Hudson -- Max Bruno was not quite ready to jump from high school graduation to new college freshman in just a few months.

So instead of packing for college after a May graduation from Hudson High School, Max decided to let Mother Nature become his teacher and the Appalachian Trail his classroom.

Max completed a 1,165-mile hike Sept. 11 when he reached the top of Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine at 5,270 feet and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Three months before Max had left Hudson, his mom Martina and his sister, Antonia, to begin his hike of just over half of the trail from West Virginia to Maine.

"I wasn't really ready to go to college yet," Max said. "I felt like I needed something big to commit myself to."

Max and his mom were watching a movie about hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail.

"I said to her I like to do something like that," Max said.

Max researched the PCT and realized it was a bit too big and decided on taking on the Appalachian Trail.

"I decided to take a gap year and decided I could do half this year and that if I wanted to go back and do the other half, it would still be an accomplishment," Max said.

Max began his trek June 5.

"I realized it wasn't just about getting a break from college or education," Max said. "It was more so I could get a hold of something outside of school and finally accomplish something that didn't have to do with education."

The weather ranged from a hot and rainy June and July to a dry August, according to Max. However, in August, Max was exposed to some elements not usually found in lower elevations. While on New Hampshire's Mount Washington, which has an elevation of more than 6,000 feet, hail mixed with freezing rain, coating some areas and making the footing treacherous, Max said.

"I'm walking up Mount Washington and suddenly feeling water molecules getting in my beard and I brush my face," Max said. "I had snow in my beard and people coming down from Mount Washington had snow in their hair."

Along the journey Max ate food he had brought from home, snacks sent to him from family and pre-packaged meals designed for hikers.

And while meat was tough to carry on the trail, at one point Max was sent a dried salami from his mom.

"It started smelling bad after four or five days so I figured I should probably finish it up before the week was over," Max said.

According to Max, different states offered unique challenges or pleasantries along the way. Some states had sharp rocks lining the trails which could grab an ankle, some were filled with switchbacks and others had varying degrees of steepness at each incline. Other states offered bouncy beds of pine needles to walk on and running brooks to camp near.

And while the northeast is known for its bear population, Max, who was given the trail name "Marbles," saw no bears on the trip. However, the hiker did have a run in or two with a few of nature's creatures.

On his first day out Max was walking along when he stepped on a black rat snake.

"He didn't bite me, fortunately. I jumped back just as it turned around and sat there and looked at me for a second," Max remembered. "I was like please don't hurt me, this is my first day, I deserve a little bit of mercy. I was by myself so I was in no danger of people thinking I was crazy-talking to a snake."

Max also had a visit from a moose, which fortunately for him, was a female.

"I'm sitting here eating my breakfast and this moose walks right by the shelter and looks at me," Max said. "Fortunately it was a cow and didn't come near me."

If it was a male, it could have been a different story, according to Max, who said the visit was during mating season.

"The males during mating season are very, very aggressive which was scary because I was in Maine during the mating season," Max said. "It is kind of unnerving to know that they were that aggressive during mating season and you really can't do anything -- you can sit there and try to fight it but you're not going to get anywhere with that. They will fight you and they will actually charge you."

Martina said she was "a little apprehensive when he said he was going to do it."

"I was worried so we installed an app on his phone so he could check in," Martina said. "Even when he couldn't talk at least I knew he was safe."

On a few occasions Max did not call home for a few days and Martina became worried.

"I asked him a couple times when should I hit the panic button?" she asked. "On a couple of occasions I didn't talk to him for a few days and I was starting to get a little stressed. But then miraculously he would call."

Martina, who was able to visit with her son once before the journey was over, said Max was thrilled by instances of "trail magic" when "trail angels" left snacks, coolers of cold water and other goodies for the hikers.

And while the trail angels gave some needed relief to life on the trail, Max said he still found the experience stressful.

"The hardest part of the entire trail would be the mental stress I was put through every day," Max said. "Mentally, I was still a bit immature. I just graduated high school, I'd never been away from home anywhere close to that extended period of time and I hadn't 'lived' in the "real world yet, so to speak. I walked 10-12 hours a day, without the access to a fresh bed or healthy food.

"And I couldn't just go home; if I was having a bad day, I'd just have to suck it up and keep walking, although there were a couple of times when I called home to just complain. I was fully immersed in being out on my own for the first time and the commitment to the trail that I had assigned myself to was, at times, scary."

Max would like to go back and complete the remaining half of the trail, but he's working on getting a job and applying for colleges.

"Right now it's just pretty much getting my feet back on the ground," Max said. "I still have the other half and I need to plan when I'm actually going to do it. Right now I'm hiked out and I'm putting my boots away for little bit of a retirement."


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