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Two years, 6,800 miles: Woman makes coast-to-coast hiking history

MARIN COUNTY — A 6,800-mile, two-year hike came to an end at Limantour Beach on Saturday morning, when Briana DeSanctis became the first solo female hiker to complete the American Discovery Trail.

Wearing a purple sequined dress, DeSanctis, 40, arrived at the Pacific Ocean on a sunny winter day, wading into the cool water and celebrating with friends and family.

“I cried walking down the beach,” DeSanctis said. “I don’t think it has sunk in yet. It’s just weird to be done.”

Propelled by a desire to inspire young women to pursue their passions and driven by her dream of tackling the longest possible through-hike in the United States, DeSanctis began her hike trip in Delaware on Jan. 1, 2022. Originally from Maine, she had been working as a bartender in her home state and saving up money for the trip for months. Finally she was on the road.

But DeSanctis’ approach to the trip was far from linear, a rambling journey rather than a race. Although her longest day was 34 miles, there were also many zero-mile days.

DeSanctis split from the trail on numerous occasions, attending to family emergencies or visiting friends. Along the way, she conducted public speaking events at schools, and submitted a regular column to her hometown paper chronicling her adventures. After hiking all the way across the country to the base of the Rocky Mountains, she proceeded to fly back to Cincinnati, and then headed west again along a different route.

The American Discovery Trail, a lesser-known, long-distance hike akin to the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails, winds through the center of the country along roads, through wilderness areas and towns, across deserts, plains and mountains.

According to John Fazel, the co-founder of the American Discovery Trail Society, the trail, which was first developed in 1992, was originally laid out to connect people to one another, rather than send them to the remotest parts of the country.

“More than 20 million people live within 10 miles of the trail,” Fazel said. “That was the whole concept.”

For DeSanctis, as for many who travel great distances, it is the memories of those people she met walking across the country that remain the most vivid. The people who put her up for the night, or offered friendship, or companionship. It is these types of life-affirming experiences, DeSanctis said, that she wants to encourage others to pursue.

“Don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t do something that you want to do,” DeSanctis said. “You can’t live your life in fear.”

DeSanctis said her immediate plans were to get food, grab some drinks and celebrate. But she also had been preparing for months for the post-trail depression, and said she doesn’t see this achievement as the end of her travels. She’d like to travel back across the country to Maine, giving talks along the way, and potentially work on a book.

She may have completed the trip, but her journey continues.

“I’m not going back to four walls and a ceiling,” she said at the beach. “My least favorite four-letter word is ‘back.’ ”

Source: Orange County Register

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