‘What all this walking has taught me’: Hiker documents second thru-hike of Appalachian Trail
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Three days into the Appalachian Trail, her first thru-hike, 24-year-old Shayla Paradeis had the giddy optimism of beginning the adventure and the newly acquired confidence from not quitting after the first day. Hair in pigtails, she sat down at a hostel in Neel’s Gap, Georgia, to examine a map. As she took in the endless possibilities for exploration, her elation built and poured out as a laugh.
“I was really joyful and giggling and planning routes and getting excited, and this older gentleman walks by, and he was like, ‘How old are you?’” Paradeis said. “He wasn’t offending, he thought, ‘Why isn’t your mom with you?’ I was like, ’I’m 24.’ He rolled his eyes and said, ‘You look a lot younger than that.’ It kind of became a running joke that I look like a 12-year-old.”
That’s how she earned her trail name, Kiddo, back in 2011. The name stuck with her through the rest of the 2,200-mile hike, which took her about four months to complete.
Since that day, Paradeis, who is a seasonal worker in Steamboat Springs, has thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail along the West Coast, the Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Canada along the Rocky Mountains and the Te Araroa, which traverses the length of New Zealand.
This summer she’s returning to the Appalachian Trail, 10 years after that first hike, and she’ll be documenting the five-month journey via blog at atkiddo.com. She’ll also be recording a podcast mailing a laptop computer to different towns along the route, so every week or two weeks she can record an episode.
After the hike is complete, she hopes to spend the fall writing a book about what walking has taught her and how her relationship with herself and with the land has evolved.
“The mission, I really want to impress upon people how beautiful what we already have is,” she said. “That’s the honor of being a naturalist. I get to teach people how precious the ecosystems are and how incredible the land is. … I feel like all of that comes from self relationship. The very core of what’s making us mistreat each other and the earth is self love. I feel that’s what all this walking has taught me.”
‘The most natural thing I’ve ever done’
Paradeis lives in Montana and works as a naturalist but works at Gondola Pub and Grill in Steamboat during the winter. She isn’t a local but has a part of her heart in Steamboat. Right now, she’s home in Columbia Falls, Montana, packing for her trip that will begin on Earth Day (April 22) at the AT’s southern terminus in Ellijay, Georgia. She hopes to take five months to reach the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine, the Northern-most point of the trail.
Paradeis was inspired to tackle her first thru-hike after reading Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods.” In 2008, she spent her first summer in Glacier National Park and hiked 500 miles. The next summer, she hiked 930 miles. The next thing she knew, she was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
This time around, she is sponsored by Steamboat Springs-based outdoor company Big Agnes, which provides gear and allows her to test new equipment, as well as Mountain Laurel Designs, an East Coast company. But no sponsorship could ever encourage her to get an Instagram account or use navigation. She prefers the classic map and compass when it comes to navigating. Maps are her equivalent to Netflix, in a way.
“I live in a straw bale cabin,” Paradeis said. “I don’t have a TV, I don’t have much, but I lay out a map, and then next thing, I know it’s 3 a.m. I’m just writing down possibilities.”
With her naturalist mindset and birding hobby, she hopes to take her time and be present and grateful for literally every step of the way. Last time, she rushed the journey.
“I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it. I had impostor syndrome the whole time,” Paradeis said. “I was sort of hard on myself and driven and had this really abrasive tunnel vision.”
After 19 miles, she would get to a peaceful place to make camp with lovely people but would be so caught up in needing to hit a certain number and pace that she would push on another five miles.
Finally, about three quarters of the way to Maine, Paradeis stripped away the impostor syndrome.
“I just had this epiphany that the only thing I have to fear is my own brain telling me that I can’t,” she said. “I’ve come this far. I get up every day. I’m going to get up tomorrow and do it. It took me a really long time to realize that.”
Four thru hikes later, she’s learned that Bryson was right in labeling the exhausting, intimidating and expansive hike as nothing more than a walk in the woods.
“There’s no secret ingredient,” Paradeis said. “So many people say to me, ‘I could never do that.’ Well, I’m the biggest weenie you’ll ever meet. I’m afraid of everything. You don’t have to be an ultra runner or some kind of superstar to go for a walk in the woods. In fact, it’s the most natural thing I’ve ever done. It’s all just already in us. We’re already good at it.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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The Yampa Valley Community Foundation, courtesy of the Trail Maintenance Endowment Fund, is awarding three area land managers $29,122 combined for the 2021 grant cycle.