Madison man hikes Appalachian Trail


When 19-year-old McLin Sanders chose to take a gap year in 2020, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with that time. The Madison native and Eagle Scout decided he would embark on an Appalachian Trail “thru-hike” to hike the entire Appalachian Trail by himself. 

The day after he graduated from Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Georgia, Sanders began his 2,193-mile journey. 

Starting in Springer Mountain, Georgia, Sanders hiked to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Arriving in November, he split his travels and waited out the snow to start again in March. In June, he arrived at Mount Katahdin in Maine. A fully finished hike completed within 12 months is recognized officially by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Only one in four of the thousands of hikers who begin a “thru-hike” finish. 

“The decision was McLin’s,” said his mother, Krista Sanders. She and McLin’s father, Edward Sanders, stayed involved in their son’s ambitious hike and sent support in the form of “mail drops” or packages. Some of those packages included important equipment updates such as new hiking poles. Many included extra snacks and candy.  

Sanders was committed to traveling “ultra-light.” His backpack weighed only 13 pounds and had in it everything he needed. In his bag, Sanders carried a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, a small camping stove, a tiny propane gas tank, two changes of clothes, a down jacket, a blow-up pillow, a water filter, tent stakes, a headlamp and a portable charger for his cellphone and watch.

Sanders said he met many interesting people on his hike and made at least one friendship that he hopes will last a lifetime. Sanders said hanging out with someone in a hostel or campsite, or hiking with them up and down mountains, creates long-lasting bonds. 

Hikers on the Appalachian Trail often have trail names. Sanders was known as the Duke of the Trail, Duke being his middle name, and he met a hiker who went by Yeehaw. Sanders also met another high school graduate who took a gap year to hike the Appalachian Trail. The two of them hiked the last 400 miles of the trail together. Sanders said they will be lifelong friends.

Franconia Ridge was the highlight of the trip, for Sanders. The second-highest range of peaks in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, this ridge puts its hikers up 11 or 12 miles above the treeline, surrounding them with horizon. 

“It’s like its own little world up there,” Sanders said.

Sanders took many photographs throughout the hike, which were a highlight for Krista Sanders. 

“It was exciting to get new pictures from McLin,” she said. 

Mother and son both uploaded photographs to their social media accounts so that family and friends could stay up-to-date throughout his expedition. 

“My friends were really amazed at how brave he was and were truly interested in his hike,” Krista Sanders said.  

McLin Sanders also enjoyed the Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia, where wild Shetland ponies make their home in the sprawling highlands. McLin Sanders even got to pet a few. 

Parts of the Appalachian Trail were as challenging as they were rewarding. Traversing the White Mountains was practically rock-climbing, McLin Sanders said. 

“The trail there isn’t gradual at all,” he said. 

A “thru-hike” is a tough challenge throughout. To hike the Appalachian Trail in total is equivalent to hiking Mt. Everest from sea level to its peak 16 times.

Though the Appalachian Trail offers its own unique challenges, Sanders recommends the experience. He was somewhat familiar with the territory already, having hiked as a child in Georgia and Alabama with his father, but sees the Appalachian Trail as a must-do. 

“Anyone who wants to hike this trail, they should,” said Sanders, who is headed to the University of Mississippi this fall. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”

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