Jeppe “Nature Boy” Spence on the joys and hardships of his 3500 km. solo-walk on the Appalachian Trail

"The serenity and raw simplicity of the outdoors just swooped me off my feet. And I wanted more of that. I wanted an adventure where, if I suddenly died at the age of 25, I would be able to say I had lived out at least one dream"
- Jeppe "Nature Boy" Spence

Featuring: Jeppe Gabriel Spence aka. @speppejence

Welcome to the fifth edition of Outdoor Instagram Stories. This time we're turning the spotlight towards Denmark where we meet Jeppe Gabriel "Nature Boy" Spence; a fellow hiker and countryman of mine. A good chunk of the interview will revolve around Jeppe's recent 3500 km. south-bound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in the Eastern United States, an achievement that no other Dane has ever been credited for until now. Let's get to it

  • Name: Jeppe Gabriel Spence
  • Age: 21
  • Nationality: Denmark (lives in Aarhus)
  • Book: The Hundred Year Old Man by Jonas Jonasson
  • Movie: The Fabuleux Destin' d'Amelie Poulain
  • International trails: Appalachian Trail (USA), Kungsleden; Skåneleden; Vattlefjallsleden (Sweden) and various trails in Ireland
  • Hobbies except hiking: Theater, climbing (robe and boulder), drinking proper tea and nurturing his plant Bertram The Basil Plant

    It all began with a grand promise 

    Jeppe credits his fondness of the outdoor lifestyle first and foremostly to his parents who played a vital role: "They have always been good at getting me and my brothers out into nature. I’m very thankful for that. So, nature has always been a part of my life.". And the story continues until Jeppe became 17 years old where his parents gifted Jeppe a pair of hiking socks and an outdoor magazine which led to his first grand outdoor experience: "The magazine, Opdag Verden, had a commercial for a hiking tour in northern Sweden. I went that same summer with my brother. This trip inspired me, and I promised myself I would do at least one trip every year from then on", he says.

    An epiphany that would mark the starting point for many hiking adventures to come.


     

I like to get ambitious and just throw myself at a dream as soon as it arrives. Otherwise, they will never be realized.


"What made you want to walk the Appalachian Trail in 2017?"

Jeppe: "The dream first came after I hiked the 500 km Kungsleden in Sweden. The serenity and raw simplicity of the outdoors just swooped me off my feet. And I wanted more of that. I wanted an adventure where, if I suddenly died at the age of 25, I would be able to say I had lived out at least one dream, and not just went through kindergarten and education. I also wanted to find myself, who I was at the core. And I knew that the peace of nature would give me the time and space to do that."

"I then read about the Appalachian Trail one night, and immediately decided to hike it the next summer. I like to get ambitious and just throw myself at a dream as soon as it arrives. Otherwise, they will never be realized.



A.M. Vandring - a hiking blog - was born

Launched in June 2017, the same time WildStray was born and only days before his taking his first steps on the Appalachian Trail, Jeppe created his hiking blog called 'A.M. Vandring'. Inspired by the trail name phenomenon that is common on US long distance trails, Jeppe wanted the name of his blog to be meaningful; the A stands for Anette (his mother's name) and the M stands for Mark (his father's name). 'Vandring' is the Danish word for hiking.

Determined to inspire other (thru-)hikers

It initially served the purpose of keeping friends and family informed about his adventure. However, with Jeppe being the youngest Dane to ever thru-hike the AT and the first Dane ever to do a southbound thru-hike of the AT, his adventure sent ripples through the Danish hiking community: "Suddenly, out of the blue, many amazing and supportive people were following my dream as it unraveled, and I’m now using it to kickstart crazy hiking dreams for other people."

Now of days, Jeppe still share stories and pictures from his outdoor endeavors with his readers on his blog, Facebook and through talks about his thru-hike: 'My Life In 35 Liters' that he gives around Denmark. Additionally, Jeppe is likely to help aspiring thru-hikers with the administrative practicalities that follow along with the process as well as helping people prepare for the mental feat of hiking day-in-day-out for multiple months.



"Being only 20 years old and alone in the woods for so many days would become hard sometimes. I even ended up hugging a tree one day out of sheer longing for human contact. That was a pretty surreal experience" 


You hiked the AT solo – or at least started that way.
- What’s the pros and cons of going solo on a long trek like the AT?

"I hiked alone for about 99% of the trail. Sometimes I had one or two people I would meet up with at camp or in towns, but I mostly walked on my own. Being solo on the AT enhances the experience. You talk more to people, you experience the freedom of nature more and you run your own schedule. So mostly pros.",

"Some stretches I really missed human company, though. Being only 20 years old and alone in the woods for so many days would become hard sometimes. I even ended up hugging a tree one day out of sheer longing for human contact. That was a pretty surreal experience too!"

- Any piece of good advice to those considering going solo?

"Do it. There is nothing else to it. It’s one of the best ways to experience a long distance hiking trail. The secret is to team up with others, then you have people around, but are free to make your own decisions.",

"Also, you can’t stand anyone for that long in the woods, no matter who it is, you will get annoyed."




How would you describe the community on the AT? If you think of your first, initial impressions and compare it the ones in the last days on the trail?

"The community is amazing, I met fewer people than on an average thru-hike going southbound, but I still made amazing friends. The AT is the trail that has the best community of the three big trails (AT, PCT and CDT). There are shelters along the way which encourages meet-ups and gatherings where you meet the coolest people. And everyone is nice! My perspective wasn’t really changed when I finished, just enforced. I had met so many people that helped me or talked to me about everything."

I know you go by the trail name Nature Boy. Please, tell me the story behind.

"The 21st of June is the national hike naked day. It was the second day on the trail for me in a foreign country. So, when a guy I had hiked with showed up at a shelter wearing only underwear I had to hear the reason. Inspired by this I kept on hiking that evening and after not seeing anyone I dropped all my clothes. This was also the most mosquito-infested area on the whole trail. After 5 minutes I bumped into my first hikers, a couple, and got so embarrassed I just kept walking past them without talking.",

"I arrived at camp where three hikers were stunned to see someone naked in this area. So, an older guy gave me the trail name Nature Boy. When the couple came in that same night, they approved the of the name and we all laughed about it."


 "... when a guy I had hiked with showed up at a shelter wearing only underwear I had to hear the reason. Inspired by this I kept on hiking that evening and after not seeing anyone I dropped all my clothes."


Do people only go by their trail name or is it more of a nickname you tell before introducing your civilian name?

"Trail names become identities. No one knows your real name. It actually went so far that I felt weird being called Jeppe when I called home. I only knew a few other names, but no one ever mentioned them. It was a pretty amazing experience to switch to a whole new identity, a new start. This also made people more open, because it was a judgemental free zone for everyone, no matter what."

"Some names were Walk-a-mole, Sheriff, a couple named Toad and Birdie (toad was the female and birdie the male), Chief Prettyfeet, Sniffles, Rabbit, Tea time, BFG (Big friendly German) and GatorTator (after confusing Gatorade powder with mashed potato powder when making dinner)."



 "I felt like quitting on my third day."


Did you have an OH-SH*T-situation on your thru-hike?

"I had plenty of OH-SH*T moments, mostly because every thunderstorm hit me while I was traversing a mountain without cover. On my second day, I got trapped on top of an open stretch of rock with lightning right above me. And I also hiked through three hurricanes. With hurricane Irma being the scariest because I was all alone when hiking through it. I had a horrible shin splint and Lyme-disease. So, there’s was plenty of scary moments. But that’s the raw simplicity of nature, no special treatment! I kind of enjoyed it actually.",

"There was no easy way to anything, all water had to be filtered through a tiny filter, every view came after you climbed a mountain, there more you ate now the less you would have tomorrow and you either got wet from sweat or from rain, there was no staying dry. But that made everything worth so much more because you always knew you had deserved it."

Did you ever feel like quitting and if so, what made you overcome that feeling?

"I felt like quitting on my third day.",

"Couldn’t do anymore; I was living of olive oil, hiking 30 kilometers a day with a jet-lag. But I managed to set some rules that evening because I still had 4 days to the next town. I said I would never quit unless I was dry, in a shelter and had eaten. And if I still felt like it, then I had to wait three days. And that got me through every hard situation from that point on."



On the contrary, can you tell me about some of the most memorable experiences from your thru-hike?

"There are so many. One of the best was a morning where I was invited up on a porch with a Vietnam-veteran for breakfast and talked about life with him. Then, when I hiked on, I bumped into a hiking girl who convinced me to jump into a river from a highway bridge with her. All that happened before 8.30 in the morning.",

"Another time was when the hostel that was supposed to drive me to the airport once I finished got sold. I was standing in the middle of Hurricane Nate with one day left on my hike and suddenly I didn’t have anywhere to go. I called a lady I had talked with for 10 minutes, 2 months before that, and she took me in. Not only that, but apparently her husband was a millionaire and after 4 months in a tent I suddenly found myself sitting in a hot-tub, drinking a fresh smoothie, right next to a huge mansion. Such a surreal experience."



What are your three favorite pieces of gear from your hike?

"The first and most important was my Black Diamond trekking poles. I had plenty of moments in the violent terrain of Maine where I for sure would have broken something without those. They carried me the whole way too.",

"My Telemark 2 LW tent was a gift from above and I adored every second spent in it. It was my home, and I cozied up in it every night.".

"And then my Haglöfs Zip-off Pants. These babies walked 3500 kilometers through some of Americas roughest terrains, 3 hurricanes and tons of rock and mud. And they are still going strong, which I find amazing. To this date they have reaches 3800 kilometers and besides a tiny hole in one pocket and a weird smell, they look almost new!"

Was there an item that just didn’t work out for you?

"Not really, I had picked out my gear pretty wisely. My half zipper sleeping bag got a little bit annoying, but only on really hot days. At one point I switched to Merrell Moab FST shoes instead of Merrell Moab Vent, which was a horrible mistake and I paid for that in form of a nasty shin splint."

What was your base weight on the AT?

"I carried a little bit less than 10 kilograms. I had everything inside my 35-liter backpack. It could have been lighter, but I was happy with it. The most weight I carried was 16 kilos through the 100-mile wilderness with water and food. That wasn’t enjoyable in any way."



What was the first you did when you returned back home? How was the post trail blues?

"I ate a 'remoulade mad'. My parents had made a cake, but I couldn’t think of anything else. The post-trail blues were real. And hard. Not being able to plan your own things so independently or spend so much time learning about individual people was hard. I just moved to a new town too, and standing on a train with 50 people without talking to anyone was hard when you were used to known everyone around you.",

"I went from being the first Dane in history to do this amazing thing to be one of the regular faces on a train ride. I missed the freedom and peace the trail gave me, and I know a lot of my hiking friends felt exactly the same."

On a closing note – how many chocolate bars was it that you ate? 😉

"450 bars are the official number, but probably a little bit more. I had about 5-8 a day, which was expensive, but totally worth it."


And in those words - it's a wrap.

In one of Jeppe's blog posts, he describes (in Danish) his plans about future adventures such as obtaining the Tripple Crown of Hiking by thru-hiking the PCT and CDT along with his already finished AT-feat. Additionally, he talks about excursions to in Northern Europe, more specifically The Faroe Islands and Norway. Be sure to follow him on his Facebook or Instagram to stay tuned.

Follow Jeppe on Instagram and Facebook

A big THANK YOU to Jeppe aka. @speppejence for contributing to the article with his compelling story and pictures.

You're encouraged to follow his Facebook for more updates.

Want more stories like this?

Read other features in WildStray’s Outdoor Instagram Stories:

  1. Tommy Durso on summiting Mount Whitney, Jack London and overturning SUVs
  2. Karl Gustav on exploring caves, FlapJacks and standing on Europe’s tallest vertical rock face
  3. Caitlin Olson on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, deceiving water catches and the story of L.L. Cool Juniper
  4. Exploring Alaska's Wilderness With Samantha Harris

If you, the reader, would be interested in receiving updates on new stories, you can hit this like button to follow WildStray’s Facebook page where I post every new post and photo gallery:

Happy Trails, People. WildStray / Mikkel