When he was four years old, Brody Corbett told his mother Misha a prophecy for the future:
"Mom, when I grow up, I'm going to go into the wild. But don't worry... I'll be back."
Now, 14 years later, that prophecy is in the process of fulfillment.
The Appalachian Trail (AT) is a 2,190-mile-long public footpath that follows the scenic, wooded, wild, and culturally rich lands of the Appalachian Mountains. It quietly meanders through 14 states, starting in Georgia and ending in Maine. It is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world.
The Appalachians are the oldest mountains in North America - formed an estimated 480 million years ago. They are a rich longstanding part of the continent's eastern terrain.
But the trail itself is a part of America's soul.
Conceived in 1921 and completed in 1937, the AT has captured the spirit of the rugged individualist in so many - independent, self-reliant, resourceful, self-directed, and free to take on the challenge of the AT. Soldiers from the Revolutionary War and the Civil War fought on these hallowed grounds. But today, a different kind of battle is being fought on this trail.
Three million people visit or hike parts of the AT every year. Most treat it as a leisurely visit or light exercise - a nature walk.
But then, there are a select few who see it as something more.
Approximately 3,000 people attempt a thru-hike of the entire AT each year. That's 2,190 miles, in case you missed it in the lead. It's a grueling journey that takes about six months, which means there is a lot of inclement weather, terrain changes, and issues along the way that might sway you from accomplishing that lofty goal.
Only about 750 of the 3,000 (25%) are successful in making it from start to finish.
Brody Corbett wants to be one of those who complete this challenge.
Corbett, a 2022 graduate of Apopka High School, has been an outdoorsman since he could walk. He started hiking when he was four years old, and an early goal of his was to hike the Appalachian Trail.
"I like being outside, camping and hiking," Corbett said. "Hiking the Appalachian Trail is something I've always wanted to do... so when the opportunity presented itself, I took it."
Ryan Peyton is a 47-year-old Apopka resident who has been a family friend of the Corbetts for 12 years. He too shared Brody's passion for hiking the AT and is partnering with him on this trip. Peyton started his thru-hike on April 1st from its beginning - Springer Mountain in Georgia.
Because he wanted to graduate before beginning his thru-hike, Corbett joined Peyton on June 3rd in Daleville, VA. Corbin will do a flip-flopping hike that starts in the middle of the trail, continues to Mount Katahdin, Maine (where the AT ends), and then returns to Springer Mountain to finish the part he did not hike.
Corbett and Peyton are projecting a late September/early October arrival at Mount Katahdin.
It's difficult for Floridians to prepare for this thru-hike because the terrain is flat, unlike the conditions hikers will experience on the AT. On the trail, the total elevation gain and loss is 464,464 feet - equivalent to climbing Mount Everest 16 times.
Corbett hiked with his backpack fully loaded (33 pounds) each weekend leading up to departure to train for the marathon hike.
Incredibly, it costs Corbett only about $70 a week to hike the AT. That amount includes resupplying food when he arrives in a town, washing his clothes, and occasionally staying in a hotel. To pay for the trip, Corbett started a part-time job in the fall of 2021 and saved his money. Additionally, family and friends paid for most of his clothing and equipment as graduation gifts - approximately $2,367 in ultralight gear custom-designed for through-hikers.
And although the AT is a land of spectacular beauty and splendor, it is not without danger. Erratic weather, high winds, and steep, rugged terrain create the potential for hikers to get into serious trouble.
There is no way to guarantee a flawless journey, but Corbett took precautions in case of an emergency on the trail. He was an Explorer with the Apopka Fire Department for four years, volunteered for the Apopka Fire Department Youth Summer Program, and is certified in First Aid, CPR, and AED. He also participated in several survival classes.
Despite the potential peril, Misha Corbett, Brody's mother, never considered trying to dissuade her son from this adventure.
"How can I stand in the way of his dreams? Realizing what makes him happy, then watching him prepare with excitement and anticipation makes me happy," she said. "Although, I must add it is very difficult, as a mom, to know how difficult the reality has been."
While there are no average days on the Appalachian Trail, there is a plan and a schedule when Corbett and Peyton begin their days. They wake up between 6-8 am depending on the difficulty of the previous day and how tired they are. The goal is to hike 15 miles per day. How long that takes depends on the terrain. Their longest hiking day was 11 hours.
Corbett and Peyton eat when they wake up, then again around noon, and when they arrive at the agreed camping spot. They also snack on anything lightweight that they can carry in their packs (tuna or chicken packs, macaroni & cheese, noodles, mashed potatoes, trail mix, granola, and energy bars). They try not to hike less than 15 miles daily unless the weather is poor.
When he returns from the AT, Corbett will probably get a job and pursue a wildland (forest) firefighting career. But that is a few months and a thousand or so miles in Corbett's rearview mirror at the moment. For now, his focus is on a long, storied trail full of challenges, a night sky filled with stars, and a promise to his mother to return home from the wild.
Editor's Note: The Apopka Voice will update Brody's progress on the Appalachian Trail with occasional articles and features throughout his journey. Currently, he is 23 days and over 200 miles into his thru-hike, which takes approximately six months and is 2,190 miles long.