November 10, 2022

Getting to Know Long-distance Hiker, Emily “Sunnyside” Fidrych

One of the most rewarding aspects of our work at Dimension-Polyant is listening to all the great stories from adventurers around the world who’ve relied on backpacks made with our X-Pac® fabrics to help them on their journeys.

Our most resent tale comes from Emily “Sunnyside” Fidrych, an associate digital strategist at Maine-based Blaze Partners who also happens to be a life-long outdoor enthusiast and long-distance hiker that has hiked the entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Long Trail, and a majority of the Appalachian Trail.

Shortly after college, Emily found herself at a crossroads faced with the decision of pursuing her new career, or put her job on hold to join her boyfriend on his endeavor to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). With a little soul searching and some wise motherly insight, Emily trusted her heart, resigned from her job, and joined her boyfriend on the trail. After the AT, the thru-hike bug had bitten and the two hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) a few years later.

We sat down with Emily to learn how she got into long-distance hiking, the difference between her AT and PCT experience, some of her special gear (hint, hint – her backpack made with X-Pac® which saved her life!), and some tips for those thinking of going on a long-distance hike.

We hope you enjoy!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what drew you to your long-distance hiking adventures?

I’ve always been outdoorsy. I grew up in Killington, VT spending lots of time with my sister exploring the cross-country trails on Killington Mountain. When I was 10 years old, I remember standing at a lookout on top of Killington and feeling as though the rolling hills of Vermont around me felt like I was truly home. When my family and I had to move to New Hampshire, I told my parents that I did not want to go because I was afraid that we would lose the mountains and that we would not be safe without them around us! I was happy to soon realize that there are mountains in New Hampshire as well!

So, I grew up in an outdoorsy environment. I didn’t really play a lot of sports. Being outside and taking long walks was my vibe and comfort zone. Since I was doing so much walking and into music by the time I was in high school, I did my senior presentation on planning a walking trip across the country to Burning Man. This was before I even really knew the Appalachian Trail (AT) existed, which is funny because the AT goes through Killington Mountain where I spent so much time hiking!

When did you come to the realization that you wanted to hike the AT?

Shortly after my partner, now husband Dave who is an Eagle Scout, and I graduated college. I had just gotten a job in Boston and was ready to start my career. Dave on the other hand, started hiking solo the AT. I thought maybe we would just go our separate ways. That was until my mother questioned my reasoning for not going by reminding me that the trip Dave was going on really aligned with a lot of the things that I had done and love in my life – and maybe I might want to consider going with him. She went on to say, “You are really excited about this person and this trip, so why don’t you go?”

I owe my Mom a lot as she made it clear this was a very special opportunity. I gave work my notice that day and saved enough money to meet Dave out on the trail.

Where was he on the AT at that time?

I met up with Dave a little before New York. It was kind of intimidating jumping on the trail with people who had been hiking for a couple month covering the southern part of the AT. But I had been walking and biking all over Boston, so think it prepared me to jump right in. For the first couple of days, we would hike 8-10 miles and after the second week, it felt like I had been on the trail the whole time.

How long did it take you to finish?

It took me three months from where I hopped on, and it took Dave five months from beginning to end. We really took our time in Maine because it is just so beautiful. It’s where we eventually ended up living!

I understand you thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). How did this come about?

Well, they say that the best way to cure post trail depression is to plan another hike. And I really wanted that badge that says, “I am a thru-hiker”.  I was drawn to the PCT because I was noticing all the wildfires popping up in 2017 and 2018, and I wanted to see the beautiful West coast and the trail before parts of it burnt up. So right after we finished the AT, Dave and I started working at his Dad’s pasta shop in CT for a year to save the money to go. We started the trail in May 2019 and finished in September.

How would you say the PCT differs from the AT?

In a lot of ways, they’re very similar in the fact that you’re walking very long distances, but the terrain, the planning and even the people I found very different on both trails. For one, I had never been to California and found the ecosystem was completely different from the AT. Another big difference between the PCT and the AT is that the PCT is graded for pack animals – there is an incline but at a grade where a llama, horse or goat could walk it. Whereas you would expect with New England hiking, the AT is just straight up the mountain with a ton of rock scrambles.

Then I would say the planning is really different on the PCT. There are so many different ecosystems you go through – you start out in the desert, and you don’t really want to be in the desert in July. So, you’re trying to get the first part of the desert done by mid-June. But then you also don’t want to get to the Sierras too early because they’re still covered in snow earlier in the year. That did not matter for our 2019 PCT hike because the snowpack in the High Sierras that year was about 200% of what the snowpack usually is. We were hitting snow no matter what!

How did you support one another during your hikes?

We are a great team. We’ve always been good traveling with each other. The great thing about having somebody with you that you’re tied to is that when one person’s having a bad day, the other person’s probably having a good day. You can balance each other. And if we are both not having a good day, I would just hike a little bit behind him, and not talk.

Can you share a couple of key pieces of gear that helped you get through?

I love all my gear! That’s the thing about thru-hiking – you become so attached to the few items that you have. It’s hard for me to pick one or two, but I would say my water filter and my water filter system was a smart combination of products that came together to just make my life a lot easier.

Another was my Superior Wilderness Designs backpack made with Dimension Polyant’s X-Pac® fabric, which is extremely durable. I am kind of a chicken when hiking downhill and do a lot of butt sliding. As a result, my backpack needs to do a lot of butt sliding too. I knew I needed a pack that could withstand the abrasion.

Before buying my backpack, I did my research and found a lot of great things about X-Pac® materials. I loved that the fabric comes in such cool colors! So, I got my backpack just before heading out on the PCT and loved it so much. It endured my butt sliding – the bottom is still very much intact after all those miles. And it pretty much saved my life once.

Wow, how did it almost save you?

We were coming off Forester Pass on the PCT, which is the highest point of the trail. I believe it’s just over 13,000 feet. Since we were hiking in such a high snow year, it was very hard to follow the trail. There are a few trail markers, but they are not quite as prominent as on the AT. We weren’t sure which way to go. So, we took a guess based on what other people in the guidebook said to go. We went right when we were supposed to go left.

We went the wrong way and found ourselves in a position where we could slide down the trail by glissading. Glissading is when you sit in the snow with your ice axe and start sliding down the mountain using your axe as a brake. This is where my pack worked very well for me! The thrill and joy of sliding on my butt down the mountain! Then suddenly, the glissading came to a halt. There was a big rock scramble just below us.  But we had to get down somehow. It was either climb all the way back up and figure out where the trail was or just keep going. So, we started very carefully going down the rocky descent where rocks were falling.

I was fourth in line of five people to go down. It was me and my very small friend, whose trail name was ‘Sassy Pants’, to go next. I remember taking a step and getting lodged in between two boulders with my backpack being the only thing holding me. And my legs were just kind of dangling.

I yelled for Sassy Pants, “I’m stuck by my backpack!”. So little Sassy Pants reached me and made sure it wasn’t too much of a drop to dislodge me. We counted to three and she lifted me where I was able to get down to the little ledge safely.

Are you planning on another long-distance hike soon?

I’m not currently planning a thru hike however I am planning to hike Mount Shasta next year. It’s my 30th birthday. I’m going to go with a guide service just so I can hone in on my mountaineering skills, get better with my ice axe, and snow traversing. So, that’s my next big adventure. I will definitely be looking for a bag with X-Pac® materials, especially now that they have sustainable fabrics.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking of going on their first long-distance hike?

I would say just get super inspired by other people who have done the trail. For me, the way to make a dream a reality, is to see someone else do it – to know that it’s possible to get it done and understand the day-to-day of the adventure. I believe if you really want to do something, you make it happen. You manifest it for yourself. And also, get a good backpack with rugged materials like X-Pac®.