This is the third interview in a series about preparing for and reflecting on the three long-distance trails that comprise the Triple Crown: the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.
Gail Muller has managed extreme chronic pain to keep walking. She'll be coming in from Cornwall in the UK to hike the Appalachian Trail SOBO starting in June. Gail hopes to finish by the end of October. Interview has been edited for brevity and clarify.
Is this your first time doing a long-distance thru-hike?
Yep—my first time! I'll be doing some longer hikes in the UK at home in Cornwall—namely around the Cornish coastal path for a week or two, but more than that won't be possible before I begin the AT. I'm craving that single-focus nomadic existence in my very soul, as I live a busy and fast-paced life and have always been filling every second with multiple foci. This pure focus on walking and making physical progress will be incredible.
What are you bringing and why?
I have had chronic body pain for about 15 years which I've largely overcome through a long story, ranging from specialist dentists in the Italian Alps to Thai shamans, ha! I was told I'd be in a wheelchair at 40 and I'm the opposite—mostly recovered. However, to be on the safe side, I will be wanting to travel light, so my gear will be as light as possible. I'll have a light pack, a super light sleeping pad and tent and then the usual kit for sustaining myself. I am not used to long distance hiking, so I'm sure there'll be a number of mistakes I make in my packing, but I'll hopefully figure that out on some shakedown hikes here in the UK. I won't be able to travel without reading material, so my trusty Kindle will be in there, as will my phone and something to journal on/notebook.
Why are you choosing to bring a Vecto?
I am excited to not have to crouch and hold a bottle in a stream or pool or water for ages to fill up with water! The fact that I can very quickly fill the Vecto is awesome, and will save extra stress daily on my body (this might seem super minor to other people but potentially not for me). It is also very intuitively made, having clearly been created by people who know what hikers find important—not waiting ages to collect water, needing something that becomes super compact when empty for ease of carrying, and also virtually indestructible by all accounts—good when accidentally dropped on rocks or hard ground. I know it's kind of irrelevant, but I also really like the colours as well as the nice thoughtful design.
How do you handle hygiene on the trail?
This is new to me as I'm new to long distance hiking. I'm struggling with trying to work out how to be as environmentally friendly and as hygienic as possible. I will probably start using a Mooncup or similar, but need to get practicing with that asap! I'll boil it to keep it hygienic, and keep plenty of sanitiser for hands, etc. I think I'll need to trial some weekends hiking whilst on my period to get the hang of it. If it's all too tricky then I'll speak to the doctor about the contraceptive pill and taking it straight through the 5 months so I don't get a period—although I'd MUCH prefer to work with my body naturally and let it do what it needs to rather than regimenting it with chemicals.
Are you hiking alone or with companions?
I'll be hiking alone, but also inviting some people to come and join me on the way who have also overcome adversity to get there, e.g. a Marine who was injured in Afghanistan, a friend who lost a son etc—people who want to come and share their stories of hope and their advice for getting through. Nature walk and talk is very important for good mental health. I'll be mostly solo and the whole journey will be blogged/vlogged and I'll aim to make a short film as well as write a book about the experience—hope over adversity and anything is achievable—resilience etc.
Do you have any fears about hiking alone as a woman on the trail?
Yes, I do have fears. I have traveled widely on my own but not in such remote terrain and so far out of my comfort zone. The thought of bears terrifies me because we don't have them in the UK.... so bear spray? Eek!I'll prep well in terms of actual trail safety, and have always been "outdoorsy" having grown up in Cornwall by the sea, but my biggest fear is being vulnerable to other people who might not have good intentions.
I have a very trusting and happy-go-lucky nature which means I naturally chat to others and like to listen to people's stories etc—but I have to curtail that a bit as I will be in an area/situation that's entirely new to me and my radar for safety will need to increase as it always does when travelling. I haven't hiked much in the US before, but I can already see that all the stories and blogs that I read about the AT shows what a wonderful place it is for meeting and attracting kind, good folk who support and help each other, so I'm going to focus on that rather than those "boogy man in the woods" thoughts.
What do you anticipate to be the most difficult stretch of the trail and how are you preparing?
As I'll be going SOBO, I think Maine will be really tough on my legs—I won't be quite trail hardened yet. I hear the Mahoosuc Notch and surrounding miles are super hard! I'm training a lot—I trail run three or four times a week and lift weights at the gym, and I'll start throwing in more activities like stair climbing with weight etc. I'll probably also need to add some smaller exercise movements that help support my knees and my core, like Pilates and yoga.
What’s your training schedule?
I am booked to do a 100k ultra just before I come out to start the trail, but I think now I might not as it could give me an injury. I definitely don't need to pick up just before my Thru! I ran almost 1500km for charity last year with some friends across the year, so that has given me good latent fitness. Otherwise I do things to help keep my chronic pain at bay, and also what my pain will allow. (Although my pain is SO much better than it used to be!)
What are the details on your resupply strategy?
This may sound negligent but I don't have a solid strategy on this yet! I will be doing a lot more research before I embark, but will be taking a stove and probably resupplying as I go rather than sending food forward in boxes to myself, especially as I'm coming out from the UK just before I start! There are some things I can't get here that I have to pick up out there like a bear canister, so I might put together some food boxes and send them forward when I first arrive in the US. Otherwise, it'll be as I go.
Thank you, Gail! Join us as we follow her on her AT journey via her Instagram. Next week we will have an interview from a woman who traveled from Germany to hike the Appalachian Trail last year.