For many hikers, the 2,189-mile journey along the Appalachian Trail takes almost six months. Not for Eagle Scout Michael Fibich.
Last summer, he made the trek across 14 states in 94 days, 7 hours and 15 minutes — yes, he timed it down to the minute. He wanted to tackle the task during his summer break from school, so the 19-year-old Hendrix College student headed for Georgia right after the spring semester ended. To make it to Mount Katahdin in Maine before the start of the fall semester and not miss any school, Fibich would have to hike about 30 miles a day.
“When I have an idea, it becomes solidified in me,” Fibich says. “I wanted to do the whole trail.”
Eagles inspiring Eagles
For Fibich to achieve his goal, he needed to Be Prepared, so he consulted fellow Eagle Scout Joe McConaughy, who raced along the Appalachian Trail the year prior in a record 45 days, 12 hours and 15 minutes. McConaughy had logged in 350 miles a week to finish the trek in less than two months; Fibich wasn’t going to keep that pace, but felt he could do the hike in 90 days.
To keep up his energy for the rigorous daily mileage, Fibich would have to consume about 10,000 calories a day. If he lagged behind one day, the next day might require hiking in the middle of the night to stay on track.
“This is 24/7,” Fibich says. “I didn’t want to not be on the trail.”
Fibich has always had that drive, says Scoutmaster Frank Williams. Williams was Fibich’s Scoutmaster when he crossed over from Cub Scouts to Troop 107 in Lake Charles, La.
“He was a typical young Scout who was energetic and easily distracted, but early on, I saw how he focused on advancing quickly and loved the outdoors,” Williams says. “When he went to Colorado in 2012 to backpack with us, he was constantly in the front of the group, itching to go faster and see what was around the bend.”
Four years later, Fibich returned to Colorado with the troop; this time, he hiked behind the others in the group. When Williams questioned why, Fibich explained that Williams’ brother-in-law Greg Hawkins (also an Eagle Scout) suggested he help any Scouts who were falling behind.
“It was then that I saw that he was truly an Eagle Scout, even though he hadn’t completed the requirements yet,” Williams says.
After his family moved, Fibich earned the Eagle Scout Award in 2017 as part of Troop 1103 in Katy, Texas.
Fibich started his trek May 14 from Springer Mountain in Georgia with a friend. They went 18 miles on the first day, meeting several other hikers with the same goal to trek the entire Appalachian Trail. By Day 3, his friend had bowed out 40 miles into the trek. By Day 5, Fibich was alone — the other well-intentioned hikers he had encountered had also left the trail.
It was about this time that it rained for three weeks, followed by a day of thick fog.
“You could barely see your hand in front of your face,” he says.
Fibich kept going; he would come across other hikers, but most were not going as quickly as he was, so he hiked with them for a couple of days before continuing onward.
Even going at such a fast pace, he didn’t miss the beauty along the trail. Colorful sunrises over the Virginia highlands made the scenery look like “everything was on fire,” he says. In the Maine wilderness, Fibich witnessed a meteor shower, streaking across the night sky already adorned by the Milky Way galaxy.
“It was raining stars; it was really cool,” Fibich says.
The finish line
The trek wasn’t without its setbacks. In Virginia, Fibich unwisely drank from a spring without using a water filter and began feeling ill. One day, he didn’t feel like eating all day, but still hiked 27 miles, finally finishing the stretch at 2 a.m.
“That was the day I proved to myself that I really wanted this,” he says.
He went through six pairs of shoes on the trek; the worst part came after hiking rocky terrain in Pennsylvania that turned the bottoms of his feet raw.
When he reached Vermont, he was forced to take shelter from severe storms after only putting in 4 miles for the day. But if illness and the trail weren’t going to stop him, Mother Nature wasn’t going to either. He waited out the bad weather and then kept going.
“Many times during the trip he could have quit and many people encouraged him to quit,” Williams says. “I knew Michael’s determination to make the whole trip and knew he wouldn’t quit.”
Atop Mount Katahdin is a sign, letting hikers know they’re at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It was a sight Fibich was longing to see. When he reached Maine, he pushed himself to get there, traversing 75 miles in a day to see what he could do.
“You have that sign engraved in your mind and you’re finally able to touch it — I bawled like a baby for 20 minutes,” Fibich says.
Fibich’s parents flew to Maine to meet him at the end of his journey on August 15. A couple of days later, he was back at school.