Right now, the longest hiking route in America is being designed, mapped, and tested. The American Perimeter Trail circles the contiguous United States to make a 12,000-mile loop of existing trails, roads, and off-trail travel.
Long-distance hiker Rue McKenrick dreamed up the route after completing America’s thru-hiking Triple Crown of the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide trails. He craved another engaging long-distance hike in the US, so he scoured the maps. When he couldn’t find another long trail to hike, he imagined a route that connected the Pacific Crest Trail to the Appalachian Trail through the states in between.
In June 2019, McKenrick left his home in Bend, Oregon to scout the best track for the American Perimeter Trail. He’s hiked some 8,000 miles since. McKenrick started his journey with a walk south along the Pacific Crest Trail. At the end of the Sierra, he turned east to walk across the Mojave desert through Death Valley. He’s walked across Texas and beyond.
In this interview, Shanty catches up with McKenrick during a town stop in western Michigan. McKenrick explains what inspired the American Perimeter Trail project, his vision for the trail, and the unbelievable encounters he’s experienced the way.
Hear about how he navigated his way around massive swaths of private property in Texas, endured police questioning for having a backpack and an “accent,” and what happened when shots were fired over his head.
McKenrick gets real with Shanty, revealing the one item he takes with him on every journey — an open heart.
“An open heart allows you to experience what’s in front of you without judgment and thinking it should be different,” McKenrick says. “An open heart allows you to say, ‘This is the time right now. This is it. There’s no past and there is no future’.”
Check out the American Perimeter Trail website and follow McKenrick’s journey with real-time updates on Instagram and the American Perimeter Trail Facebook page. Check out the American Perimeter Trail YouTube channel.
0:50: What is the American Perimeter Trail?
3:50: How Rue got into backpacking.
4:50: Rue grew up near the AT in PA and enjoyed spending time alone.
5:20: Rue got lost at summer camp.
7:10: Rue talks about his first long-distance hike: the AT.
8:00: Rue’s motivation to get into long-distance hiking.
9:30: What Rue learned about himself while pursuing the Triple Crown.
10:30: Hiking the AT redeemed Rue’s faith in humanity.
11:15: Hiking deepened Rue’s empathy towards others.
12:45: Aligning personal and professional values.
13:20: Rue lives a leave-no-trace lifestyle, even in the front country. He hasn’t driven a car in 10 years!
14:30: Rue hiked the PCT in 2005.
14:50: Rue hiked the CDT in 2007.
15:30: Rue felt like his life was taking a more domestic turn, but it never happened.
16:30: Existential introspection led Rue to create the APT.
17:40: Rue’s desire to explore the US before he goes back abroad.
18:30: The now-or-never reckoning moment that led Rue to start hiking the APT.
20:00: Goal of the APT is conservation through recreation.
22:30: Backpacking is like sandpaper. It’s smoothed out a lot of Rue’s edges.
24:00: The APT is not a finished product.
26:00: No long-distance trail is ever complete.
28:30: How Rue started building the APT.
30:00: A lot of Rue’s route decisions are day-to-day on the trail.
31:00: Rue doesn’t like to plan, but he prepares.
35:40: How Rue got through the waterless stretches of Death Valley.
39:00: How Rue is navigating the route.
40:20: Importance of staying found.
40:50: How Rue sees a 3D world when he looks at a map.
42:30 More of the APT is off-trail than on.
43:30: How Rue got through Texas, a state where only 4.2% of the land is public.
46:30: Challenge of thru-hiking through terrain without long-distance trail communities.
46:50: Someone shot at Rue.
47:00: How Rue navigated having guns pulled on him in a store.
52:20: The most discouraging thing Rue has encountered multiple times on the trail.
56:50: How Rue picks up essential items while on the trail.
57:00: Social isolating: Rue’s COVID-19 coping strategy while out on the trail.
58:30: The challenges of thru-hiking during a pandemic that you may not have considered.
59:45: Thru-hiking requires both soft and hard skills. The APT takes both to the max.
1:00:25: Funding the trip while on the trip.
1:00:30: How many times Rue will re-up gear on this project.
1:05:30: The one luxury item Rue can’t hike without — an open heart.
1:06:40: The best trail magic Rue has ever received.
1:08:10: The people who inspire Rue.
1:11: How people can support the APT.
Next Episode: Backcountry Foodie
In 2017, registered dietitian Aaron Owens Mayhew quit her job to hike the PCT. The only catch: she hated — and hated paying for — freeze-dried meals. Meal planning for a five-month thru-hike felt impossible, as did carrying enough nutritious food. So Owens Mayhew put her culinary expertise to work. Her thru-hike didn’t go as planned, but Backcountry Foodie was born.
In episode 11 of the Out and Back podcast, Owens Mayhew shares stories from her two decades of backpacking and the behind the scenes of how she created her popular backpacking food website and meal planning service. She also shares how you can cut down on food weight while eating healthier and delicious meals on the trail. And get ready for the big news: Backcountry Foodie is transitioning from a do-it-yourself website to selling packaged meals so you don’t have to bother prepping the food at home.
Check out Backcountry Foodie’s website and Instagram for backcountry cooking tips and inspiration.
Last Episode: Hiking Africa, the Himalayas, and the PCT in Winter with Justin Lichter
Circle back to the last episode of the Out and Back podcast with world adventurer and author Justin “Trauma” Lichter. Hear Lichter’s wildest stories from across the globe, including how stampeding elephants and stalking lions stopped him in his tracks on his attempted thru-hike of Africa. Learn about his high-altitude traverse of the Himalayas and the trip that made the most headlines — becoming the first person, with Shawn “Pepper” Forry, to successfully complete the Pacific Crest Trail in winter.
Lichter gives insights to the challenges and rewards of international adventure travel and the complications of winter travel on the PCT. And he digs into what motivates him to keep pushing the limits in the outdoors.
“The challenge — to see what what you can handle and what you can’t handle — that’s that’s definitely part of it,” Lichter explains. “And the other part that keeps you going is just seeing these places. It’s just rewarding. When you’re out there at the twilight in the alpenglow and nobody’s out there, it’s just an amazing moment.”
Lichter is truly an expert of backcountry travel in all its forms: hiking, skiing, and bikepacking. In fact, he’s the source of trail details and information on many of National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated maps. Tune is as Lichter discusses avalanche safety, winter gear, and international resupply strategies.
To learn more about Lichter, check out his website: www.justinlichter.com. Tap into his knowledge by reading one of his many books, including: Trail Tested: A Thru-Hiker’s Guide to Ultralight Hiking and Backpacking and Survive: Mountains.
Meet the Host: Andrew “Shanty” Baldwin
In 2019, host Andrew Baldwin completed a southbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. After five months on the trail, Baldwin returned home to pursue a career in voice acting. A friend of the Gaia GPS company, Baldwin was a natural choice for hosting the Out and Back podcast.
In each Out and Back episode, Shanty strives to bring you conversations with people who spend an extraordinary amount of time outdoors. Listen in as Shanty taps into each backcountry expert’s superpower so that you can take their knowledge and experience with you on your next adventure.