Total Miles: 817.3
And now for something completely different…
I could tell you about the day and how the trail is now referred to only as Trail 813 on all recent signage, as if it were a prison inmate with only a number to replace its actual name, but I’ve got a better idea. Instead of my usual philosophical ramblings, I figured it was time to shed some light on these three phenomenal people I have the good fortune to be spending so much time on the trail with.
Given the hours of time we have at our disposal while walking and breaking, why not have a little Q&A? First up: Sweet Pea, aka Allison Ristola…(lightly edited for clarity).
Mt. Man: Your first thru-hike was of the Appalachian Trail in 2011. Take me back to that time and the moment you decided to embark on that journey.
Sweet Pea: I can’t remember a specific moment but I just remember us learning more about the AT and the idea of thru-hiking. We knew somebody who’d been section-hiking it and went out to dinner with them and some other friends and got a little bit of info from him but I think by that time we’d probably already decided we were gonna do it.
Mt. Man: Did you have any doubts going in?
Sweet Pea: I don’t know, I think it was more excitement for the first hike versus doubt. I think we probably didn’t know enough to question our ability. We weren’t sure at the beginning if we were going to do the AT (Appalachian Trail) or the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). We actually deliberated both of them and the PCT was way more intimidating to me after reading some accounts—it was more about water and long food carries and stuff like that—but the AT itself didn’t seem as intimidating.
Mt. Man: You and Beardoh have quite the height discrepancy—13 inches? How has that influenced the way in which you hike together?
Sweet Pea: I think it’s been more on Beardoh to adapt than on me. He’s had to just become a lot more patient with the fact that I’m slower than him.
Mt. Man: You also battle some chronic hip issues that make hiking long distances particularly hard. Can you describe what causes that pain and what you do to manage it while on trail?
Sweet Pea: So, what causes the pain is that there are tendons and ligaments in my right leg up by the hip area that are too tight and too short and it causes things to get out of alignment.
Mt. Man: There’s a genetic component to this too, right? One leg longer than the other?
Sweet Pea: There is a genetic component. My right leg, which is the problem hip, is the shorter of the two. I do have some height in my orthotic on that foot that tries to help that.
I’ve done different things over the years to try and help it. When we were on the AT, I didn’t know what to do so I did nothing and then learned some stuff after that, so on hikes like the PCT in 2016 I was super vigilant—and even on the AZT (Arizona Trail)—about stopping multiple times a day and finding a tree where I could roll my hip, stretch, etc.
That’s kind of decreased over the years, more as we’ve been hiking in places that just don’t allow that, like the GET (Grand Enchantment Trail) where it’s a lot harder to find a tree to roll against. I do take ibuprofen everyday for it.
Mt. Man: Yeah, you’re a junkie, I know.
Sweet Pea: When I’m in town I try and roll the ball (a small hard ball about the size of a golf ball she carries with her) in the hotel room and do stretches, but I do a lot less on trail these days than I did a couple years ago.
Mt. Man: How does it affect you mentally? Has it ever forced you off trail, even temporarily?
Sweet Pea: It forced me off trail on the AT, and I was off for two weeks and then decided I could get back on. When I got off we didn’t know if I’d be able to get back on at all or if Beardoh would just finish the AT on his own.
In terms of mentally, I find it pretty draining sometimes. Part of it is draining in that I question if I can finish something or I question if I can go at other people’s speed or I question if I need shorter hiking days, that kind of thing. So, it’s always on my mind and I guess that kind of hanging over you can be draining.
Mt. Man: Having been thru-hiking a long trail pretty much every year since 2011, you’ve witnessed the increasing number of women hiking long trails. From your experience, what hurdles have women faced to being equally represented on long trails?
Sweet Pea: That one I feel is really hard for me to answer because most of the women that are out here are single women and I think as a married woman I don’t understand the struggles that they have.
I’ll hear something about an interaction that a woman might have with a male hiker and to me it just seems crazy, I can’t imagine that happening, but obviously it does. I think that because I’m married and I’m out here with my husband, I just don’t face any of those same issues.
Mt. Man: What advice would you give to women considering a thru-hike, particularly solo hikers?
Sweet Pea: I’m not a good advice giver!
Mt. Man: I knew this would be a challenging one!
Sweet Pea: Well, I think there’s a lot of concerns that a person may have before going out there, not necessarily specific to women. In general, I’d just say that the hiking community is very friendly, very welcoming, and very helpful so even if you’re intimidated you’ll probably end up finding people who are gonna be there to support you.
Mt. Man: Do you know how many miles you’ve hiked on long distance trails?
Sweet Pea: No. I’d have to add it up (Beardoh whispers that it’s around 11,000).
Mt. Man: After the CDT, what’s next?
Sweet Pea: We always say we’re just gonna veg out with Netflix after a hike and it just never happens. Probably head back to doing work stuff. Hiking-wise, hopefully something outside of the U.S.
Mt. Man: What would be on that list?
Sweet Pea: I’d like to do something more in Europe. We’ve talked about doing the Tour de Mont Blanc, and I’d like to do some hiking in Great Britain, Slovenia, or Croatia. Also some of the GR routes in France and Spain.
Mt. Man: Having already hiked more than most people can imagine, is there a long term goal you have for hiking in the future?
Sweet Pea: I don’t think it’s necessarily hiking every year. I think it’s spending time outdoors every year, like a significant amount of time outdoors whether one summer that’s car camping and fishing or one summer that’s hiking or biking. I think it’d be nice to get a bit of variety in terms of the things that we do, but definitely spending a good chunk of time outdoors every year is probably the goal.
Mt. Man: Do you miss the experience of hiking alone?
Sweet Pea: I’ve only done it one time, which was finishing up the AT by myself and it was just over a week. I prefer not hiking by myself so I don’t miss it. I think it was good for me to do just to prove that I could do it, but it’s better to have company.
Latitude/Longitude: 37.25735, -106.64633