Thru-hiking the Great Eastern Trail

About the hike

In June 2015 my hiking partner and I plan to begin the first-ever southbound thru-hikes of the Great Eastern Trail. The Great Eastern Trail is the newest long-distance trail in America, stretching from New York to Alabama. So far only two people have thru-hiked this trail, hiking northbound from Alabama to New York in 2013.

Our plan is a little more ambitious than just the Great Eastern Trail, which itself is estimated to be 72% complete with the remainder made up of road walks. Instead of starting at the northern terminus of the Great Eastern Trail - its junction with the Finger Lakes Trail - we are starting at Niagara Falls approximately 200 miles away. Instead of finishing our hike in Alabama, we intend to follow the Florida Trail further south to the Gulf of Mexico. We are calling our hike the "Falls to the Sea Trail", though at its core is a pioneering southbound hike of the Great Eastern Trail.

About the hikers

We are not new to long-distance hiking. On the Appalachian Trail I gained the trail name "Shepherd", thru-hiking in 2013 and hiking half of this trail again in 2014. My hiking partner Dixie Lee, who has taken the trail name "Star Left" to signify her connection to contra dancing, was preparing for a 2015 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail when she learned about the Great Eastern Trail and chose instead to join me in this endeavour. Together we are making extensive preparations for this hike. I am using my past experience in geospatial information systems (GIS) to map our route in the greatest detail possible, keeping my efforts focused on the cartography as much as possible while sharing much of the other preparations with Dixie.

As mentioned above, Dixie is a contra dancer and I am also a prolific contra dancer. A side project on the Great Eastern Trail will be to continue attending contra dances and folk festivals as we walk south through the eastern United States. This is the strange characteristic I developed on the Appalachian Trail - finding ways to get from the trail to dance halls from Georgia to Maine, spending over 60 nights dancing over the course of my 2013 thru-hike. We (probably) won't reach that number on the Great Eastern Trail, but we will try our best to stay in practice and inevitably meet interesting people and collect interesting stories in the process!

In addition to contra dancing and cartography, I am also a photographer. While being one of the first Great Eastern Trail thru-hikers I intend to also be the first person to extensively photodocument a thru-hike of this trail! I will be carrying my tried-and-true Nikon D800 and an assortment of lenses on this thru-hike, just as I have done on the Appalachian Trail. The weight is not insignificant, but I do not wish to compromise on my capabilities and photo quality! Having worked a very busy career prior to entering the world of long-distance hiking I have only begun to pursue photography seriously, but I have captured some incredible scenes on the Appalachian Trail in 2013 and 2014 and have even been published twice in the AT Journeys magazine! I plan to use my camera in telling the story of this hike to the best of my ability, and letting anybody interested see this hike through my lenses.

About the fundraising

The Great Eastern Trail is a very empty place in comparison to the Appalachian Trail, and we are trying to include people in our hike in every way. We hope for some people to participate directly in the hike - friends joining us for portions of the hike, or folks living near the trail hosting us or helping us with rides or showers or other needs when we walk through their area, or any other direct participation to liven things up during this long walk. We hope that others, watching this hike from afar, may still aid us in its completion by helping us fund this endeavour. Our fundraising target is $9,000, and here is how it breaks down:

---$4,200 covers six months of food for both of us, with trail food preferably being purchased and prepared in bulk beforehand. This is also including meals when we pass through or near towns, a great way to get lots of calories without carrying as much on our backs.
---$400 covers the shipping costs for our mail drops, with a reliable friend sending food and other necessities to post offices along the way and marked general delivery so we can pick things up right at the post office and have more nutritious, less expensive food than would otherwise be available.
---$1,800 covers our in-town expenses. Hopefully we will be staying in town once a week to make sure we can shower, wash our clothing, dry ourselves out briefly if the weather is extraordinarily wet, eat things that didn't come from our backpack, charge our electronics, and have time to post trail writing and photos online.
---$1,600 covers the equipment that Dixie needs for thru-hiking, as well as replacements for some of my equipment which has worn out over two years of steady hiking.
---$1,000 covers repairs to my camera, which has seen much wear and some damage while riding in my backpack or on my hip for nearly 4,000 miles of hiking.

We have high hopes for this fundraising effort and for this adventure. If we are very fortunate in our fundraising and exceed our $9000 goal, there are some other expenses that we would use these funds to cover:

---Printing and shipping thank-you gifts to our supporters, which is something I am planning to do with my photography in any case. These will at least be post cards or collections of small prints, or they may be hand-written letters sent out over the course of the journey, and I would like to cooperate with very generous supporters to deliver them larger prints or collages that would suit their liking.
---Supporting our contra dancing habit, whether that be getting out to small local dances or going on longer side trips to larger dance events over the course of this hike.
---Covering our bills while we are on the trail. Neither of us have a residence to pay for, so our only bills are for phones and insurance.
---Upgrading photography equipment, while the equipment I currently use hiking is very capable there are newer, more powerful, or lighter options. Selling some of my current gear to replace it with newer and even more capable equivalents is not out of the question.
---Putting funds right back to the trail, which could involve contributions to trail creation and maintenance, would be an exciting prospect. This trail is in its infancy, and helping take some of the incomplete sections off the roads would be most excellent!

In conclusion

Whatever the case may be, all funds raised will go directly to thru-hiking the Great Eastern Trail. We will share the Great Eastern Trail and our adventures to the best of our not inconsiderable abilities, me with my camera and both of us with our writing. My writing has started already, keeping myself accountable with daily posts about my preparations on TrailJournals and less frequent articles on my WordPress blog. Our southbound thru-hike of the Great Eastern Trail will be a great challenge, but I am confident that we will overcome the challenges and walk from Niagara Falls to the Gulf of Mexico this year!

Thank you,
Garrett "Shepherd" Fondoules
Dixie Lee "Star Left" Greer
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Garrett Fondoules 
Trenton, NJ
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