Five to One is a blog series that brings aspects of my books to life. With each new release, I’ll be interviewing an expert in an area integral to the story—an occupation, experience, etc. I will send them five questions, requiring five answers for the first, four for the second, and so on. What I get back is one-hundred percent in their words. I hope you enjoy delving deeper into the “reality” of Romance Rooted in Reality as much as I do.
I am thrilled to have Megan Mondor for my first installment of Five to One. Like Jordan Roberts in Trail of the Heart, Megan thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. Megan’s adventure took place in 2015, and she finished in about five months. Can you imagine? Well, if so, continue by reading a few pointers from a backpacking master!
Megan is a personal hero of mine and an absolute superstar! She also happens to be down-to-earth and so much fun to talk to. I met Megan through a client who fostered Megan’s best friend, Huck_the_traildog.
Megan is also a writer. You can read about one of her epic adventures at The Trek, a fantastic blog with lots of information and beautiful photos!
What are the top five items every hiker should have with them, whether for a day hike, section hike, or thru-hike?
I’ll start this off by using the first question as my teaching moment: any time you choose to go into the backcountry, you should be following Leave No Trace (LNT) principles. The first rule of LNT is “Be Prepared.” So I’d say the top 5 items a hiker should take would be:
- Appropriate clothing. Know the weather and possible conditions before you head out – I always pack a wind shell, even if rain isn’t in the forecast. I know if conditions turn somehow or if I spend extended time in cooler temps - whether my hike takes longer than expected due to injury or getting lost - I can at least retain my body heat.
- I always take a headlamp. Yes, even for day hikes!
- Enough water for the weather conditions and terrain. If you don’t want to carry it, make sure you have the means to collect and purify/filter it. Oftentimes I’ll throw my Sawyer Squeeze filter into my backpack with a 1L Platypus bag because their combined weight is negligible (4.6 ounces total).
- Snacks--Gotta keep your energy up. And for me, breaks are as much a part of enjoying the hike as the miles. Even if you’re doing a day hike, especially in hot weather, keeping your electrolytes balanced is key to staying safe in the backcountry.
- Not a physical item, but a critical thing to always consider: know your limits and that of any hiking partners. Safety is paramount when going into the backcountry. It is ALWAYS better to turn around before the summit/view/whatever and live to hike another day.
What are four luxury items you brought with you on the AT?
- I started out carrying an inflatable pillow. It slid all around my sleep pad, so I ditched it pretty early on. Instead, I stuffed any unworn clothing into another soft piece of clothing, balled it up, and used that as a pillow instead. Of course, in colder weather, you often find yourself without a pillow since you’re wearing most or all of the clothes you carry!
- I hesitate to call it a luxury item because I used it every day, but I brought a hardcover journal with me. I wrote almost every single night of my thru-hike.
- A small stuffed moose I found on a boulder on the side of the Trail in Pennsylvania. I was in the middle of a several-week period of unintended solo hiking, and I saw it sitting there on that rock. I had been crying while hiking alone that day; it had a face, so I picked it up and affixed it to my shoulder strap. I named it “Moosilauke” (after the 4,000-foot mountain in the Whites in NH) and said, “you’re coming to Maine with me, little pal.”
- A foam sword. Yep. In a bar outside Port Clinton, PA. I was “inducted” into a new tramily – one that drank quite a bit and then spoke in Scottish accents. And to be part of that pack, I had to buy and carry a foam sword. Luckily this bar was near a Wal-Mart, so I purchased said foam sword and proceeded to take it not only to Maine but all the way up Katahdin.
What are three of your favorite memories of thru-hiking the AT?
- Getting whisked away in the Dragon Wagon (a van shuttle operated by Four Pines Hostel), that just happened to be filled with friends I hadn’t seen in a few days and Freeze-pops, to The Homeplace Restaurant in Catawba, VA after an absolute shitter of a day.
- I was magically reunited with a tramily member at the last second just before starting up Katahdin on the final morning. We were separated and not knowing where she was or even if she was OK for several days; she had bailed out (solo) of the 100 Mile Wilderness with an ankle injury.
- Neroing out of a town in Maine with my tramily and a bottle of whiskey, we all were singing along to the Talking Heads while hiking the couple miles to the shelter and passing the bottle up and down the hiker train. When we got to camp, we set up our tents, then built a campfire. We talked and really enjoyed each other’s company into the night while drinking hot toddies until we were good and buzzed and happy and tired, and the last logs were burning out, much like our trek, knowing the end was near.
What are two reasons you decided to embark on such a long journey?
There are many reasons why one would quit their job and suspend their regular life to hike. Two of my reasons at that time in my life were:
I already knew what working life was—monotony day in and day out. I have the rest of my life to work. Why wait until retirement to go on an adventure such as this? I can always find another job. I won’t always have my health. Life is for living NOW. Eff you, student loan debt.
To see what I’m made of.
What is the number one lesson you learned about yourself, other people, or the world around you from the hike?
- If you put yourself out into the world and open yourself up to the universe, good things will happen. You are set free, ties cut, aloft in the world. Things will work out because they have to – expectations shift hourly, and your plans won’t always look like how you think. But it will work out. You will notice the most amazing, stupendous, serendipitous, beautiful things. There is a saying on the AT, “the Trail will provide.” And it does. In the woods, on the Trail, there are no distractions from this. You are out living your most authentic genuine life every moment of the day--because you have to. You are present in every moment because you have to be. Everything is amplified – sorrow, anxiety, joy, beauty. There is no small talk. Weather means everything. You share your deepest feelings with people who were strangers hours ago. Connection is real and beautiful and treasured. Smiling comes easy, as do tears. Hanging onto this unadulterated feeling of LIFE ALIVE is difficult and elusive. But once you have felt it, you are ruined. You come face to face with your soulmates. You catch a glimpse of your own soul and feel what it is to truly walk the earth. You cannot un-know it. Having that world so in focus and losing it will break you. But you can always return by stepping outside – in the orange lining of purple clouds just after sunset, in trilling birdsong, the fresh loamy scent after rain, in kicked-up leaf litter in autumn. Trust yourself, and it will work out. Well, I don’t know if that was ONE lesson, but it’s my main takeaway!
13JUL2021, Megan Mondor/Whoopie Cat (AT: 2015, NOBO)
Megan, you are a true inspiration and a welcome teacher. Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom with us! xo