Longtime Friends Accomplish AT Through-Hike Endeavor

  • Plainfield natives and long-time friends Sarah Berman, 23, of Norwich, left, and Sam Clerkin, 24, of Strafford, right, stepped off on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia on March 17, 2018 and hiked the 1,748 miles to Hanover, N.H., together before finishing independently on September 3 and August 31 respectively. "It just gets into your head - if I don't do it, I'm going to be thinking about it," said Berman of her motivation to hike the AT. "It was like a chore, like doing the dishes, you're just going to do it." said Clerkin. The long-time friends got together Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018 to hike the short, but rewarding trail to French's Ledges in Meriden, N.H. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sarah Berman, of Norwich, left, and Sam Clerkin, of Strafford, right, hike the trail to French's Ledges in Meriden, N.H., Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. During their recently completed through-hike of the Appalachian Trail they earned the trail-names Earth Heart and Firefly. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sam Clerkin, 24, of Strafford, left, and Sarah Berman, 23, of Norwich, right, stand atop French's Ledges in Meriden, N.H., Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. The friends grew up hiking the trail in their home-town and trhough-hiked the Appalachian Trail together last summer. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, September 30, 2018

Hanover — Sarah Berman and Sam Clerkin discovered independently of each other an interest to through-hike the Appalachian Trail. It wasn’t until a year out that they discovered the other’s interest, eventually deciding to travel together.

But it wasn’t until weeks before they left that Clerkin fully committed to the monthslong journey.

“I think, like, I kept thinking, ‘Do I really want to do this to myself?’ ” Clerkin said by phone last week. “(I was) thinking of all the ways it would be hard. Like, ‘Do I really want to be that cold every day?’ I think I was psyching myself out.”

One month later, both Clerkin and Berman are relieved they followed through together.

The pair, childhood friends from Meriden, hiked 1,748 miles of the 2,181-mile AT over the summer before finishing the hike apart one month ago. It was a lifelong dream for Berman, who had been enchanted by the idea ever since a through-hiker stayed with family when she was little.

Clerkin, an experienced hiker who had completed treks through the White Mountains, found an interest watching AT hikers roam through Hanover.

“I’ve known Sam since I was 2,” Berman said. “We went to elementary school together but hadn’t gone to high school together, so we hadn’t seen each other in quite a while. But growing up, we were very good friends. Our moms are very good friends.”

It was by chance that the pair discovered each other’s interest in the AT.

“I actually asked Sam’s sister if she wanted to do it with me (at first),” Berman said. “She said, ‘No, but Sam does,’ ”

A few texts back and forth made it official. Luckily, their schedules lined up.

The two flew to Georgia and began the hike on March 17. Berman was surprised by the amount of people starting on the same day. After a few weeks into the trip, Clerkin said, the mental challenge was the biggest obstacle to overcome.

“It was hard in ways I didn’t anticipate,” Clerkin said. “I was expecting it to be really physically challenging. That part wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. You can kind of push as hard as you want.

“It was mentally hard, realizing how long it was going to take,” she added.

“It sounds silly, but somewhere in Virginia, about 600 or 700 miles in, both of us were just like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really going to take a long time.’ ”

Backpacking was brand new to Berman.

“I had done one weekend trip in Shenandoah (National Park, in Virginia) with like 10 people,” she said. “I had no experience.”

That inexperience, she said, made the challenge that much better.

“It’s kind of nice to be a little ignorant as to what you’re getting yourself into,” Berman said. “If you’ve been on a few backpacking trips, you know there are a lot of (unpleasant) days. I assumed there would be but had no experience with it. It was nice jumping into it completely new.”

Both were happy they had someone familiar to travel with.

“It was really cool to do together,” Clerkin said. “I feel like we got to know each other. It was fun to get to know her super well ... to be together outside of the context of our families hanging out.”

The pair had experience hiking together, trekking to French’s Ledges in Plainfield during their younger years. But spending months together on a long-distance hike was something else entirely.

“You never spend that much time with someone. Even spouses don’t spend 24-7 together,” Berman said. “We’d hike apart for maybe four or five days. In my head, I’d be thinking, ‘Oh my God, I have to tell Sam this.’ We were always there for each other. I would text her, like, ‘I have so much to tell you.’ ”

Berman and Clerkin hiked the final stretch — from Hanover to the end at Mount Katahdin in Maine — apart, with Clerkin finishing on Aug. 31, Berman on Sept. 3. Both said they’d be wary of doing another through-hike but encouraged others to tackle it with someone they know.

“I was really surprised I didn’t see more people doing it together,” Clerkin said. “The vast minority of people were doing it together; most of them were couples more than anybody. ... I didn’t want to do this alone, especially toward the end. Camping alone at night totally changed it for me.

“If you’re doing the AT, there are days when you can hike all day alone, and people can certainly be alone, but it’s not in the spirit of the trail to be a loner. It’s a total community.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.