When 19-year-old Andover native and Central Catholic graduate Kyle Sauerbrunn was debating how he wanted to spend his year after high school, he hadn't exactly envisioned a rigorous five-and-a-half-month trek across the Appalachian Trail.
A friend gradually talked Sauerbrunn into the idea throughout their junior year of high school.
"I'd never even done much hiking before," he admitted sheepishly, "but I was up for anything, so we decided to give it a shot."
Convinced that a change in setting would reveal answers to questions he'd been grasping for, Sauerbrunn and four other friends spent their final year of high school assembling all the necessary equipment and preparing for the journey. Excluding equipment, the excursion cost $3,000.
On July 7, 2009, Sauerbrunn and his crew departed from Mount Katahdin in Maine for their grand adventure. With so little experience, did he ever feel like giving up? Sauerbrunn let out a good, hearty laugh at that one. "Oh man, the first two weeks I thought about quitting every hour of every day. I'd think, 'Maybe if I hurt myself coming down this ledge I'll be able to go home!'"
But Sauerbrunn - or "Bad Mash" as he was christened after whipping up some inedible mashed potatoes and proceeding to get sick - hiked the trail all the way to the end. The four hikers concluded their challenge on Dec. 21, 2009 at Springer Mountain in Georgia.
The four men would spend their days hiking and joking, and at night, would either settle down along the trail or wander into a nearby town and search for an abandoned building to sleep in.
"'Ghetto camping,' we called it. After a long day of hiking, that was always a guaranteed thrill," said Sauerbrunn who kept an extensive journal, writing around six pages per day on average.
When asked about the sights from the trail, Sauerbrunn's face was alight with wonder. Lost deep in thought with his descriptions of the open fields and farms of New England, Tennessee, Virginia, and the Shenandoahs, he said, "It's just something you have to see for yourself...I wish everyone could see and experience the things I did."
However, all of these breathtaking views and the continuous connection with nature weren't even the finest components of Sauerbrunn's experience. The best parts, he claimed, were the people he met - hands down.
"We were one big family out there," he said. "Strangers would help you just to help you; it made me want to have a conversation with whomever I encountered."
After such an adventure rush, Sauerbrunn has now come to the understanding that he has even less of an idea as to what the future will hold for him than he'd had initially. One thing is for certain though: he has gained a genuine appreciation for his hidden potential to learn so much so quickly.
"I realized that people just have to step out of this shell our society creates," Sauerbrunn said. "I hate to be clichÃ©, but it makes you aware of how little people really need. We need the simple things in life. We need our family...We need each other."
Shorts (1 pair)
Sauerbrunn's Typical Daily Diet
Breakfast: Pop tarts (three packs)
Snack: Fun-sized Snickers bars (handfuls)
Lunch: Bagels (half a pack) and cream cheese
Dinner: Macaroni and Cheese or Ramen Noodles