Despite a calf injury and an aggressive black bear, not to mention time and mileage, alumnus Ryan Kerr (BSES – Environmental Economics and Management, ’15) emerged victorious at Mt. Katahdin, Maine, the end of the Appalachian Trail and the conclusion of his thru-hike, on Sept. 22, 2016.
Kerr, a Suwanee, Georgia, native who now samples and monitors groundwater and methane for Woodstock, Georgia-based EM Services, started his seven-month, 2,189.1-mile journey on Feb. 28, 2016, at Springer Mountain, Georgia.
A lifelong dream, Kerr thought the time between graduation and starting his career provided the best opportunity to pursue the thru-hike. He was able to slowly acquire gear. A month before he left, he started using the stair machine at the gym, wearing his backpack with a 35-pound weight inside.
A few months — about 900 miles — into his journey, Kerr injured his calf and was off the trail for three weeks. “I thought it was the end of my hike, but I didn’t want to give up,” he said.
Back on the trail, he encountered a juvenile black bear, scared it away, then came across the mother bear. When she started running at him, making noises with her jaw and huffing, Kerr said he “stood his ground” and talked to the bear while trying to remain calm. She took off after a “very long” 10 seconds. “That was the scariest moment of my life,” Kerr said.
Kerr found practical applications for his University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences education during his thru-hike. Research skills paid off in his pre-hike study of terrain and weather patterns, and in his use of GPS to chart meal drops. Problem-solving skills and his knowledge of hydrology and basic geology helped him to find water sources not listed in the trail guide.
“I learned how to think outside the box at school,” Kerr said. “I learned stewardship and sustainability in the classroom, and I saw it applied on the trail.”
By Kathryn Schiliro