Knoxville woman takes on Appalachian Trail solo hike

Gretchen Pardon is a computer programmer, wife, YouTuber and avid hiker.

On Thursday, February 20, 2020 in Amicalola Falls, Georgia, she began a journey she has been dreaming about for several years. She is thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail solo.

Pardon has always been active but started hiking and backpacking as a serious hobby more than 5 years ago. She became a 900-miler in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and created a YouTube channel called “Hiking With Braids,” which comes from her signature hairstyle and unofficial trail name.

One of her goals loomed above all others, the Appalachian Trail. The 2,192-mile trek stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin Mountain in Maine and usually takes 6-7 months to hike from start to finish, also called a thru-hike.

“I definitely am very goal-oriented. So I do like setting goals for myself and then accomplishing my goals. It was kind of a natural thing for me to want to do this really even just for that reason,” Pardon said.

Scariest of all, Pardon left her job as digital media manager at Visit Knoxville at the beginning of February.

“My boss was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the greatest thing. This is so you,'” Pardon said. “Just to see them be so supportive of me. It made me just feel like I was doing the right thing.”

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