Follow Cat Pugh as She Takes on the Appalachian Trail
Name: Cat Pugh
From: Wyalusing, PA
Goal: To hike from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail
Diagnosis: Type 1 Diabetes
Cat Pugh, a 23-year-old with type 1 diabetes, recently set out in to hike the Appalachian Trail (or A.T. in hiker speak) with two friends.She's been dreaming about completing the entire behemoth—all 2,190 miles of it—for a few years now; ever since she and a relative hiked an 80 mile stretch of it and she fell in love with the unique hiking culture. Cat, who recently graduated from Kutztown University with a bachelor's degree in biology, decided this was the ideal time in her life to go fo it. (She has plans to attend grad school in the fall.) .
Hiking the A.T. from start to finish is an enormous undertaking that requires as much preparation as it does steely determination. According to the Appalachain Trail Conservancy (ATC) thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike every year but only one in four completes the task. Those daunting stats don't worry Cat who says, "I'm just too stubborn to fail!"
Miles hiked: All 2,235 of them!
Miles to go: ZERO
After nearly 7 months, I am officially an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker! I'm proud to say that I've covered over 2,000 miles on my journey from Georgia (back on a mild day in February) to Maine (I reached the end of the A.T. in early September), through snow, over mountains and under boulders. It's hard to put into word the happiness I felt at achieving my goal but I suppose I'll try.
The last leg of the trail felt relatively easy compared to the rest, which was unexpected because the reputation of the “100 Mile Wilderness” is rather treacherous. In fact, there's a sign at the start ominously warning hikers not to "underestimate the difficulty" of the longest stretch of wilderness on the trail. Hikers are also told to be prepared with food and supplies to last a minimum of 10 days as there are no places to "obtain supplies or get help." I was nervous because hiking 10 miles a day might be tricky but necessary since carrying more than 10 days worth of food would definitely be difficult for me.
However, there were no major mountains, and I had gotten so used to walking 20 miles in a day that my hiking buddies—Baloo, Bodybag and their dog Z—and I were able to knock it out in just 5 days. For the last 20 miles or so, we had a view of Mount Katahdin—the final summit—which was such a thrill! There's something about being able to SEE your goal that really motivates you to keep going!
I always knew that I would make it to the end. It would be a little crazy to go into something like this and not have that mindset, but I also understand the very real barriers that prevent some people from finishing. A lot of people had doubts that I’d finish solely due to my type 1 diabetes, but I never even considered that a barrier.
Of course, it did delay me a few times (like when I had to waste an entire day waiting around for a new Dexcom to arrive after I accidentally got mine wet...whoops!), but it never stopped me. If anything, the snow and the constantly wet clothes were more annoying than worrying about my blood sugar and insulin!
My lack of concern over my diabetes was in part due to the wonderful support system I had, which I spoke about in an earlier post. To any type 1 looking to take on a challenge like the A.T, my number one piece of advice is to assemble a solid support team. If it wasn’t for the people shipping me supplies, my mom dropping off my insulin, friends providing shelter every so often, old friends sending encouragement, new friends providing snacks, and a whole ton of kind strangers leaving trail magic, I’m not sure I would have made it!
You might think I’m ready for a long nap after all that hiking, but the truth is I’m already dreaming about my next major hike. I really do feel like I can accomplish anything now, and I’m already looking into the Pacific Crest Trail (If you’ve read Wild, you know what I’m talking about) and the Camino, a 500-mile walk through Spain.
My experience on the A.T. has prepared me well for any future hikes. I definitely know what to pack and the right food to bring along now. But those are long-term plans. In the short-term, I’m considering participating in some local half-marathons and other ways to keep my body in shape and moving. I've gotten so accustomed to all that daily exercise that I don't see myself putting up my feet and becoming a couch potato anytime soon.
For now, my camping gear is at the ready in case I can't resist the urge to snooze under the stars. That’s the part I think I'll miss the most—sleeping in the fresh air.
This has been such a special journey to share with you all. I hope it's made you feel like you can do anything you set your mind to—regardless of your diagnosis—because the truth is you can! It just may take a little extra preparation and a secret stash of watermelon gummies! Until my next adventure...
Miles hiked: 2,000
Miles to go: 235
Hard to believe but I've made it all the way to Maine, the most challenging, rugged and remote state on the Appalachian Trail. I am totally loving it here! Though Vermont was definitely one of my favorite states and New Hampshire had some incredible views.
My knees are hurting a bit at this point, since a lot of the current terrain includes steep downhill walks, but it feels incredible to be so close to the end. One thing I’m ready for? To be done walking! One thing I’m not ready for? To say goodbye to all the friends I’ve made on the trail. Two of those recent friends include Baloo and Bodybag and Bodybag’s dog, Z. These are all trail names, of course…
Another companion of mine that I’ve loved seeing every day? My boyfriend, Mike! However, I’m going to be missing his assistance when he heads back to school and I’m stuck carting around my own backpack again, instead of leaving it in his car.
In case you're wondering what happened to the friends I began this journey with, Brooke and George, they completed the trail! I’ll be seeing them once I head back to Pennsylvania.
As I’m coming to the end of my journey, I’ve been reflecting a bit on the parallels between hiking the Appalachian Trail and living with diabetes. Sometimes diabetes means hitting an extreme blood sugar low when you least expect it. Sometimes hiking means taking an hour and a half to walk ONE MILE through a pit of boulders, which is something that recently happened to me!
I’m referring to Mahoosuc Notch, a deep gap with 10 foot tall boulders that you have to climb under, over, and in between. Obstacles at every turn! We made it through, though, and only slightly scathed, but I was definitely happy to be with friends, a very helpful and, ahem, supportive (literally, he had to help push me up a few boulders), boyfriend.
As much as I’ve enjoyed all my solo hiking time, stretches of the trail like Mahoosuc make me wonder how people do it alone. I may find out once I hit the 100-mile wilderness, the stretch at the end of the trail that does not pass through any towns. Pure Maine Wilderness! Being able to taste the finish line also has me reflecting on how, exactly, I have been able to hike over 2,000 miles, through blazing sun and frigid snow, over boulders, through mud, across creeks, all while carting around insulin and dealing with blood sugar imbalances.
You know what I’ve realized? How thankful I am for my incredible support system. If it wasn’t for my mom bringing me insulin, my friends “waiting up” for me, my boyfriend helping me slack pack, OnTrack Diabetes asking me to share my story, and a whole bunch of people who were once strangers providing me with trail magic, a warm bed, fun tales, and solid advice, I’m not sure I would have been able, or wanted, to finish this journey. So thank you for being a part of my great adventure. I’ll see you at the finish line!
Week 23: From the Muddy Mountains of Vermont
Miles hiked: 1670
Miles to go: 520
I am in Vermont! Or, as it’s known on the trail, Vermud. You can guess why? (See photo, below) You might think that I’d prefer to be in a state that doesn’t have squishy terrain, but so far I have LOVED it here.
The forests are different; some of them are alpine, that means there are different plants and different trees than I am used to seeing. What does it mean for hiking? That I have been paying more attention to the flora since I arrived. It can be so easy to get used to the beautiful views while walking over 1,000 miles that you stop really looking up and appreciating it, so the slight change of scenery has been a great reminder to pay attention to all the lovely green details.
Speaking of taking full advantage of all the views, I decided that for these last few months (August and September) I am NOT climbing any mountains if it is going to be cloudy at the top. I missed enough views in the snowy Smokies. If waiting for views means that I might be hanging out a little bit longer than expected, that’s okay with me.
My breezy travels through alpinus Vermont have included a few delicious meals, too. I thought it’d be back to the same old wraps after my time at home in Pennsylvania, but this week I met a few new friends on the trail and we all pitched in for a rather extravagant breakfast. Blueberry pancakes, eggs, biscuits—I was in heaven!
Another fun snack I tried this week? Dehydrated hummus. Sounds weird, but all you do is mix some water into a pouch and voila—a creamy mediterranean spread at your fingertips. It’s quite an upgrade for my wraps, to which I’ve also been adding some foraged wild black trumpet mushrooms...sooo tasty!
As great as this week has been, I’m even more excited to cross into New Hampshire next week, because my boyfriend will be joining me! And I’ll have the opportunity to slack pack—hiker speak for abandoning your backpack while you hike (if you are lucky enough to have a friend who is able to hold on to it for a while).
Since he will have his car, we have had to be a bit creative in planning. Here’s what we came up with: every day, I will get up and hike as usual 15 to 20 miles. My boyfriend will drive to where we intend to finish, and then hike TOWARD me, and then we’ll either continue to hike together for a bit, or call it a day, set up camp, and head out again in the morning. It’ll be nice to have a hiking buddy again, especially for when I have to wade across rivers in Maine. That’s all for now!
Oh, have I mentioned that I’ve now seen five bears? No particularly interesting details there, but how cool is that? Maybe it’ll be six next time I check in!
Miles Hiked: 1,485
Miles to go: 564
What state was I in last time I updated everyone? It feels like I’m flying through them now! And, well, technically, I kind of am, because this week I went SKYDIVING! And lived to tell the tale (and to plan my next dive).
Getting back on the trail after last week’s digestion bout I was ready to focus on knocking out 20 mile days. That being said, I didn’t have the most “exciting” plans—my only real goal was to reach a deli by the end of one day. But, I’ve learned I have a penchant for getting caught up in extremely fun, and slightly time-delaying, plans.
It all started when I stopped halfway through my hike one day because I stumbled across a lake with a beach area. I wanted to hang out a bit, hit up the concession stand, and take advantage of the free shower. But by the time I was back on the trail, it started to downpour. I detoured, yet again, to an awesome shelter.
At this shelter, which had a rather lovely porch area, I met four hikers that were going—you guessed it—skydiving! At first I turned down their offer to join; I really did want to stay on track. Not to mention, skydiving is not the least expensive venture. As I spent the day with these hikers, though, my mind started to wander….skydiving would be a once in a lifetime opportunity! Wasn’t this why I took on the trail in the first place, to have experiences that I’d remember forever?
So, I dove out of a plane, and I can report that it was not a once in a lifetime experience….because now I’m addicted! I’m already saving up for the next time I can go.
After the dive, I was riding high on endorphins and adrenaline. Lucky for me, they weren’t in vain, because immediately after the dive, we headed to a hot air balloon festival. It was unbelievably gorgeous—the endlessly open blue sky, the gigantic multicolored balloons, the upstate New York air, it was perfect. And it only got better, because we headed to Angry Orchard afterwards, where I sampled a flight of delicious ciders.
Not everything is all sunshine, balloons, and cider, though. My pump has been super slidey on these sweaty summer days, and that makes finding the right amount of insulin hard because I don’t want any to go to waste. I’m also struggling with bug bites. It's nearly impossible to avoid getting bitten by critters on the trail! Even in my enclosed hammock, mosquitoes manage to sneak in. And, lastly, the other day I was taking a nap and a “widowmaker,” a large branch, fell from the top of a tree. Not on me….but it was still scary. All that being said….I’m still having a total blast.
The next feat I’m looking forward to? Mount Greylock in Massachusetts. It is supposed to be the most gorgeous view on the whole AT. And who knows what I’ll get into before then! See you next time.
Miles Hiked: 1,400
Miles to go: 649
I’ve now trekked over 1,400 miles — just 649 to go!
My parents arranged an event—Mom called it a “Meet and Greet”—on June 25th in Port Clinton, Pennsylvania. It turned out to be just the boost I needed to encourage me to power through the trail. By all accounts, the event was a huge success and a lot of fun, too. We raised $300 for the American Diabetes Association (ADA), supplied my hungry fellow hikers with some tasty food (thanks mom!), plus I met some great people from the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club who works to preserve a 65-mile section of the AT in my home state of Pennsylvania.
That afternoon, I was even interviewed by a local news station (Action News 69) giving me the opportunity to shout from the rooftops that people with diabetes can do whatever they set their minds to! I also got the chance to speak with some locals about how I manage my diabetes, not only as a type 1 hiker, but also in my day-to-day life.
One conversation that stands out was with a woman named Shirley who told me she was intimidated by diabetes technology but also burned out from finger pricking and blood sugar testing. After I told her about how my decision to use an insulin pump was life-changing, I showed her how I use my pump and my Dexcom CGM. I hope my encouragement will give Shirley the confidence to try the technology because it’s reliable and easy to use. I remember feeling scared about it at first, too, but a conversation I had with a Dexcom user a few years ago really helped. My biggest problem was the feeling that wearing a pump would be like a constant reminder of my disease. But now I can’t imagine life without it. Check out the video below to hear more about my decision to use an insulin pump.