Your Stories

The Experience of a Lifetime

John Cuoco ’08 (left) and Matt Gallagher ’08 (right) hiked Mount Cube in New Hampshire to meet Nate Ruchames ’10 at the top


John Cuoco ’08 wrote to tell us about former URI cross-country teammate, Nate Ruchames ’10, who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. What’s more, John said, many of Nate’s former teammates and classmates showed up to hike sections of the trail with him—their Rhody bond still strong. Nate graciously agreed to share the story of his hike.

On March 10, 2019, I started a northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, which stretches 2,192 miles through 14 states, from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park. Thru-hikers typically take four to six months to complete the trail. Only 18% of the 6,000 people who start the thru-hike each year end up finishing. Fortunately I was able to take a six-month leave from my job as a Newport schools social worker—and keep the health insurance. It was the perfect opportunity for a thru-hike.

I wanted a minimalist experience away from life’s everyday routines to push me out of my comfort zone. I carried no more than 30 pounds on my back—which included food, tent, sleeping bag, water filter, small cook stove, and a few items of clothing.

Calories, hydration, sleep, and going to the bathroom were my only concerns. Much of the time, I had no idea what day or time it was—I just walked. It was a primal and simple way of living. I hiked 10–20 miles per day, depending on terrain and weather. Every three to seven days, I hitchhiked into local towns to resupply food, do laundry, and enjoy a local brewery.

I have so many incredible memories of the experience. Max Patch in North Carolina, wild ponies in Virginia’s Grayson Highlands, sunrise and sunset atop McAfee Knob (also Virginia), relentless rock piles in Pennsylvania, and the 4,000-foot peaks of New Hampshire and Maine are a few of my favorites. I particularly enjoyed when the trail cut through the rolling hills and farms, with cows sitting right next to you. Overall, the best thing about the hike was being in a constant state of forward motion. It brought a pure sense of freedom to the experience. There were some low points, too, like hiking through freezing cold rain and in scorching temperatures.

Many URI friends came to visit me on-trail—some hiked with me for a day, others a few nights. Big shout-out to URI friends Mike Vieira ’10, Matt Gallagher ’08, John Cuoco ’08, Adam Karwiel ’09, Kimly May, Derek Peterson, Kim Wilkey ’09, and Tom Barek ’08, M.S. ’09.

It was an incredible feeling summiting Katahdin on Sept. 19. Sharing that moment and sense of accomplishment with friends I met on-trail is something I will cherish forever. It was the experience of a lifetime.

If you are considering thru-hiking or section-hiking part of the trail, don’t wait. Get out there and do it. •

– Nate Ruchames ’10

Photo: courtesy John Cuoco