Maybe you have read (or seen) ‘Wild’ and have been utterly inspired to give long distance hiking a try yourself. Maybe, like me, your desire to hike across a region, state or country goes back further than 2012 when the book was published. Or maybe you’re still not so sure about why anybody would want to go through the pain and torture that is long-term hiking and need a bit of convincing still.

When I read about Kimberly Brookshire, the first woman to YoYo the Mountains to Sea Trail in North Carolina, I knew I had to learn more. Crazy enough to decide to solo hike 1,150 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks – but to YoYo it, which means to hike from one end to the other and back again?! Let me tell you, Kimberly certainly deserves that nickname of hers: ‘Legs’!

Originally from Taylorsville, a small town in North Carolina, the 32-year-old spent 206 days hiking across her native state – an experience she describes as amazing and life changing. I sat her down to tell us more about her adventure.

Meet the first woman to yoyo hike the Mountains to Sea Trail - yes, Kimberly Brookshire hiked from one side of NC to the other and back again!

First things first – Kimberly, what is the Mountains to Sea Trail and what intrigued you about hiking it?

The Mountains to Sea Trail is a 1,150 mile trek across the state of North Carolina. It starts (if you go from the mountains to the sea) at Clingman’s Dome on the Tennessee/ North Carolina border and goes to Jockeys Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks. It’s the state’s longest marked footpath. It passes through 37 counties, connects to 7 state parks and meanders through three national parks. It climbs the tallest mountain peak and the highest sand dune in the Eastern United States. Its highest elevation is 6,684 feet on Mt. Mitchell and the lowest elevation is sea level at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It includes three ferry rides on the coast and takes approximately 2,112,000 footsteps to complete. Next year, 2017, will be the 40th Anniversary of the trail. There have been less than 100 people to complete the trail and only three to YoYo the trail, myself included (the first woman). I chose this trail because it was in my home state and I’d have more connections should I need them.

What made you decide to go for it?

I decided to go for a thru-hike as a New Year’s resolution I made two years ago. I wanted to do something different than usual. I wasn’t much of an outdoor girl at the time and wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone to see if I was brave enough and skilled enough. I had previously worked in the fashion industry and this was definitely the opposite of me in every way.

Meet the first woman to yoyo hike the Mountains to Sea Trail - yes, Kimberly Brookshire hiked from one side of NC to the other and back again!

You initially set out to ‘just’ hike from one end to the other, but ended up YoYoing the trail – how come?

I decided to YoYo because I wasn’t done hiking yet. I wasn’t ready for my “trail life” to be over and it didn’t seem right to be done yet. I enjoyed it too much and became addicted to the hurt and beauty it gave me. I quit my job so I could walk back and become the first woman to ever YoYo the MST.

How did you prepare physically for the challenge?

I didn’t do too much to prepare. I did however, put on about 40 pounds for the hike because I knew I’d end up losing a lot. I’m glad I did. I ended up losing all the weight I put on in the first two months. I did walk a lot before that and a few times I went with a full pack but nothing more than 5 miles or so. I wanted the trail to get me into shape instead of getting myself into shape before hand.

Meet the first woman to yoyo hike the Mountains to Sea Trail - yes, Kimberly Brookshire hiked from one side of NC to the other and back again!

What did a typical day on the trek look like?

A typical day on the trail would be breakfast, change out of my camp clothes, journal about my night before and then break down all my gear and tent. Everything had a place in my tent as well as in my pack. Everything became routine much like “real life.” I’d get up early around 6-6:30am and be on the trail by 7:30-8am. I’d walk a few miles and break for snacks, rest and journaling. Then gear up and walk some more. I’d walk about 3-4 miles an hour, given the terrain that day, and break every hour or so. I’d usually walk 8-9 hours a day and then find a good camp spot for the night and set up camp. That became routine as well. I could set up and break down camp in 30 minutes.

After I got my tent up, mattress blown up, and camp clothes on, I’d make a warm dinner and journal while it cooked. In the warmer months I’d go for a little walk around before bed to pass the time and in the colder months I’d often go to bed when the sun went down around 6:30pm. Some days I’d walk 8 miles and get somewhere beautiful and take the evening off while other days I’d have to hike until dark to make sure I could find a flat enough camping spot. I took “zero days” where I didn’t walk at all to give my body rest and enjoy some down time.

Meet the first woman to yoyo hike the Mountains to Sea Trail - yes, Kimberly Brookshire hiked from one side of NC to the other and back again!

What are you top packing tips for long-distance hiking?

Here are a few of my best tips:

– I took baby wipes instead of toilet paper. It kept me fresh and that way I could also get a “towel bath”

– Don’t overpack: Two changes of clothes and camp clothes is all you need. Think layers but keep it simple.

– A bandana and/or Buff is a must. They have multipurpose uses such as: neck scarf, snot rag, sweat rag, breathing mask for odors, signal if need be, tourniquet, washcloth or towel, a towel for cooling yourself off, a sling, a hat and more.

– Bring three pair of socks: two for the day, and one spare. When it rains that way you’ll still always have one dry pair.

– Use different colored stuff sacks to keep like items together. Kitchen items in one, clothing in another, personal items and first aid in another.

– Put your tent, sleeping bag, and colored stuff sacks in the same place in your pack everyday. You’ll know what bag is missing and that way you’ll never leave something behind.

– Always carry a water purifier and a whistle.

My essentials were an inflatable pillow (one of my comfort items), Buff, and a good trekking pole. Items I got rid of quickly were my Go Girl (feminine purposes), heavier snacks, a heavy Gerber multi tool, and a few first aid items and personal care products that were not needed (creams, lotions, soap and medicine).

Meet the first woman to yoyo hike the Mountains to Sea Trail - yes, Kimberly Brookshire hiked from one side of NC to the other and back again!

What was your favourite moment along the way?

My favorite moments were getting to the top of Shortoff Mountain (I cried the first time), meeting Michael (another Thru-hiker on the MST, we walked several hundred miles together), and making it to the coast and then back to the mountains. Finishing the first time was very emotional for me, I knew I had made it and was so proud of myself. Finishing the second time back at Clingman’s Dome where I had started 6.5 months earlier was the best. I made history and became the first woman ever to YoYo the MST – that’s my biggest achievement to date!

And the hardest?

The hardest part of the hike was believing in myself that I could get up tough mountains and survive the dreadful heat of summer on the coast. I tore my feet up and lost the first three layers of skin on my hike across the coast on the Outer Banks. The heat was so hot on the ground that it essentially cooked my skin. I also went through 4 pairs of shoes.

I was scared a lot in the beginning. Every little sound was terrifying. The first bear I encountered was pretty scary but the scariest thing was a baby doll head I came across on the side of the road. I didn’t know it was a baby doll until after I got close enough, I just assumed it was a baby. And I did get “bumped” by a car on the coast with my hiking parter Michael. Nothing major but it was scary nonetheless.

I thought about quitting several times, most of which happened after had a tough day of ups and downs or if I was just in a bad mood. I always told myself “This day will end” and tomorrow would be better. I’m so glad I never quit!

Meet the first woman to yoyo hike the Mountains to Sea Trail - yes, Kimberly Brookshire hiked from one side of NC to the other and back again!

Was there anything from home you really missed while you were hiking?

Things I missed from home were my family and friends and being able to watch a movie in my pjs on my couch with a glass of wine. I did pack a lot of Snickers bars to help keep my happy while on the trail. Chocolate went far when wine couldn’t.

What are the most important lessons you took away from this trip?

The most important lesson I learned are that the things we really need in this world are water, food and breath in our lungs. Everything else is just extra. It made me more humble than I could have ever imagined being. If I couldn’t carry it in my pack I didn’t need it. Another lesson I learned is that those who have little to give often give the most. I had a homeless man (who lived in his car with his dog) give me bottled water in the mountains when I couldn’t find any. There was a major drought happening and wildfires not far from my trail. All the streams had run dry and running into him saved my life. In exchange for the water he gave me I gave him money. It was worthless to me at the time. I could not drink or eat the money and he needed what I had and I needed what he had. He also gave me two silver charms for a necklace, one was St Christopher and the other was the Virgin Mary. He said to keep them and that they would protect me. I wore them for the rest of my trip and will continue to cherish them always.

I have lived in NC my whole life and learned a lot about the history of the state along the way. The trail goes through many small towns I’d never heard of and gave me a whole new perspective on my state. It was so much fun getting to see so many places I’d never visited before. Plus, the sights along the way were some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. One storm in particular was scary and majestic all at the same time.

Meet the first woman to yoyo hike the Mountains to Sea Trail - yes, Kimberly Brookshire hiked from one side of NC to the other and back again!

Do you have tips for any other women out there who might want to hike the MST or a similar trail?

My tips/advice for women who are wanting to hike the MST or other long thru-hikes is to go for it. Set a start date, research gear and the trail, and make it happen. The easiest part of this is deciding to do it and the hardest is then actually doing it. I know lots of ladies who have long bucket lists. They have all these things they want to do but rarely ever make a plan to accomplish them. If you never have a “good time” to go or can’t take the time off of work or think that there’ll be plenty of time later, that could be the case. But going out into the world to achieve a goal (any goal, doesn’t have to be hiking 2,000 miles) is worth it in the end… now! Life is way to short to “wait for later!”

What’s next? Any more hikes planned?

I’ll pick another hike this year for my New Year’s Resolution and plan it for 2018. I’m not sure where I’ll go or what trail I’ll do. I only know that I’m excited for the adventure that awaits me!

Thanks for your inspiration, Kimberly!

Meet the first woman to yoyo hike the Mountains to Sea Trail - yes, Kimberly Brookshire hiked from one side of NC to the other and back again!

Read some of Kimberly’s diary from the trail on her blog, and follow her adventures on Instagram @kbrookshire.

 

Are you or do you know another inspiring woman who achieves great outdoor adventures? Get in touch with me at kathi@travelettes.net – I’d love to hear your story!