This season Sass Magazine is focusing on Women in the Outdoors, so when we heard Eliane Coates’ moving story, we knew we needed to share it. After losing her dad to cancer, and helping take care of her mother who was diagnosed with breast cancer, Eliane undertook an amazing feat– she hiked all 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
When she began her journey, Eliane was 22 years old. Starting from Georgia and ending in Maine, the entire trip took her six months and eight days to complete.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a 2015 college graduate from the University of North Carolina Asheville. I discovered the Appalachian Trail community post college through an internship I took at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harper’s Ferry, WV. Since then, I have been hooked on the trail and now host hikers in the summer in Harper’s Ferry. I have started to run a small hostel there along the trail. This winter I have been working at Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado. I love to travel, spend time with friends and family, and of course hike!
How did you prepare for physically for hiking the Appalachian Trail?
Preparing for my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail was more of a mental journey than physical. I did go to the gym frequently, however I knew it was pretty tough to do anything physically that could prepare me for a hike of over six months. I was at an advantage to some hikers however, from living in the Harper’s Ferry area I was able to do a good bit of practice backpacking trips. That being said, the longest I had been out overnight prior to my thru-hike was only for a weekend. Other than being physically in good shape, it is challenging to take the time off from work to prepare for long distance hikes.
How did the the hike affect you emotionally as your processed your father’s death and mother’s battle with cancer?
Hiking over 2,000 miles was the best thing I could have done for myself after losing my Dad and caring for my Mom as she battled breast cancer. I was able to fully let my anger and emotions flow as I walked through all types of conditions on the trail. After hiking for six months, I let my anger go and came to terms and peace with the situation. I had so much time alone hiking, I was able to process things in a healthy way, versus letting my anger affect my family and peers. I needed to do something to take care of myself after experiencing trauma, and thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail was definitely the best way I could have gone about it.
Do you feel empowered or changed now that you accomplished the trek? What you’d say to women who might be looking for a similar outlet?
I felt super empowered from accomplishing my thru-hike. I can highly recommend long distance for anyone who has experienced a loss, or really just anyone who is at a crossroads in their life. The trail taught me many things I didn’t learn from going to college or working. I learned to be more self reliant and a better problem solver. Even though I had many friends on trail, only I could get myself to the next destination, the next campsite. There are growing numbers of people hiking long distance trails, including an increasing number of women. It is an unbelievable community. I now hope to continue to run my hostel each summer, and help others who are grieving get out onto the trail.
We’re grateful for the opportunity to chat with Eliane and learn more about the trials and triumphs she faced on the trail. If you would like to read more about her amazing journey, during her travels, Eliane kept a blog to share her experience with the world.