Alum returns from Appalachian TrailBy Francie Johnson | 07/29/2014 11:58pm
UA alum William Wells holds up an American flag while hiking the Appalachian trail. (Photo Courtesy of William Wells)
“I got about halfway up and just couldn’t move anymore, didn’t have the energy, didn’t wanna be out there,” Wells said. “I was like, ‘I could be home eating, in air conditioning, away from the mosquitos.’”
Then, his phone went off.
“It was a Facebook notification from a friend, and it just said something like ‘Keep going strong,’ so I saw that and got up and eventually made it to the shelter I was gonna be at,” Wells said.
William Wells spent his final semester of college hiking the Appalachian trail, or the AT, a 2,180-mile trail that passes through 14 states, ranging from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Katahdin, Maine. William Wells typically hiked from 5:30 a.m. or 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. His daily mileage ranged anywhere from 17 to more than 30 miles, except for 12 rest days, or zero days, where he stayed in one location.
“The most difficult part was the mental aspect of it,” William Wells said. “I mean, it was definitely physical because you’re hiking 13 hours a day, just constantly hiking up and down mountains in whatever weather it was. Your feet are hurting constantly, you’re carrying a backpack that probably weighs 25 to 30 pounds. The physical was unbelievably hard, but the mental was so much worse, just because you’re out there, and you’re away from your friends and your family for so long.”
William Wells graduated in May 2014 through New College with a degree in wildlife and land management and a focus in outdoor leadership. He worked with both his academic advisor and the New College associate dean to receive school credit for the planning and execution of his AT thru-hike.
“I met with [William] probably about 10 or 12 days into the hike, and [people] really didn’t know his name, but they would tell me ‘That’s the guy who’s hiking for college credit,” said Bill Wells, William’s father. “I think he got to be known as a University of Alabama student, and I think that just speaks well of the University.”
During his trip, William Wells survived for 142 days on peanut butter and tortillas, Pop-tarts, Ramen noodles, Cliff bars, Fruit Roll-ups and other assorted snack foods.
“Now I can’t eat any more peanut butter or Pop-tarts,” Wells said. “I’ve had way too much of those. I ate the same thing pretty much every day.”
William Wells said his favorite part of the hike was the people he met, some of whom he still keeps in touch with.
“I met people from all over the world,” Wells said. “I was hiking with people from Germany, Australia, England. I was hiking with a 60-year-old man from England who was triple crowning, which means he had done the Pacific Crest trail, the Continental Divide and was now finishing the AT on his 60th birthday.”
Bill Wells said William worked diligently to plan his route and test hiking equipment in the months leading up ?to his departure.
“I think as parents you’re just always worried about what’s going to happen on the trail,” Bill Wells said. “I think part of it was just missing him for that period of time, but his mother and I knew that he was doing something that he really wanted to do, and he was really focused on reaching that goal, so that made it a lot easier as he was gone for those 142 days.”
William Wells has only been home since July 16, but he’s already planning future hikes. He said he’s considering grad school, but if that doesn’t pan out, he wants to complete the Pacific Crest trail and the Cardinal Divide trail ?within the next year.
“It feels awesome knowing that I’ve done it, I’ve completed it, but it still hasn’t set in that it’s over,” Wells said. “Every time I sit down now, I feel like I should still be hiking. It feels like I’m just taking ?a day off.”