Not many folks can say that they have thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT). Since its completion in 1936, only about 15,000 have completed the roughly 2,200-mile trail, which stretches through 14 states and runs from Mt. Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia. Fewer still, less than 10% of the total, can claim they have hiked the trail from north to south. Suffield native Austin Borg, a 2002 SHS graduate is in that elite group, however, having hiked the AT after graduating from Roger Williams College with a degree in public relations and marketing.
Borg has always loved being in the woods and says that even as a Boy Scout he only wanted to hike and camp out, eschewing the desire to accumulate merit badges. It was an eight-day trip along the AT when he was in middle school, however, that solidified his love of the wilderness. “At the end of that trip, another kid and I were trying to figure out a way to hide from the van so we could continue on the trail,” chuckled Borg.
Although recent statistics show that the number of AT hikers has greatly increased in the past few years, the percentage of those completing the hike has remained between 20 and 25 percent. Borg was almost among the dropouts, citing two incidents along the trail. The first was only six days into the hike. Starting on the 100-mile Wilderness trail in Maine because he thought if he had to quit, it would be easier to get back to Connecticut, he tried to hike without poles. “I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he admits. His knees gave out and, being unable to hike downhill, he stayed 2 ½ days in a trail shelter eating gorp, socializing with other hikers and recouping from the pain. When he felt better, he decided that he would continue. The second time was when he was halfway through in Virginia, which is home to the longest part of the trail (520 miles). He was feeling discouraged, but some “trail magic” convinced him to continue. When asked what “trail magic” is, Borg replied that it is anything unexpected, i.e. someone sharing good food or wine, a quick ride to town, or a story that lifts your spirits when you most need it. His “magic” involved kindness from some hikers, a map, and Mt. Dew.
Borg began his trek on June 25, 2008, and completed it on December 15 with $12 in his pocket. Grateful for the gift of nature and wanting to give back, Borg worked off his tuition to a Wilderness First Responder course at an Aloha Foundation camp. When the camp closed in October, Borg bought a ticket to New Zealand where he hiked for three months. Over the next two years he spent eight months in India and worked his way east, spending time in Nepal, where he attended a “spiritually and mentally intense” 10-day silent meditation program. He then went to Thailand and toured Cambodia and Laos, ending up in the Philippines where he ran out of money. In the third year, Borg went to Peru, his favorite international country due to its wealth of ancient culture and diversity of geography. “It’s got jungles, desert, mountains, and a coast line!” marveled Borg.
Borg believes that nature is healing and that more people need to get outdoors and commune with nature. To that end, in 2012 he and Scott Ellis, a friend and fellow nature enthusiast, founded GuideYouOutdoors, a YouTube channel which has over 17,000 subscribers. “We felt that TV portrays the outdoors as a hostile environment, and we wanted to show the other experience,” says Borg. For novice campers as well as the more experienced, the 80 videos cover a wealth of topics from how to build a quiznee (snow fort) to five camping uses for a Frisbee.
Borg spent a recent winter providing dog mushing experiences and has also guided 15 Road Scholar outdoor trips. He worked 200 field days at True NorthWilderness, a wilderness therapy program in Wakefield, Vt., which helps struggling adolescents. Feeling burnt out from the 24/7 intensive program, he packed up the car and hit the road with his dog, Summit, and a friend and spent nine months hiking parts of the U.S.
Currently back in Vermont, Borg has worked a “regular” job at Outdoor Gear Exchange for the past year while starting Tree to Tea, a wild edibles company. He forages for Chaga mushrooms and sells them to local restaurants, as well as hand grinding them for tea which you can buy on the website, treetotea.com. His mission though, is to convince his fellow human beings that being outdoors is restorative. He recommends starting right in Suffield with the scenic overlook on the Metacomet Trail, and if you would like to do more, check out his videos for how-tos.
Hearing Borg’s story I am reminded of Tolkien’s words: “Not all who wander are lost.”