By TAYLOR HARTZ
On Saturday afternoon, Erica Hayden lounged on the floral couch in the living room of her family’s Knollwood Road home, surrounded by her grandparents, her mother, her sisters, and her nephew.
For Hayden, 27, the weekend was a welcomed rest and a very different environment than the one she has called home over the past 100 days.
A map was spread out on the dining room table, beside the trays of homemade meals and baked goods. It traced the route that Hayden has been trekking since March 18, when she began her solo hike of the Appalachian Trail.
Beginning on Springer Mountain in Georgia, Hayden is about 1,400 miles into her 2,189-mile journey.
But when Hayden crossed into the 10th state on the trail, she decided to stop in to Southington for a weekend of the simple pleasures she has learned to live without – a shower, home cooked meals, and the company of family.
While she chose to sleep on the floor rather than a bed, having grown accustomed to the hard ground beneath her tent, Hayden said she has most missed the companionship of being at home and close to family.
Having embarked on the journey alone, she has grown close to the community along the trail, which she described as welcoming, supportive, and non-judgmental.
“Nobody cares what you do in real life or who you are in real life, it’s just who you are on the trail,” said Hayden, who said she has seen her normally-shy self become more outgoing along the trail.
“You actually see your true self because you don’t have to impress anybody,” she said. “You’re just there to hike.”
Throughout her journey, she has stopped in several towns to stay in hikers’ hostels, and has encountered countless travelers along the way to share the trail with—sometimes for hundreds of miles.
Though her grandfather, Russ Hayden, was nervous about her being on the trail alone, he said she made up for the loneliness of the solo trip with the company of the people she met along the way.
Support from home has been continuous as well.
Erica Hayden takes a break from her Appalachian thru-hike to visit with family in Southington. Front, from left, Hayden, her grandmother Marge Hayden, her nephew Brian Hayden, and her sister Rachel Hayden. Back, her mother Gina Hayden, her sister Ember Hayden, and her grandfather Russ Hayden.
Hayden’s grandmother and father have both sent several resupply packages out to the trail, providing granola bars, tuna, peanut butter, and trail mix. Hayden has used her cell phone along the way to take photos, call home to her sisters, and update her blog to let her family know she has made it to each stop safely.
That afternoon, Hayden and her father would pick up three fellow hikers, traveling from Maine and Vermont, and offer them a place to rest and resupply.
Continuing their support of the endeavor, her family prepared a picnic for all the hikers to fill their stomachs on Sunday afternoon before getting back on the trail.
After returning home for the mid-trail break, Hayden said that back here in Southington, “everything is the same, but everything is different.”
Having spent the last several years studying and working in Colorado, Arizona, Texas and New York, Hayden hoped the hike would inspire her to determine her next step in life.
Although already eager to get back to her hike, Hayden thinks she will return home for a while after reaching the end of the trail.
While the temptation to stay was certainly there, said Hayden, she packed her bags on Monday morning and continued on from Schaghticoke Mountain in Kent, Conn.
With more than 700 miles left, Hayden hopes to finish her hike by reaching Baxter State Park in Maine by September 1.