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Justin Yun completes the Appalachian Trail


Justin Yun on the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smokey Mountains

Justin Yun on the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains


Some students might see college as a mountain to climb with a degree at the summit. Justin Yun, however, found that the path is not always straight and that the journey might be just as important. Last March, Yun (Outdoor Recreation, ’16) began a six month excursion hiking the Appalachian Trail thinking as much about the direction of the trail as he did the direction of his education and his recent change in major from chemistry to outdoor recreation. “If you don’t challenge yourself, you’re never going to know where you can go. This trip was a fresh start,” Yun said.

Justin Yun

Justin Yun

The trail is about 2,000 miles long and passes through fourteen states.  Yun began at the trail’s southernmost point at Springer Mountain in Georgia and worked his way north to the end at Maine’s Mount Katahdin. “I met the most interesting people I have ever met in my entire life,” Yun said. “People came from California, Oregon, and even abroad. I never would have met them without this experience.”

On the trail, Yun had some strange encounters. He saw a black bear up close and had his first experience with moose, very unpredictable animals in the wild. But Yun says the worst part was the bugs: “It was blackflies season, and they can bite through your clothes. It’s very painful.”

Yun encountered what is deemed, ‘trail magic’—charity for hikers who might need a little pick-me-up. This can come in the form food left for hikers, such as snacks or cold beverages, and even in the form of people, ‘trail angels,’ who will take hikers into their home and offer shelter for a night or two. “Those bits of trail magic are a nice treat, and people on the trail aren’t picky. We eat a lot of everything, so it’s really great to see people go out of their way to help a complete stranger,” Yun said.

Justin Yun

Justin Yun

Yun hiked to Clingman’s Dome in the Smoky Mountains, the highest point of the trail. “The hikers have a running joke, they say ‘It’s all downhill from here,’ but it really isn’t.” From there, he worked his way through the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Shenandoah National Parks in Virginia, where Harper’s Ferry, the halfway point of the trail, is located. “This trip gave me the drive to do what I want to do. Once you get to the halfway point, you put your name in a book along with all the other hikers. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment,” Yun said.

Though hiking is adventurous, it is often dangerous. Yun had to research the correct techniques for water filtration and storage. However, there were times when the problem was not a lack of water, but too much of it. Yun hiked through Mount Washington, known for having the highest wind speed ever recorded by man. “Mt. Washington wasn’t that bad when I got there, but there were times when I was trekking through mud up to my knees. Sometimes it would rain so hard we were drenched for hours before we came across a shelter,” Yun said.

Yun’s trip became about more than just hiking. “The trail gives you real world experiences, and anyone of any age can do it.” And out of the experience came some direction for his course of study and for future hikes.  He is planning the Pacific Coast Trail for after graduation.

Still, Yun emphasized that the best part of the expedition was the entire experience: “The good and the bad together make the whole experience so worth it. If you don’t challenge yourself with the bad, then you’re never going to know if you could have done it. I did, and anyone can overcome those challenges.”


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