Appalachian trail overview

Jeff Barr completed the Appalachian Trail in five months and 16 days. The AT took him through 14 states and provided some awesome views along the way, including this one atop McAfee Knob in Catawba, Virginia.

By Kim Jansen

News Report Staff

Most people have a bucket list — a list of places and things they hope to do before they die or kick the bucket.

But Jeff Barr doesn’t need one.

When Barr decides to do something, he simply does it.

His travels have taken him to 15 counties and to all but four of the states, and his adventures have left him with a lifetime of memories and a plethora of great stories.

“I don’t have nice things. I do nice things,” said Barr. “I don’t need fancy things. I have always taken the money that could be spent on materialistic items and invested it into trips.”

So when Barr decided that he wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail, he and his girlfriend, Ladan Mehmandoost, of Edwardsville, prepared for the adventure.

The Appalachian Trail, one of the most technically challenging trails in the world, is 2,190 miles and winds through 14 states — Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania,  New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

The approximate gain and loss in elevation throughout the trail is 464,500 feet, which is the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest 16 times.

“I chose to do the AT because I have done extensive traveling outside the United States and I love hiking,” said Barr, adding he has hiked in Spain and New Zealand.

Before the trip, Barr had spent little time on the East Coast and was anxious to explore that part of the country to learn more about the region.

“This gave me the opportunity to not only walk through 14 different states, but to grasp it without the whole world going by me at 80 mph,” said Barr. “There is so much history out there, from the Native Americans to the first European settlers, and I got to walk through and take it in at my own pace.”

With just a backpack of supplies, Barr started the trail on March 4 and finished August 20 when he reached the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine.

“It took me five months and 16 days to complete the trail, and I did it all on my feet,” said Barr.

When Barr decided he was going to attempt the trail, he prepared for the trip, which included getting out of his apartment lease, quitting his job and selling almost everything he owned.

“Everything was gone, except for what I had on my back. I had two outfits and my basic necessities,” said Barr. “I had what I needed. Not what I wanted, but what I needed.”

Because Barr works in the hospitality industry, he has been able to live a flexible lifestyle with many of the places he has worked giving him extended time off to travel, which has allowed him to travel for months at a time.

“The hospitality industry fits my lifestyle,” said Barr. “I have always been able to come back from where I left off. It is an extremely flexible industry.”

Barr does have an Associate’s Degree in Computer Networking, but it isn’t something he plans to use.

When he graduated from college, he did spend some time working in an office. But after the 2008 recession, he quickly decided that the office life wasn’t for him.

“When I got out of college, I got my big kid job as a computer technician,” said Barr, who added the recession changed the way be saw the world. “I saw all of these people with mortgages, families and kids who became expendable and were shown the door.

“As a kid, that kind of shook me. I was like — is this really what I am working for,” he added.

Barr’s next decision was to cash out his 401K, and he then headed to Costa Rica for a month where he lived a bare-bone lifestyle.

Since then, he has traveled.

He works until he has the money he needs, then he travels to places where he can be inspired.

“We all tell ourselves that we would love to do something or that we wish we could so something or someday I will do that. For me, I say I am going to do that, and I go,” said Barr.

Barr said his travels have allowed him to live real life and to learn to survive in different situations, which on the Appalachian Trail meant finding his own water source and planning on how to ration supplies for four to five days until he made it to the next town.

Through his time on the trail, Barr was able to view some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes, including McAfee Knob in Virginia and Mount Washington in New Hampshire.

Mehmandoost started the trail with him. But in Pennsylvania, she broke her femur bone with almost 1,000 miles of the trail left.

“That was the most trying time mentally in my life,” said Barr, adding the two were not only companions, but they also worked together to carry needed supplies.

Although she was not able to finish the trail, Barr went on without her, as the two had planned.

“We had sacrificed so much to make it to this point, and we knew the risk factors going in. We knew someone could get sick or injured, and we always said that if one had to get off of the trail for any reason, the other should keep going,” said Barr. “Neither one of us wanted to feel like we set on this adventure and didn’t accomplish anything. We never said if; we always said we will finish.”

Barr was the 411th person to finish the trail this year, with nearly 6,000 people attempting the feat.

“It is a big deal. It is very surreal for me,” said Barr. “With all humility aside, I am extremely proud of myself because of all the trials and tribulations. This isn’t a stroll through the park.”

Barr said the conditions on the trail included freezing temperatures in the mountains which led to frostbite, followed by days of rain where he had to just keep going.

“When you make up in the morning, you have to convince yourself that you have to hike 15 to 20 miles, and not many people would subject themselves to that,” said Barr.

But he added he loves challenges.

“It is a challenge, and it is fun,” he said. “It builds character and it exposes you to a life that very few people get to live.”

Although Barr is good at hiking, he admits he was a little naive when he began his adventure on the AT.

“No one can really prepare themselves for that. Nature can kick the crap out of you, and it does. You just have to persevere,” he said. “You can do a lot of things in your mind.”

Barr’s mother, Julie Reedy, of Effingham, and her close friend, Frank Schniederjon, have been very supportive of Barr’s trail adventure. Reedy played a major role by taking him to the beginning of the trail and picking him up at the end of the trail.

“She is extremely supportive,” said Barr. “I would not have made it if it wasn’t for her support.”

Although when he first began his travels, Reedy wasn’t necessarily thrilled with her son’s lifestyle choices. She can now see how happy he is and appreciates this view of the world.

“She is super, super supportive now. She maybe doesn’t agree with it all of the time, but she understands,” he said.

Barr also received support from a trail angel named Dana Nelson-Ridinger, who helped him while he was making the journey.

After this accomplishment, Barr isn’t sure what his next trip will be. But he knows there will be a next trip.

He said the experience of completing the AT is something he will never forget.

“This gave me such an opportunity to not only delve myself deep into nature and survive on my own, but it gave me a great opportunity to see the real-life East Coast,” said Barr.

“Very, very few people can say they have done what I have done,” he said. “I am one of the few.”