Christi “Deva” Holmes doesn’t stay put for long. Since graduating high school in Machias in 2006, she has been on the move, volunteering, doing internships and hiking. A lot of hiking. She graduated from the University of Maine at Orono with a BS in civil engineering before traveling through Central America with only a backpack and then thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Since the AT she has waitressed in the Virgin Islands and visited Europe and North Africa, hiking all the way.
Last Wednesday, Holmes shared her adventures on the Appalachian Trail at a presentation hosted by the Windham Public Library.
She had never backpacked hiked before and she wasn’t sure what to bring. So she did what any good Mainer would do and went to LL Bean with a credit card looking for advice. Of the things she purchased that day, she had none of it when she ended her hike on August 4, 2011.
Thru-hikers are what people are called when they hike the AT from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Kathadin in Maine in one season. Some hike north, others south, but of those 4,000 who start each year, approximately only 400 finish, she said. Most don’t finish for psychological reasons. “It’s called ‘the green tunnel’ for a reason,” Holmes said. There are only a few minutes of vistas as hikers travel the AT. Most of the time they are just walking in the woods, head down, one foot in front of the other.
She was given the name Deva, pronounced diva, because of the make of her backpack. She hiked with others like Cropduster, Sherpa, Breeze, South Butt and Mr. Black. Most of her early hiking companions were sent home early with Lyme Disease, something that sends a huge percentage of hikers home. Holmes carried 20 percent DEET with her and put it on before going through fields and places where ticks might lurk.
Each day Holmes woke up at 5:30 a.m. and would hike until 6 p.m. She only stopped to sign shelter log books, to take pictures or filter water. “It wasn’t exciting every day. There was a lot of time to think,” she said.
One of the things she enjoyed was the “trail magic”, which is where people leave treats for the hikers. Those “trail angels” might leave Little Debbie treats in a storage container or set up a barbeque for those who happen by. There are more incidences of trail magic on the southern half of the trail, she said.
Carrying everything from a tooth brush to somewhere to sleep, gear remains the most talked about topic for hikers.
“I love talking about gear,” she said. The one piece of gear she was required to carry was a GPS locator that her father said she had to carry so he’d know where she was on the trial. After the first few days, Holmes realized that the equipment she had was too heavy and most of it was stuff she could get by without. She learned of Hyperlitemountaingear.com out of Biddeford, Maine, that created very light, Cuben fiber hiking paraphernalia. She invested in a backpack and ECHO tent.
When she started her hike her load was 40 pounds with food and water. When she unloaded some of her gear, okay most of her gear, her pack weighed 17 pounds, giving her the ability to cover between 15 and 25 miles each day.
“There’s nothing else to do. You get up and walk,” she told the group. She chose to wear sneakers for most of the hike instead of boots.
Her stove was made out of a soda can and used denatured alcohol as the fuel. It weighed ounces.
Holmes carried a debit card for laundry, hostels and food. She said she was not very good at tracking her expenses, but she tried to save where ever she could. “I’d split a motel with other hikers,” she said. The average expense to hike the AT is $4 per mile.
She rarely veered off the AT, she did climb the Dragon’s Tooth, visited the Guillotine and hitchhiked into town. At one ski resort, she took the gondola to the bottom and ate a cheeseburger before hopping back on the trail. At Harper’s Ferry, what is considered the half-way point, she logged in as the 212th northbound hiker this season. She only had 1,165 miles to go.
Holmes said she was never nervous about being alone, mostly because she never spent the night alone and on the weekend, there were always people hiking.
“I loved walking up and it being so quiet, and watching the world wake up,” she told the group. Maine was her favorite part of the hike and not just because it was home. There are so many lakes, that hikers can camp next to one almost every night getting in a swim. “By New Hampshire I was so done with this,” she said, but being so close, she couldn’t stop.
“The hike has given me more confidence. Psychologically if you can do this, you could put your mind into everything,” she said. “Everyone was so nice, it restores your faith in humanity.”
- At the halfway point it is customary to eat a whole half gallon of ice cream.
- New Jersey has the highest density of bears.
- Holmes went through three pairs of sneakers.
- On Summer Solstice hikers hike naked.
- On Mount Washington, it’s tradition for thru-hikers to moon the Cog Railway.
- Crossing the Kennebec River is done by canoe marked with the white trail blaze meaning it’s official.
- The Hunt Trail is the official way up Mt. Kathadin.
- In 2011, the trail was 2,178.3 miles long.
- In Millinocket at the AT Café, hikers who conquered the AT eat a Summit Sundae, which includes 13 scoops of ice cream, one for each state on the trail.
- Holmes used a Katadyn Hiker Pro as a water filter.
- Duct tape was important for everything.