Carnegie Mellon University
October 15, 2019

Taking the Scenic Route to CMU

First-year student Eva Gerstle spent her gap year hiking the entire Appalachian Trail

By Michael Henninger

As rain poured on a frigid Georgia day, Eva Gerstle saw her first white blaze, a painted rectangle marking the passage of the Appalachian Trail. One of her two moms and her cousin had accompanied her to say farewell on the approach hike to Springer Mountain where the trail begins, but now she was alone, taking the first steps of a 2,200-mile solo trip that she had planned for several years. The rain couldn't douse her excitement to begin the journey.

Gerstle's fascination with trail hiking came from her family, who raised her to appreciate outdoor activities like canoeing, biking, and camping in Northampton, Massachusetts. She did her first backpacking trip with her biological father, a family friend who planned a 30-mile, three-day loop in the White Mountains.

Every summer throughout high school, Gerstle signed up for progressively longer group hiking trips, culminating in a ten-day White Mountains trip with her half-brother Jessie that convinced her that she wanted to hike the full Appalachian Trail.

Dead set on taking a gap year, Gerstle applied to colleges her senior year and was accepted to Carnegie Mellon University where she's now a first-year student at the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. She submitted a request to defer her admission to the university in order to achieve her hiking goal.

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