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APSU alum takes on the well-known Appalachian Trail, the longest hiking footpath in the world

A screen-capture from one of McKain's early-April 2021 videos.
A screen-capture from one of McKain's early-April 2021 videos.

(Posted April 7, 2021)

Austin Peay State University alumnus Austin McKain is no stranger to hiking and nature. He was in the Boy Scouts until he was 18, after all.

“I’ve always really been interested in the outdoors and what it has to offer,” McKain said. “I am big into camping and just being outside all the time.

But the wise words of one of McKain’s friends inspired him to take on one of the biggest challenges of his life – hiking the entire 2,200-mile length of the Appalachian Trail.

“He said life’s always going to be there, but you’re not always going to have the opportunity to hike. So, if you have one, do it,” McKain, who graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in communication, said.

A group of his Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers always had an interest in the Appalachian Trail. They even took part in weekend or section hikes, where people hike the Appalachian Trail a segment at a time.

The grueling trail takes about five to seven months to complete. Section hikes allow for hikers to gain the experience of hiking the trail without quitting their jobs to finish the hike in its entirety.

But McKain is doing just that. He cleared his schedule for five months so he can take on this journey, one step at a time. He started the hike in mid-March.

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Capturing the journey on YouTube

Because McKain is “off the grid,” he wanted to find a way to document his time without having to carry around a journal and pen, which add weight to a backpack.

“I journal every day back home. Ounces make pounds out here. I knew I couldn’t carry a physical journal and it be my reliable source to record my adventure,” McKain said.

Thinking outside the box, McKain resorted to filming his daily hikes and posting them on YouTube to look back on, but to also stay in touch with family.

“I have three segments every day. It’s what I’m thankful for, hacks and tips and what I’m thinking about,” McKain said. “I don’t necessarily expect anybody to keep up with me, but what I do expect is for people to understand the reason I’m doing this is so I can document six months of my life I’m never going to be able to get back.”

McKain has mastered a schedule to shoot, edit and post the content of his daily treks. During the hike, he spreads out his filming time so he can get a good amount of footage.

All three of his segments are filmed and at the end of the day, in the middle of the woods.

“Typically at the top of the mountain I have pretty good service whereas, at the base, service is awful,” McKain said.

A screen-capture from one of McKain's early-April 2021 videos.
McKain shows how a cold blast in the Smokies froze his socks.

McKain’s ‘Mean Girls’ tie to the trail

McKain’s YouTube channel is named “Coco CrossCountry.” You may wonder where McKain came up with the name “Coco.” Trail names are very common for hikers.

“I would say 0% of anybody goes by their real name,” McKain said. “A trail name is something that is either bestowed upon you or you can choose it yourself.”

“Coco” comes from the reference in the movie “Mean Girls” – “You go, Glen Coco!”

“I am obsessed with that movie,” McKain said. “I got married on Oct. 3,” a famous reference from the movie.

‘Huffing and puffing eight hours a day'

The Appalachian Trail is a daunting task that many hikers take on each year.

“The trail isn’t necessarily for everyone,” McKain said.

Each day, McKain hikes about 10 to 13 miles, though some days are better than others.

“I’m often huffing and puffing eight hours a day,” McKain said.

The journey itself includes dedication and encouragement from fellow hikers.

People who hike the trail show encouragement in many forms, but the most common are sayings such as “one step at a time.”

“I probably get that at least 20 times a day,” McKain said. “If you have time to put one foot in front of the other, you can truly do this.”

Not all who hike the trail hike for the same reason. Some people have other goals, and all hikers are unique in their own ways.

“Some people are doing this because they want to go on a journey to learn more about themselves,” McKain said. “For me, personally, I think this is a challenge.”

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‘They’re the people that you cry with’

McKain has re-evaluated what accomplishing this hike means to him.

“I think it just means hiking the entire five months to the best of my ability,” McKain said. “I hope I spent my time enjoying every single moment with the people out here that truly mean the most to me.”

Having friends throughout this journey helps make the goal much easier.

“They’re the people that you cry with and the people that you’re excited to see at the end of the day,” McKain said.

Every day is a joy

For those seeking some adventure, McKain suggests getting familiar with your capabilities and hike for practice.

“The best way to prepare for a thru-hike is to just hike,” McKain said.

The time McKain has spent out on the trail so far has been thrilling and rewarding.

“I can tell you that it’s not all fun and games, but it’s super rewarding,” he said. “I can’t say I’ve had a day that I haven’t enjoyed.”

To learn more

For more about Austin Peay’s Department of Communication, visit www.apsu.edu/communication.

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