhh do I really want to do this?’”
But then Mandy looked over to another table. “There was SUOC and they were having a blast!” she laughed. “They were talking to people and someone was carrying someone around in a kayak, someone else was jumping around on the table in caving gear and I was like, ‘I want to go talk to those guys, they’re having fun!’” Every weekend that semester she went on an SUOC trip. She got slowly more and more involved and still is to this day.
Within SUOC, Mandy remains as a sort of living legend. SUOC president and avid backpacker, Theresa O’Brian, says that the Triple Crowner’s name comes up every time thru-hiking is mentioned in SUOC. “When I first met Mandy I just remember feeling like I suddenly had something to live up to” said Theresa.
Mandy started thru-hiking when she was 19 and then it slowly snowballed. The first test of her skills was when she backpacked across Spain. “I figured if I could live out of my backpack for a month, I could probably do it for 6 months.” After Spain, Mandy hiked the Appalachian Trail and said she was done with long distance hiking. But a year later, she ended up hiking the Colorado Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. “Then, I swore I would never do the Continental Divide Trail… And then I did that too. As time went on I just got the bug to keep hiking.” One thing leads to another says the avid backpacker, “You either do one thru-hike and say ‘I‘ve had that experience’ or you say ‘I want my life to be that experience.’”
One of Mandy’s most challenging backpacking experiences was on the Continental Divide Trail. She was hiking with her trail partners “Scalawag”, “The Darkness”, and “Easily Distracted” (trail nicknames are common among the hiking community). Mandy, also known on the trail as “Veggie” was with the rest of her group on a 9500-foot ridge in Montana in the rain; completely exposed, no trees. Scalawag, The Darkness, and Veggie ventured ahead while Easily Distracted stayed behind, waiting out the rain in her tent.
The rain slowly turned to sleet…which turned to sideways sleet…which turned to a mixture of sleet and snowy precipitation. Now beginning to realize the seriousness of their situation, Mandy held the GPS close to her face, as she could see nothing else in front of her. All of a sudden she and Scalawag hear – “CoooooEEEE” (the call they use to find each other when lost).
Scalawag and Mandy looked around. It was still impossible to see so they walked a little further. They heard the call again and found The Darkness huddled by a fallen tree, curled up and shaking. She had mild hypothermia, which quickly passed into medium hypothermia, making her unable to move. At this point, Scalawag also slipped into mild hypothermia.
Knowing she had to act quickly and using the first aid skills she learned in SUOC, Mandy quickly threw together her two-person tent and warmed The Darkness up for the next three hours until she finally stopped shaking. By this point, the rain had died down and a completely dry Easily Distracted hopped in right before the next wave of rain hit. “There were four of us in a two person tent trying to stay warm through the storm and so that was…challenging” said Mandy.
When asked why she chose the lifestyle she has, Mandy and many other hikers say, “’if you have to ask you’ll never know.’”
But as she puts it, this is a cop out answer. The more in depth answer is, “there is something about traveling at a two-and-a-half or three miles an hour pace every day for months that changes you…you can see seasons change on foot.” She watches the plants change with the seasons while she watches vegetation and endless wildlife change with the altitude. “I feel like so much of the time we’re caught up in cars that take us 60, 70, 80 miles an hour or we’re sitting at a computer screen that allows us to flip through thousands of images at once. When you’re hiking it takes you back to that primal phase of just going through things at a pace that your body can process.” Aside from her awe- inspiring hiking, those around her say that this long distance hiker’s insights into life such as these are inspiring in their own right.
Mandy’s friend of many years, Robyn Oakes, says Mandy “lives in the moment and doesn’t worry herself to death about the uncertainty of some distant future.” She adds, “Her morals and philosophies of life are so admirable (she takes great care to only buy vegan equipment or clothing produced in non-sweatshop conditions). I can’t say enough good things about her to do her justice in a written piece; that’s how highly I think of her.”
The times in her life when Mandy feels least burdened are when the only things with her are those on her back. “I don’t need anything else. It’s that feeling of having just enough and being completely okay with that. In such a consumerist society it’s hard to get away from that and when you purposely do that, it changes you.”
Her advice to aspiring backpackers is that “You just gotta get out there. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting out there every weekend, if that’s what you can do. I walk to work every day. It’s a mile and a half each way so each day I’m doing three miles a day of walking and I don’t care if it’s raining or sleeting, I’m still gonna walk. It makes me feel better even if sleet is pelting me in the face; it brings me back to the moment.”
Maloney, Lisa. “The Lowdown on the Triple Crown of Hiking | Marmot US.” Marmot. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2017.