Zero Waste Honey on the Appalachian Trail
Hi y’all, Oats here! I’m the Social Media Wiz for The Trek back on IG Live with another interview from the Appalachian Trail. Today I’m delighted to chat with Honey, a Trek Vlogger taking on a monumental challenge. She’s not only walking 2,200 miles from GA to ME, and not only vlogging it along the way (which if you’re in the know is a LOT of work), but she’s also committed to doing her entire thru-hike zero waste.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The full recorded interview can be found here @thetrek.co on Instagram. All photos courtesy of @zerowastehoney.
Now, we’ll get to the zero waste topic, I promise. But for now, I’d like to hear about the “why” behind your thru-hike and what drew you to the AT in the first place?
I first heard about the trail in 2015 and was dating someone whose brother was doing a thru-hike. I was intrigued and started doing a ton of research - reading all the resources and blogs on The Trek really sealed the deal. I was in college at the time so I knew I had to wait until I got my degree, but it went on the bucket list. I figured after the pandemic if I could sit around for 2 years I could walk for 6 months.
When did you decide that you wanted to start Vlogging for The Trek?
As I was doing my research, I saw a post for vlogger applications for The Trek about a month before I started hiking, and figured the fact I was zero waste was a pretty cool feature of my thru-hike that I wanted to share. A hiker last year did the PCT zero waste and I feel like it wasn’t very well known because it seems a thru-hiking audience prefers vlogging to other forms of social media. So, I took what I learned from her hike and decided to use a video platform instead to hopefully reach and educate a larger audience about what a zero waste thru-hike is all about.
In one of your vlogs, you define zero waste as “an idea - doing the best you can, with what you have, in order to ensure a better tomorrow for yourself, others, and the planet. That’s an incredibly inspiring message - Can you tell me a little about how you got drawn into this lifestyle and how you came to the decision to go zero waste for your thru-hike?
I’ve always been an environmentalist, and my birthday falls on Earth Day, so I’ve always felt a passion for the subject. In high school I did a research study on the BP oil spill’s effects on marine wildlife which eventually led me to my major of biomedical engineering. In college I took a ton of sustainability courses and urbanism and in 2018 I came across the zero waste movement online. There was a single mom who had been sharing her stories and I began researching for myself - I hadn’t thought about my own actions and consumerism and how that impacts the environment, and I went deep into the movement. I even got rid of my trash can. When the pandemic hit, it changed everything and it was nearly impossible to live zero waste. The bulk sections at the grocery store stopped letting people use their own jars and a lot of the small shops I was going to had completely closed down. It felt like I was at a standstill. One day, my mom said, “You know, you being conscious of your actions is more than most people. You’re doing the best you can.” That helped me switch my perspective from zero trash, zero first-hand consumerism to understanding that doing what I can and being aware of my actions was enough. That message came from my mom and I’ve used it ever since then.
I’d love to know more about the specifics and logistics. Can you tell me some of the main differences between you and a typical thru-hiker?
The biggest difference is the food for sure. Most of the trash you use in a thru-hike is from food in town and resupplies. I decided to buy all of my food in bulk for 6 months and cook, dehydrate, and store it at my mom’s house. I went to the post office for boxes, ordered reusable ziplock bags, and decided what to eat. I left myself some leeway at the beginning for when I was adjusting to being on trail, and now coordinate with my mom for the resupplies. Now I don’t have to worry about Ramen or Pop-Tart trash at all on trail.
Instead of plastic bottles, I use CNOC collapsible bottles which connect directly to my Sawyer Squeeze. For gear, I was trying to avoid first-hand consumerism so I made an effort to use things I already owned or buy second-hand. REI Garage Sale, Amazon Used Marketplace, and Gear Trade were all great resources. The majority of my gear I owned before preparing for my thru-hike.
What would you say is the most difficult part of doing your hike zero waste?
All the food I watched people eat that I can’t have! I’d love to have some of the food I see other hikers have, and there are moments that are really hard. I’ve been able to be creative, but having junk food when you’re hungry is hard. I generally eat very clean because I’m zero waste, but I just tell myself it’s okay for them to have it and it’s okay for me to resist.
It sounds like you’ve been having some really nutritious fuel, at least! So, just getting back to the trail and your adventure for the moment - what have been some highlights of your journey so far?
I’m seeing a lot of the East Coast I’ve never seen before. We had two Germans in our tramily at the beginning and hearing them experience these little towns in GA for the first time was really fun. I’ve loved Hot Springs and Helen, the towns have just been so cute. I’m from a big city so I’m in awe of everything I’ve been seeing on trail so far. The people you meet whether they’re day hikers or in your tramily, everyone is just so nice. It makes me feel like I’m in a different world just by how nice and supportive everyone is. That’s been a really big highlight.
What is one piece of advice you would give an aspiring thru-hiker following in your footsteps?
One thing I heard on trail that has really stuck in my head is, “Never quit on a bad day”. I covered a downpour in my first video from the trail, and was using my trowel to shovel water out of my tent. Everything was soaked. I remember really wanting to go home and everyone at the campsite was miserable. Then, someone said that phrase, “Never quit on a bad day”. I realized, that’s solid and makes sense. It kept me on, and it’s the best piece of advice I could give to other thru-hikers.
I understand your trail name is Honey - can you tell me the story behind that?
I was at Amicalola and got three trail names in a 24-hour period! Before I even left, my friend dyed my hair and said it looked like Honey. I vowed that if someone else said it I’d make it my trail name. Then when I got Amicalola I had a pack shakedown and the ranger there said it again, and once more at the campsite that night! Three time’s the charm. The other names that were thrown at me were Bullet and Miss Snores A-Lot… so I decided to cut off the suggestions there.
Before we officially wrap up, Kareema are there any shoutouts you’d like to give or anything you’d like to touch on?
Congratulations to my sister who got married TODAY, which is why I’m off trail. It was a moment I’m glad I got to be a part of. Shout out to my tramily currently at Trail Days, check out my most recent video for a tent tour of the tramily.
A huge thank you to Kareema for her time, you can follow along with her journey on Instagram @zerowastehoney, or on The Trek’s Youtube account. Thanks for tuning in, happy hiking y’all!
Katie "Oats" Houston (she/her) is a freelance outdoor writer and content creator based in Austin, TX. After being bit by the thru-hiking bug in 2019 on the Appalachian Trail, Katie has since got the Colorado Trail and Lone Star Hiking Trail under her belt with a bucket list of many, many more in her future. She enjoys any opportunity to write about her adventures, good trail ethics, and trail stewardship and currently works as the Social Media Lead for The Trek. Check out her adventures with Thru the husky at her website and Instagram.0