Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
On April 16, L.L.Bean sent off the first of 43 pairs of employees relay-style hiking the Appalachian Trail through August. Once the relay is over, collectively the teams will have passed through 14 states and by 20 L.L.Bean stores along the 2,180 miles.
Their hike coincides with the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act of 1968, which established national scenic trails, national historic trails, national recreation trails, and side and connecting trails. In partnership with the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the 86 hikers are taking photos and collecting data at various points to help the agencies assess how the landscape has changed over time.
Outside Business Journal caught up with the first team, Jeff Morton and Grace Bender, who are employees at the store in Mashpee, Massachusetts, after they returned last week from hiking 117 miles—from Georgia to North Carolina—in 10 days.
When you first learned L.L.Bean was recruiting employees for a relay-style hike, what’d you think?
Jeff Morton: I was sitting in the office and I immediately spun around to Grace and said, “We’re going.”
Grace Bender: I heard about it in its infancy stages and was super excited. I thru hiked in 2015 so my heart is on the trail and in the mountains. When it was announced this last January, I was giddy and couldn’t stop smiling. The idea to be paid to go hiking was a dream come true. But first we had to apply with a written application and a video. We really wanted the Georgia section so we made a music video about Georgia. L.L.Bean was expecting 80 people to apply. They got 380 applicants at the end of the first day. We’re grateful to have been chosen.
Some people might look at this trip and think, what a crazy initiative. But how does this trip align with what L.L.Bean has been doing for decades?
GB: L.L.Bean has been supporting the Appalachian Trail for 43 years by maintaining a section in the north woods of Maine during two employee volunteer trips in spring and fall. Our brand’s position is to be an outsider. The highlight of this trip was to show that the AT is incredibly accessible to so much of the population, and therefore, the opportunities to be an outsider are there and we’re just showing that there’s easy access to this resource.
What piece of gear could you not live without?
JM: The Ridge Runner Pants. They are hands down my favorite pants to begin with. I’m a bigger guy so having that extra stretch to move up and down the mountain is great. They’re warm enough to keep you warm while you’re active and breathable.
GB: The Ultralight 850 Down Jacket. It was a little colder than I expected, and it kept me warm the whole time.
And what were your favorite moments along the way?
JM: The first night that we were out, the temperature felt like 18 degrees with 40 mph winds coming down through the mountains. The next morning, we got up to the top of Springer Mountain—the official start of the AT— and came across a rock face that had 300 icicles that were at least 3-feet long/ We were taking them off and having lightsaber fights to boost morale. I brought an icicle along with us for 3 hours before it finally melted.
GB: A couple days down the road, we had had a 17-mile day and the last three miles were hiking up Blood Mountain, the highest peak on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail and the sixth-tallest mountain in Georgia. We hit the summit right as the sun was setting. It was just a moment of gratitude to be able to catch the sunset.
You passed the baton on April 26. Do you wish you could’ve kept going the whole way?
GB: We actually passed a mini Bean boot! We met Rusty Westerholm and Christine Biggs from the Danbury, Connecticut, store. (They finished this Tuesday).
JM: We started back in the store this week. We’re sad, but we get to share our stories with our customers and now other employees get to experience what we did. It was just amazing to summit the mountains and be like, yeah this is our job right now is to look at this view.
Follow the journey on Instagram through the hashtag #LLBeanATRelay.