KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knoxville resident Gretchen Pardon is taking on an Appalachian Trail thru-hike with her hiking partner, Baby Yoda, a small plush her daughter made for her.
We tracked her journey from Amicalola Falls, Georgia to Katahdin Mountain in Maine and everywhere in between for 10 months with video updates and check-ins on her Instagram @HikingWithBraids and her YouTube channel, Hiking With Braids.
While she intended to hike the northbound route going straight from Georgia to Maine, 2020 had other plans for her. In late March, Gretchen left the trail just over 300 miles into her journey as a precaution against the COVID-19 pandemic.
After 61 days, she returned to the trail and made it to Virginia before deciding to "flip flop" her hike and skip ahead to ensure she could summit Katahdin Mountain in Maine before the hiking season ended. From there, she made her way south back to the Grayson Highlands in Virginia, finishing just two days before Christmas.
She said despite the body aches, the uncertainty when she had to leave the trail early and the mental hurdles she had to navigate along the way, she is grateful to have accomplished her dream.
"The trail definitely is something that becomes a part of you. I mean, it's definitely become a part of me. It's something that I feel like I have a bond with the trail, and it almost makes me emotional when I think about it," Gretchen said. "I have no regrets for what I did. It was an amazing experience. It was a hard, very hard, but truly amazing experience."
Despite a few close calls, like almost being blown off a cliff by a gust of wind, Baby Yoda survived the journey. You can check on him at @BabyYodaontheAT on Instagram.
Photos: Gretchen Pardon's 2020 Appalachian Trail thru-hike
Thursday, December 31
Wednesday, December 23
SHE DID IT! Gretchen Pardon and Baby Yoda have finished their Appalachian Trail thru-hike just in time for Christmas!
Friday, December 11
Gretchen Pardon has officially crossed over the 2,000-mile mark on her Appalachian Trail thru-hike.
She and Baby Yoda have less than 180 miles left before they finish their nearly 2,200-mile journey.
This will be her last trail log before she makes it back to Knoxville!
Thursday, November 5
Less than 500 miles stretch between Gretchen Pardon and the end of her Appalachian Trail thru-hike.
She and Baby Yoda just have to make it through Virginia to complete their nearly 2,200-mile journey.
She was able to reunite with her husband, Jerry, in Harpers Ferry and hike for a few days with him.
Sunday, November 1
Gretchen officially reached Virginia and celebrated Halloween by dressing up like her hiking partner, Baby Yoda.
Thursday, October 29
Gretchen made it to Harpers Ferry and reunited with her husband, Jerry.
Monday, October 26
Gretchen left Massachusetts and set off on her short trek through Connecticut.
Thursday, October 22
Gretchen and Baby Yoda hiked all the way through Vermont and into Massachusetts.
Next, they will go through Massachusetts and a little bit of Connecticut before they reach Harpers Ferry. Gretchen will then get to reunite with her husband Jerry after months of solo hiking on the Appalachian Trail.
They have just over 600 miles left until they finish their nearly 2,200-mile journey.
Thursday, October 15
Gretchen and Baby Yoda have hiked 1,500 miles of the Appalachian Trail!
Monday, October 5
Gretchen and Baby Yoda arrived in Vermont!
Monday, September 21
Gretchen and Baby Yoda have hiked all the way through Maine and into New Hampshire where they got to enjoy some spectacular views on the Mount Washington summit.
They are over 1,300 miles on their Appalachian Trail adventure!
Gretchen said she is counting the miles until she can meet up with her husband, Jerry, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
Tuesday, August 18
Gretchen officially crossed over the halfway point on her thru-hike!
Monday, August 17
Gretchen and Baby Yoda summitted Katahdin Mountain in Maine! Their journey is not over yet though.
Since she had to take time off the trail as a precaution against COVID-19, Gretchen made the decision to jump ahead in her hike and go to Maine before it closed for the season in October.
She and Baby Yoda are nearing the 1,100-mile mark on their trip, which means they are almost halfway through their Appalachian Trail adventure.
Now all that is left for them to do is hike back down to the south to finish the rest of their mileage.
Tuesday, August 4
Gretchen and Baby Yoda are ready to head to Maine!
Sunday, August 2
Gretchen and Baby Yoda have reached their last day in Connecticut. They decided to jump ahead to Maine so they can reach Katahdin before the AT season ends.
Thursday, July 30
Gretchen and Baby Yoda made it to Connecticut!
Friday, July 24
Gretchen and Baby Yoda celebrated their 900-mile mark with pizza in New York!
Thursday, July 23
Gretchen and Baby Yoda are in New York! They have logged over 800 miles on their journey to Maine.
Gretchen said the trail has been tough and she misses her family back home in East Tennessee, but she is doing her best to enjoy every moment she can on this adventure.
Sunday, July 12
Gretchen made it to New Jersey!
Saturday, June 27
Gretchen celebrated her 46th birthday on the trail! Happy birthday!
Friday, June 26
Gretchen and Baby Yoda are in Pennsylvania and have passed the 600-mile mark on their journey to Maine! She crossed over the Mason-Dixon Line and the official halfway point of the Appalachian Trail. She was also able to get a new pack to help her on her journey.
Monday, June 15
Gretchen and Baby Yoda have passed the 500-mile mark on their journey to Maine! She was also able to reunite with her husband for a couple of days in Virginia before she heads back out on the trail.
Friday, June 5
Gretchen crossed the 400-mile mark on her thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.
Monday, May 25
After returning home for two months as a precaution against COVID-19, Gretchen and Baby Yoda are back on the Appalachian Trail.
She said she plans to do a "flip-flop hike" meaning she will continue on to Maine and then double back to make up some miles in between. This will ensure she can make it to Maine before Katahdin Mountain closes in mid-October.
Monday, March 30:
Gretchen is back home in East Tennessee and opened up about her decision to end her thru-hike early amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though the trail was hard, she said leaving it was the hardest thing she's ever had to do. She plans to return as soon as it is safe.
For now, she is spending time with her family and wants to encourage others to live in the moment and not dwell on the things they cannot do.
Tuesday, March 24:
Gretchen and Baby Yoda have decided to stop their thru-hike for now to take precautions against COVID-19.
"I’m not giving up on my dream, but I am putting it on hold for now and returning home - hopefully only temporarily, but only time will tell," she said in an Instagram post.
Monday, March 16:
Gretchen and Baby Yoda made it to a very foggy Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and were greeted by her husband, Jerry, family, friends and even a few of her YouTube subscribers all bearing food and supplies so she can restock (and treat herself).
She is 26 days into her journey and officially over the 200-mile mark and taking a short rest before she gets back on the trail. She said she is getting stronger every day. According to the trailhead sign at Newfound Gap, she has 1,972 miles until her final destination in Katahdin, Maine.
Wednesday, March 11:
Gretchen and Baby Yoda have face snow, rain and sunshine on their trek through the North Carolina portion of the AT. She is looking forward to crossing into the Smokies soon.
Wednesday, March 4:
Gretchen and Baby Yoda crossed the 100-mile mark on their AT thru-hike.
Sunday, March 1:
Gretchen and Baby Yoda have officially made it through Georgia. North Carolina is next.
Friday, Feb. 28:
Gretchen made it through her first week on the Appalachian Trail. She's already endured rain, sleet and snow, but she's still smiling! Baby Yoda appears to be doing well too!
Thursday, Feb. 20:
Gretchen set off from Amicalola Falls, Georgia to start her nearly 2,200-mile journey to Katahdin Mountain in Maine.
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