Hiking the entire 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail is a rare accomplishment. It’s even rarer when two hikers from the same Indiana city – who don’t know each other – happen to meet in the middle of the trail.
Julie Sanders and Robert Santin both started their hike in Georgia, but they didn’t meet each other until they reached Pennsylvania.
Sanders, 30, had started her hike nearly a month after Santin. Santin, 58, had returned home in the middle of his hike for medical reasons before returning to the trail. The pair met at a Pennsylvania campsite and didn’t know they were both from Fishers until Santin realized Sanders had been featured in a Current in Fishers cover story in February 2020 story about her plans to hike the Appalachian Trail.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in spring 2020, Sanders said she was a week away from traveling to Georgia to begin her hike. The pandemic sidelined her plans until March 2021.
“I walked around Fishers a lot during quarantine,” Sanders said. “I would walk 8 to 10 miles a day just around here passing the time. I immediately knew I would go as soon as I could.”
Santin began preparing in 2020 and expected to begin the hike in 2021. Santin is a retired U.S. Army veteran. He spent five years in the infantry and then worked as an armor officer. He had never completed an overnight hike before deciding to hike the Appalachian Trail.
“I grew up in Virginia, so when I was a small kid, we’d go out to the Luray Caverns in Virginia, and the (Appalachian) trail goes by there,” Santin said. “I’m not getting any younger. I was looking for another adventure I can do.”
Sanders started her trek at Springer Mountain in Georgia on March 24, 2021. She and her father drove to Georgia and completed the approach trail to Springer Mountain with Sanders.
“Then he hugged me goodbye, and I started walking,” Sanders said. “That was a sweet moment.”
Santin began his hike on Feb. 22, 2021. He took a break in April and went home for a few weeks before returning to finish the trail
“We met in Pennsylvania,” Julia said. “That’s how the trail works. People go at different paces. There could be a month window between two people’s start date, and somewhere along the way, they meet up.”
Santin and Sanders were hiking to a particular campsite when they crossed paths.
“We ended up at one of those sites and we both set up, making dinner and we were just talking,” Santin said.
Santin said once Sanders told him she also lived in Fishers, he recognized her from the newspaper. Santin said fellow hikers he met on the trail lifted his spirits.
“I had a dim view of people. I was just sick of everything happening in the world, and I was refreshed by everybody I ran into out there,” Santin said. “They were genuinely fun to be around, and (they were) such a diversity of people to come together and all get along. It was all because we are sharing the same trials and hardships.”
Sanders shares Santin’s outlook on meeting fellow hikers.
“The shared experience was a very powerful thing that was kind of magical how it brought so many people together,” Sanders said.
Sanders finished her hike on Sept. 14, 2021, and Santin finished his hike on Sept. 29, 2021. The pair have reconnected since returning to Fishers.
Santin: Papa Groot
Hardest part of the trail:
Both Sanders and Santin agreed that southern Maine is the toughest area to hike on the Appalachian Trail, as there are lots of rock beds.
Injuries on the trail:
Sanders: A bloody nose
Santin: A broken finger and a hernia
Easiest part of the trail:
Sanders: Sleeping in the woods
Santin: The people and the views
Scariest animal encountered on the trail:
Sanders: Five rattlesnake scares
Santin: An aggressive raccoon
Sanders: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2023. The PCT is roughly 400 miles longer than the Appalachian Trail.
Santin: Hiking the Foothills Trail in South Carolina in March.