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  • Monday, December 16, 2013

    The After Interview with 2013 Appalachian Trail Thru-hiker, Victor Maisano

    (Mount Katahdin Photo by Victor Maisano)
    Regular readers of this blog will remember Victor Maisano, who earlier this year, set out to thru-hike the 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail. I interviewed Victor before he left for the southern terminus on Springer Mountain in Georgia and was curious how his thoughts about the trail would change after the hike.

    On October 13, 2013, Victor completed the trail, summiting Mount Katahdin in Maine 198 days later.

    RG: Just about everyone I met, experienced some degree of post-hike blues when they returned home. How are you feeling about being back in civilization and what do you miss most about being on the trail?

    VM: There has certainly been some post-hike blues, however, I knew this was coming and I was prepared for a cure. Since ending my physical adventure, I have been fairly swamped tying up loose ends with my followers, sponsors, and other BackpackingAT related social media adventures. On top of that, all my friends I am getting back in contact with are always asking me questions and want to listen to stories, so I get to relive my trail experience through memory, still, on a daily basis.

    The thing I miss most about the trail is probably the routine and challenges. With Baxter Park closing after October 15th, I was on a time crunch near the end, as I summited October 13th. Waking up every morning, not exactly knowing what I was going to see or where I was going to sleep always filled my soul with excitement. I miss that most.

    (Moxie Bald, Photo by Victor Maisano)
    I completely understand what you mean. Not knowing exactly where you’re going, while nevertheless knowing it is exactly where you need to be going, is quite liberating. 

    In our first interview, you said you hoped to gain a new perspective from the hiking community and learn all you could from the experience. What was the biggest lesson you learned on your journey?

    For as much as everyone comes from different walks of life and have their own reason for starting to hike 2,185.9 miles, they all have inherently similar characteristics; longing for adventure, trying something different, an excuse to leave modern civilization. What I have learned is that people have different thresholds they are willing and not willing to break. This fact alone sets the course for how the hike will finish (or not finish).

    (Photo by Victor Maisano)
    You said the things you're most looking forward to on your AT thru-hike are meeting great people, seeing wild animals, and attempting some wilderness survival skills. Did that meet all your expectations?

    Yes they did! I did meet a number of great people. Some of which will continue to be great friends, even though there is great distance between us now.

    I certainly saw my fair share of animals. I did not expect to see the numerous amount of snakes and turtles I saw. On the flip side, I was disappointed I did not see any moose, elk or porcupines near the end.

    As for my wilderness survival skills, I picked up some knowledge along the way from other hikers. Looking back, I probably don't consider many of these things wilderness survival skills as I learned them early on and practically used them every day (hanging bear bags, moderating fire, climbing rocks, recognizing animal traces, etc.), but they most certainly are!

    Before starting your hike, you said your biggest concerns were having enough power and knives. Did that change as you started getting used to your new life on the Appalachian Trail?

    Ahh yes, I remember this thought clearly.

    In terms of security, I feared a little knife would not protect me. This may be true, but there was not much I could practically bring in its place that would have actually satisfied this feeling. I ended up losing and sending home two of the three knifes I started with, leaving me only with a small 2.5 inch knife. This definitely was all I really needed in the end and was perfect for all the tasks I assigned it to (cutting mole skin, hot dogs, kindling, rope, food packages). Anything larger would have certainly been extra weight and not efficient. From a protection stand point, anything dangerous in the wild would need, much, much more than a large knife to secure your survival. Luckily, I never (other than one encounter at night with bear) felt threatened during those six months from animals and mountain folk.

    Power: You can never get enough. I feel like that's a plot to almost every movie, but it's true! In the beginning, I was using a Goal Zero Solar Panel and battery back. This worked great as I had the panel strapped to my backpack most days (when it was not raining). Once the leaves started to grow in, however, this option was not effective for me as I was always on the move and could not afford to hangout out in the sun for two hours at a time.

    I switched systems and went with a NewTrent rechargeable battery pack. Since I was going through a town every 4-8 days, I would seek out an outlet and recharge my power source, which would allow me enough power till the next town. I just had to be mindful of how I used my power allocation. Uploading content almost daily, it was hard to fight the demons not to use my devices for other internet surfing and Netflix.

    (Photo by Victor Maisano)
    When you left for Springer, your pack weighed around 45 lbs. Did you end up shedding some pounds before reaching Katahdin? What are some of the things you got rid of?

    I shed so much weight and could have shed so much more had I not been carrying around all the technology I did. At the end, I got down to 30lbs. Much of my cookware (excess pot, cup, fork, scrubber), clothing (additional shirts, shorts, underwear), gear (knives, ropes, pulleys, excess stuff sacks, nalgene bottles) was sent home. By the end almost all my gear (including technology) was different from when I started. Either it broke and was replaced, upgraded, or traded out for something different. If you want to check out what I ended up with, check out this list I put together:

    Now that you're an AT expert, do you have any recommendations or advice for people starting their hike in 2014?

    Actually test your gear. I kinda went at this with a big headed approach "being an Eagle Scout, I know what I need and how it works." However this did not necessarily hold true. Actually going out for a weekend in the elements would have saved many packages being sent home within the first couple months of the hike.

    Get in contact with a number of former AT Hikers. They have so much knowledge to share and LOVE to talk about their experience. Take this information and make a note of it in your AWOL Guide (I advise against the ATC Guidebook as it's a little too simple - no elevation map and significantly less tips about information about towns). This way you don't have to memorize all the information, but rather can reference it as you stare at this book at least ten times a day. I would have gotten the PDF version as well.

    Remember that while you’re hiking, you’re hiking your own hike. So many times I saw that others and myself, felt like they were trapped or obligated to stay with certain groups or spend an extra day in town. You don't have to. There are always (mostly) people on the trail you can hike and/or camp with and people always have a way with catching up.

    (Thru-hiker on Mount Katahdin, Photo by Victor Maisano)
    A lot of aspiring thru-hikers are curious about corporate sponsorship, but are unsure where to begin. You were successful in this regard, what did you learn from that experience?

    My sponsors where Verizon Wireless, Dollar Shave Club, Leki, SuperFeet, Dr. Bonner's, Grand Trunks Goods, Sea Bear, and Big Agnes.

    Having worked in the marketing industry for the past 6 years, I know what sponsors expect and how to keep them happy. However I learned that sitting behind a desk while communicating with your connections and sharing content is much easier than attempting to hike 20 miles, and get 6 hours of sleep while finding a strong enough signal and time to send out the 15+ pictures a day. Planning in advance, maintaining expectations and following through on your commitment certainly made this a positive experience for me.

    For approaching companies, I would 1) highly suggest going for the B-List companies. Unless you have connections within the A-List companies I do believe it is much harder to get sponsorships. 2) Make sure to start your communication early. Many companies plan early on in the year how they plan to allocate their funds. 3) Be prepared and provide information about your background and intentions on how you will use their product, and what they will get in return. 4) Don't be afraid to pick up the phone. Many people hide behind email, message boards and direct messages. Give the company a call and ask to speak to their marketing department.

    From following your blog, it seemed you loved just about every moment of the hike. I know how hard it is to stop the adventure when you love it that much, so what is next? Any trips planned?

    I did love every moment. From fording the Kennebec river, to starring a bear in the face at night (alone), to completing the day’s hike in darkness cause your headlamp ran out of batteries… I loved the experiences.

    What is next... well I am financially forced to find a job. Luckily, I have a great resume and experience, so hopefully I can land something soon in the Marketing/Social Media field. I'm looking to the outdoor/adventure/racing areas for opportunities as this is a natural fit.


    Whether it's riding across the US on a bicycle, sailing across some oceans or hiking the PCT I am always keeping my ears and eyes open for that next adventure opportunity. Perhaps my next job and adventure could be one in the same... we can all dream,

    It has been done before and you seem like a person that can make it happen. Victor, I wish you the best of luck and keep in touch!

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