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All Who Wander ...

On the trail, she found herself

Brenna DiCola ’11 walked 2,189.2 miles in 155 days. On purpose.

Along the way, she got caught in wild rainstorms, crossed paths with meandering porcupines and foraging bears, and nearly collapsed from the aching in her knees. But stunning views sustained her, and each time she met a stranger who became a friend, she felt her faith in humanity—and herself—renewed.

“The people and the community of the Appalachian Trail surprised me the most,” says DiCola, who for six months in 2015 stepped away from her teaching career and into nature, seeking time to reflect. “Fellow hikers became lifelong friends in the matter of an hour. You were just yourself, and you talked about real things. You’d have these deep philosophical conversations and then joke about running out of toilet paper in the same breath.”

As tribute to the students she left behind in the Midwest, the middle-school math and Spanish teacher brought along a purple puffball named Sasnak (“Kansas” backward), posing with the whimsical creature on many scenic stops for her blog.

DiCola was touched by the hospitality she found as she trudged through the wilderness under 50 pounds of gear, where “trail angels” would offer her a ride or a warm place to spend the night. These anonymous friends would often leave “trail magic” along the way for weary hikers.

“You’d be walking along and stumble upon a cooler filled with fresh snacks and cold drinks,” she marvels. “Never had I lived in a world where you didn’t think twice about eating something from a mysterious cooler, or where you trusted complete strangers with your life.”

When her adventure ended, DiCola returned to the classroom, with new lessons to share.

“It turns out that hiking alone in the woods was the most connected to to humanity I have ever felt,” she says. “It didn’t matter who we were, where we came from, or what we did outside the trail. We were all just people.”