Wilmington Friends and UD graduate Lindsay Schmittle recently completed a back-breaking five-month+ trek along the Appalachian Trail – a feat attempted by thousands but accomplished by few. In fact, only one in four will walk the entire 2200-mile “thru hike.”
Schmittle, who has always had a love of the outdoors, survived periods of isolation and a few harrowing moments along the way, but also the euphoria of completing the trail and witnessing life-changing sights.
Preparation for her journey took the better part of three years. During that time Schmittle considered how she might fuse her professional interest in graphic design with the enormity and challenge of her undertaking.
Those deliberations resulted in her chronicling the journey through “visual interpretations” depicting the trail’s breathtaking natural beauty through the old-time art of handset letterpress printing.
Inspired to meld these two “analog” interests – one a personal passion, the other her business – Schmittle set out to conquer the legendary Trail, creating a series of prints capturing the dramatic scenery, one for every 100 miles hiked.
The recently completed adventure (March 25 – September 11, 2017) required extensive planning – a test run along Vermont’s 272 mile Long Trail, preparing stores of dehydrated food and raising nearly $17,000 via a Kickstarter campaign that allowed her to step away from her thriving Landenberg, PA-based printing business, The Gingerly Press – and a kind of fortitude and focus that girds one through the rawest of conditions and solitude for nearly half a year.
Schmittle, 27, has been sharing reflections on this experience with local audiences since completing the hike in September, most recently with a rapt group of Boy Scouts (dad Mark and brother Matt attained the highest rank of Eagle) who have done their share of camping. Schmittle detailed the meticulous organizing and mental resilience the solo trek demanded, but also the glory and grandeur revealed by the mountainous trail winding through fourteen US states.
She went through no less than five pairs of boots on the hike, clocking as many as 25 miles per day. When asked by a Boy Scout if she watched several YouTube videos for A.T. planning tips, Schmittle confessed that she rarely jumps on the internet, instead preferring to glean most of her information from books.
One of her scariest moments occurred two weeks from the end of her journey in Maine. A “very dead and very water-logged” tree collapsed on her tent, where she lay sleeping. As the tree came crashing down, it snapped in half, sending part of the trunk directly across her legs and the other half falling one foot above her head over the vestibule of her tent. “I really had some luck on my side for whatever reason,” Schmittle recounted.
Because Schmittle followed hikers’ protocol by setting up her tent on a bed of leaves, she actually ended up with one centimeter of clearance between her legs and the tree.
“I always tell friends that I honestly think the trees spared me that night. Along my hike I petted enough moss, and I hugged enough trees. I sent out enough gratitude toward the woods letting them know – ya, I like you guys.”
One of her favorite points on the trail came near the end, while still in Maine, when she and other campers encountered the Northern Lights. Just a week earlier, she felt like she cheated death and now was experiencing the most rewarding part of her months-long experience. “I had just nearly died, and this was something I absolutely did not expect at all to see,” she said. “Our entire camp just went silent as we stared at the Northern Lights. I’m pretty sure I cried at that very moment.”
Schmittle was the 1,204th thru-hiker to start the hike in Georgia this year. She finished the trail at Mount Katahdin in Maine under 700. Most never finished.
Generations of hikers have tackled the fabled trail, recording their accounts through photographs, travelogues, and novels. However, Schmittle explained, “Few artists have embarked on this journey and created visual interpretations of the experience and scenery of this iconic backcountry.”
To do that, Schmittle, who was a Visual Communications major at University of Delaware, set out to create The Printed Walk, a letterpress printed chronicle of her journey. Some of her works (all for sale) include mini notebooks, note cards, holiday cards and art prints.
“The Printed Walk captures the power of surreal moments felt when immersed in nature. In particular, my intent is to increase others’ appreciation and understanding of nature’s power and its ability to create seemingly magical experiences. The print series embellishes the importance of our natural world, illustrating how being immersed in nature can positively affect our thoughts and well-being.”
Schmittle describes her time in the wilderness as feeling ‘completely free,’ and she credits nature as inspiring her professional creativity. She plans to move to Asheville, North Carolina this summer to spend more time hiking and enjoying the Appalachian mountains. Her beautiful handset letterpress designs will still be available online.
“I love the idea of being completely independent and having everything on my back, and I like the minimalism of it. The freedom of setting your own schedule, being out in nature, and completely involved in it for a long period of time is something I really enjoy.”