Mother-daughter duo complete Appalachian Trail during the pandemic: 'It just felt like we were partners'

On March 1, 2020, just weeks before much of the country issued shelter-in-place orders, a mother and her teen daughter set out on a near-six-month-mission: to backpack the Appalachian Trail, a 2,000-mile hiking thruway that traverses 14 Eastern states.

When they began, the pair — Briana Sullivan and her daughter Cambyr, who started out 13 but turned 14 on the journey — had intended to simply disconnect from the “typical world.” It wasn’t until a few months into their journey, when effects of the pandemic began to reach them in the woods and small towns they passed through, that they realized they were now disconnected from an atypical world, too. They leaned on each other to get through all the challenges.

“It didn’t really feel like my mom was my mom,” Cambyr tells Yahoo Life. “It just felt like we were partners.”

The teen took on the responsibility of planning out their accommodations and resupplying each time they entered a town. Eventually, the pandemic made it difficult for the pair to shop and find places to sleep.

Luckily, they came across plenty of what they refer to as ‘trail magic’ and people who were looking out for them, offering hikers the support they needed. “People were closing shops,” says Briana, “but they were also opening just for hikers.”

Throughout their journey, they adopted the mantra, “Positivity is everything.” That got them through every day, knowing that “when you feel low, the only way you can go is up… if you wait long enough, the moments going to change,” Cambyr says.

Although it may seem monotonous to spend the days walking and talking, the Sullivans shared that it never felt that way. Instead, each day felt different from the next as the two kept themselves busy learning new skills, celebrating at mile markers, and building a stronger relationship with one another.

As far as Cambyr’s education, the pair found a system that they believe benefited them both — no strict schedule, with the day and its discoveries leading the various study topics.

Now that they’ve completed the hike, they still continue to apply the lessons they’ve learned on the trail to their everyday lives. “The Appalachian trail is a metaphor for life,” Briana says. “It's not always going to be an easy ride, but we have to learn how to gracefully get through those moments.”

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