GILMANTON – Taylor Tognacci is not a long time hiker. In fact, it wasn’t until after graduating from college that she hiked her first trail. Yet five years later, she’s accomplished a feat most hikers only dream of: trekking the Appalachian Trail.
Tognacci grew up in Massachusetts, went to business management school, then moved to the Lake District to help his mother run a store.
âI started hiking in 2016 when I moved here,â she said. She started hiking almost by default, she said. âI moved here and didn’t know anyone. I wanted to find something that I could do on my own.
His mother’s store, the Gilford Country Store, sold Belknap Mountain trail maps, so Tognacci decided to put one of them to work. Soon she became addicted.
Within a few years, Tognacci had “traced red” all the trails in Belknap, which means that she had hiked all the trails in the chain. She had also started climbing each of the state’s 48 peaks at over 4,000 feet, a list she completed in October 2019. Before reaching that goal, she had already set her sights on one of the toughest challenges of the hike.
How remote was Tognacci from the backpacking world before moving to New Hampshire? She only heard about the Appalachian Trail by accident, stumbling across it on the Internet.
âI watched people’s videos on YouTube on their hike through,â Tognacci said. “I didn’t know what it was until 2018. I had no idea it existed.”
The trail, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, is the longest continuous hiking trail in the world. It covers 2,193 miles and crosses 14 states on the way from Georgia to Maine. The reserve says that of the thousands of hikers who try it each year, 75% will not make it to the end, atop Mount Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park.
Tognacci was part of that majority when she first took to the track, but not by her own choice. She first attempted the trail in 2020, starting March 1. She had hiked 274 miles to Hot Springs, North Carolina, when she received an email from ATC asking all hikers to suspend their hikes due to the global pandemic. An optimistic person, Tognacci took this as an opportunity in disguise, a chance to treat his 2020 attempt as a sort of dress rehearsal, allowing him to retool his bag and return a year later.
âIt suited me fine,â she said, though other hikers either grumbled or defied the request. âI knew I would just try (the) next year. I saw it as a blessing, another year to train and equip myself.
She did a couple of things differently on her second attempt. She packed warmer clothes and started a week earlier on February 22.
âI wanted to start a little earlier so I could finish earlier,â Tognacci said. And she took the track confidently. âI was much more confident.
Tognacci was packed for speed. She wore trail running shoes rather than heavy hiking boots and kept her pack light – as light as 20 pounds. And she quickly made a name for herself.
Part of AT culture is that every hiker is known by a trail name, and Tognacci had a penchant for wearing a shirt with the word âNahamshaâ on it – a mispronunciation of his new home state. It was as if the shirt was his badge. âPeople called me ‘Nahamsha’,â Tognacci said.
His distinct diet has also helped define his track identity.
âI ate a lot of junk food,â she said. She cooked a hot meal at the end of each day, but started the day with Pop Tarts and supported herself throughout the day with Cheese-Its, Chocolate Bars, Cereal Bars, Gushers and Diet Coke. Sometimes she found small bags of gushers and diet soda, named after her, left behind by other hikers who had heard of her appetite.
She also found a track friend. Cody, an Ohioan she crossed paths with on day five, about 300 miles from the hike. They clicked almost immediately and had the same aggressive pace, making them ideal hiking partners. Tognacci and Cody tore up the rest of the trail together, all the way to Katahdin, and will likely be lifelong friends, Tognacci said.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy says that most finishing hikers need five to seven months to complete the trail. Tognacci finished on June 23, four months and one day after leaving Georgia. She averaged 18 miles a day, including eight âzero daysâ, when she let her legs rest. It’s a far cry from the record, but it was quick enough to get her back to her home in Gilmanton in time for the summer.
Along the way, she and Cody took on a few AT challenges. One was the “Four State Challenge,” which covered a 45-mile stretch from Virginia to Pennsylvania in one day, passing West Virginia and Maryland.
In Pennsylvania’s Pine Grove Furnace State Park, they took on the âHalf-Gallon Challenge,â eating half a gallon of ice cream at one time. It took her an hour and a half to eat a combination of Neapolitan dough and cookie dough. She regretted having picked ordinary vanilla.
Tognacci documented daily through a video diary posted on YouTube. Her channel is Taylor the Nahamsha Hiker, and she said it was “surreal” to be among those browsing hikers with videos on the Internet, which inspired her just a few years ago.
Now that she’s home, she plans to spend the summer enjoying life by the lake and running her business. She took after her mother and has a gift shop in Meredith. She got engaged just before leaving in February, so there is a wedding to plan. In the fall, she expects to return to hiking trails, both locally and possibly in Ohio with Cody.
She said she felt a sense of accomplishment after her hike and got to know each other in the process.
âI didn’t realize how far I could push myself,â Tognacci said. âI grew up being really shy and shy. That I could go out and live this great adventure without having any worries surprised me.