University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 2/1996
ALUMNI PROFILE: Bugs, bears liven 2,000-mile hike

     It's a feat to beat your feet on the Appalachian Trail.
Bears, blisters and bugs were among the challenges awaiting Erin
Ebersberger, Delaware '94, of Annapolis, Md., and a companion
when they hiked the entire length of the 2,144-mile Appalachian
Trail from Georgia's Springer Mountain to the summit of Maine's
Mount Katahdin.
     After Ebersberger graduated in January 1995, she decided to
take some time off before hunting for a job. At the same time,
the wide-open spaces were attracting Matt Haag of Lancaster, Pa.,
who worked at Treats bakery and cafe on Main Street in Newark
with Ebersberger. The two discovered they shared a love of the
     After test hiking in California and Pennsylvania, they felt
they were ready for the big challenge of the Appalachian Trail,
which was established in 1968 and is the longest marked foot path
in the world.
     Each year, approximately 2,000 enthusiasts log in at the
beginning of the trail with the intention of walking its entire
length; about 200 hikers actually make it to the end.
     On the trail, Ebersberger and Haag met people from all over
the world-New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Germany and other
European countries, as well as from all parts of the United
States-and they stay in touch with many of their fellow
adventurers. "We became good friends because we had a major goal
in common," Ebersberger says.
     The great adventure began April 10, 1995, when Haag's
parents drove the couple to Georgia. Each carried a
backpack-Ebersberger's weighed about 35 pounds and Haag's 45
pounds-containing a tent, sleeping bags, a water filter, camping
stove, food and other gear.
     "Our first day on the trail was beautiful, sunny and 80
degrees, so we got off to a good start before the rain began
pouring that night," Ebersberger says.
     The trail was mountainous through Georgia, Tennessee, North
Carolina and Virginia. "It was all up and down. As soon as you
descended from one mountain, it was up the next, but it was
beautiful," she recalls.
     There were occasional forays into civilization, when they
hiked off the trail to a road and hitched their way into a town.
There, they would "have a real shower, sleep in a real bed, eat
real food" and take their one set of clothes off their backs to
the Laundromat while dressed in their rain gear. "One hiker had a
poncho she would wear while washing her clothes," Ebersberger
says. Eventually, they invested in some new clothes because no
amount of washing could clean the old ones. Occasional farmhouses
adjoining the trail doubled as hostels for hikers. Along the
trail, there also were three-sided shelters holding from two to
20 persons. For the most part, unless it was raining, the two
used their tent.
     The trail brought them close to wildlife. Haag once almost
stepped on what he thought was a tree root, which, when it
uncoiled and began rattling, he realized was a rattlesnake "big
enough to swallow a baby." They  also saw copperheads, black
snakes and garter snakes, a gray fox and several deer.
          Although they had been through the Great Smoky
Mountains and other areas known for bears, they did not encounter
one until they reached northern New Jersey, where they ran into
one who "obviously knew her way around campsites," Ebersberger
says. "We had tied up our food on a tree limb, but not high
enough. The bear just walked over to the food, stood up and
grabbed it between her paws. I was banging on pots and pans, but
she could have cared less."
     Finally, the bear ambled off, showing up again the next
morning to reach the remaining food, which had been placed
higher. "She was trying to gnaw the line to drop it to the
ground," Ebersberger says.
     Even more of a problem were mice and insects. The mice were
into everything, Ebersberger recalls, "even when we hung our
food." Insect repellents "really weren't that effective," Haag
says, "but we discovered that the grungier we got, the less the
bugs bothered us. They were more attracted to the clean people
who were just starting to hike on the trail."
     After sweltering heat in Maryland, New Jersey and New York
and 21 days of rain in June, the fall coolness of New England was
a welcome relief as the couple arrived in Maine for the last 100
miles of their journey.
     The hiking at the end of the trail was harder-through total
wilderness-but the scenery was magnificent as the trees began to
change. When the couple climbed Mount Katahdin, even the cold
sleet and rain didn't dampen their feelings of exhilaration and
accomplishment. Then, it was down the mountain and 30 miles to
the nearest town and civilization, where Haag's parents met them
the next day to celebrate.
     Did the hike change them? Ebersberger says, "Absolutely. The
experience tested me, and I'm a stronger person because of it.
You had to get up every day and keep on going. And, one thing I
learned is that you can't hold a grudge; you have to work things
out. We were dependent on each other."
     Haag agrees, adding, "The most important lesson I learned
was to compromise, adapt and make changes. We felt the experience
would make or break our relationship and it survived. Not
everyone's did. One married couple hiked the entire trail and
filed for divorce soon afterward."
     This winter, the two decided to have a weekend vacation
before Ebersberger began her new job with a Maryland publisher.
They headed-where else?-to the Appalachian Trail, as it crossed
through Maryland.
     "We strapped on snowshoes and it was absolutely beautiful
with no one there-only deer tracks in the snow," Ebersberger
                                        -Sue Swyers Moncure