Campus News

Try walking 2,189 miles in his shoes: Psychology professor shares hiking experience

By Monica Baranko, Contributor

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Rodney Bragdon holds up one of the sleeping bags he used on his hike of the Appalachian Trail. (Photo by Monica Baranko)

One of Shenandoah University’s psychology professors recently took a 155-day hike on the Appalachian Trail during his sabbatical for research on the psychology of hiking. Rodney Bragdon started Feb. 18, 2016 on Springer Mountain in Georgia and finished on Mount Katahdin in Maine 155 days later.

“I was pretty irritated with technology and society when I left. Now I’m way more irritated with it that I’m back,” Bragdon said. “It kills me when I step outside of HHH [Halpin Harrison Hall on Shenandoah University’s campus], and I see students all around each other and no one is talking…everyone is looking at their screens.”

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Bragdon, right, shows Scott Spriggs some of his hiking equipment. (Photo by Monica Baranko)

Bragdon’s research is to see why people get depression when they get home from hiking, and their mental status after the transition of being out in the wilderness to being home. He interviewed people as he hiked and handed out surveys for people to send him back.

“From day one you see a lot of people quitting,” said Bragdon. “Research is a nightmare. If they don’t make it, they’re no good to me.

Some evidence of his hike that Bragdon brought were a shirt he wore on the hike that was worn and torn, his hiking poles, all three sleeping bags and the tent he used to sleep in, his hiking backpack, the chemicals he used to filter his water, the cooking and heating pot he used to make his food, his water canteen, a lighter, and a pair of shoes that he used to hike in along with hundreds of pictures projected in a slideshow. The audience held and looked at his equipment with amazement of how worn some of the stuff was and how little items he brought with him.

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This hike was not only intellectually challenging for Bragdon, it was also physically challenging. “I averaged about 20 miles a day on the trail. I had three pairs of socks. I went through three pairs of boots,” Bragdon said.

And when things got too tough on the trail, Bragdon said, “I did what any 41-year-old does…I called my mom.”

Every mile out of the 2,189 hike, Bragdon found extremely rewarding. Although when asked if he would take on another strenuous hike such as the Appalachian Trail, he said, “Not according to my girlfriend.”

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