Baylor "Keller" Ingram | Interview
Baylor Ingram is a Student, Tennessean, and an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker. Baylor has traveled all over the United States and the Caribbean. While managing school, family, and work he squeezes in time for adventures all over the place.
During the last three years, Baylor has spent a week in Haiti for medical missions, drove to Niagara Falls and back in 26 hours, spent New Year’s Eve in Times Square, and most notably thru-hiked 2190 miles on the Appalachian Trail during a gap year between high school and college.
As Baylor has started his college education, we decided to interview him about his explorations and adventures.
Where did your love for adventure come from?
Well I would probably have to say through the Church, I got introduced to mission trips and similar things, on those I met lots of good friends, like Andrew actually. Andrew and I became best friends and went on a backpacking trip together for my first time. It was perfect weather, we had steaks for dinner, Andrew carried in most of the food, and everything for me. Everything was easy to setup, the fire started on the first match, so I kinda of fell in love with backpacking after that. I have to say that they was the only "perfect" backpacking trip. But, I basically fell in love with adventure through church, the relationships I gained, and Camp Lookout.
Camp Lookout actually pushed me to do more outdoors, like hiking, biking, kayaking, and archery. It really created a bond between me and the outdoors. That was actually were I found I was closest with Christ.
What all did you do with Camp Lookout?
Since third grade, I was going there at least once a summer, sometimes twice a summer. I actually started working when I was 13 to pay for my weeks there. So from 3rd grade to age 15, I attended camp several times. At 15, I was finally old enough to volunteer, which was my dream. I volunteered the entire summer, didn't make a dime, but loved every second as a volunteer support staff. The next summer I worked as support staff, and basically made enough to pay for gas. In the most recent years, I decided to work all summer and save money to go on the Appalachian Trail. However, I would love to work with them again.
Out of all the places you have been, where would you say you have been the happiest?
Oh man, the happiest? I felt absolute pure joy in Haiti when I met this little guy called Wesanglais, and he called me "Bagel" the entire time because couldn't pronounce Baylor. Andrew and I played soccer with him using a coke bottle. I realized at that time that it was a simple, pure fun and joy. That a child's heart is where its all at. I would say that that was probably one of my favorite times.
Also, going to Niagara Falls and back in 26 hours. I think even in my sleep I was smiling, Andrew probably not because my feet stinking up the car. I don't think I didn't smile the entire trip.
Where would you choose to go back to?
I would certainly go back to Haiti to serve again. Niagara Falls is one and done. New York in Times Square was a one and done thing. I think Louisiana would be fun especially when I am of age to drink and have fun. So yeah, I would probably narrow it down to Haiti or somewhere I have been on a cruise like Belize.
You have had the dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail for a long-time. Could you tell our readers where the vision for hiking the 2,000-something miles came from?
So when I was really young, I don't quite remember it, but I remember it something like this. When my dad and I were driving by one of those Appalachian Trail Crossing signs, I asked my dad about it, and he totally gave a typical "dad answer". So he told me it was like 5,500 miles and I said I wanted to do it sometime. However, up to that point I had never hiked more than 2 miles in a day. Eventually, as I got older I enjoyed day-hiking a lot, and Andrew and I went on hundreds of hikes together. I went on lots of smaller hikes and as I mentioned earlier we went on my first backpacking trip. I actually made the decision to hike the trail sometime after college, and I hadn't been backpacking yet. And of course on my first backpacking trip everything went perfectly.
I went with my dad a couple times after that, and we struggled a lot. We quickly realized the truths behind backpacking, and went on some solo trips. After one of my solo trips, I realized I had enough college credit that I could take a gap semester and not be too far behind. I also had all the money saved, done the research, and had the gear. I decided there is not time like the present. So I decided to go the day after graduation.
I walked across the stage, went to a going away party, got in a car, and started in Maryland the next morning.
During your hike on the Appalachian Trail, what moment did you realize that you were hiking 2,190 miles?
Honestly, I don't know. Sitting here now, four months after doing it, I feel like I didn't do it. And now the thought of hiking 5 miles is crazy. I would probably have to say when I met my Dad, so it took me the 1,400 mile mark before I realized "Now I have to do it, my dad is coming out here and I have made it over halfway, endured the pains, and I have got to finish." I was like oh my gosh. I even told my Dad that he could call thru-hiker in two months.
It is still crazy to me to think about it. I still get jealous when I look at other thru-hikers Instagrams, even though we both have accomplished the same thing. I feel like "Keller" which is my trail name has done the trail, and Baylor was just on the back-burner, enjoying the ride.
So "Keller" was your trail name, could you tell us how Keller came about and about the trail name tradition on the Trail?
Trail names became a thing on the Appalachian trail and in the hiking community as a whole for a few reasons. To maintain a level of privacy and security, that way you aren't telling random strangers your name, especially for women on the trail. Another reason, it is hard to remember common names. Like when you meet 15 Jims, but if you meet "Pancake Rainbow" you are going to remember that guy. I tried to pick a name I didn't know so, I hope that is nobody's actual trail name.
My trail name came about on the second or third night. I meet this brother and sister duo that were the coolest people ever. We actually met the first night and hiked all the way to Maine together. I lost them on the south end of the trip. They were trying to ask me the intro questions to make sure I was legit and not a crazy person. I don't know if it was because I was huffing and puffing or what but I kept asking them "what?". So eventually they were like we need a good trail name for you and Snooze, the brother, chose Helen Keller. I decided to not go by Helen the rest of the Trail, so he suggested Keller and it stuck. Actually the few times they got upset with me the pulled out the "Helen" card.
Was there any moments of peril or extreme danger that you want to share?
The scariest time and the most mad I was at the very end. It was bear season and I turned a corner and there was a guy hunting and he couldn't see me but I turned the corner and he has his rifle pointed at my face. I was extremely upset and he didn't put the gun down quickly and essentially was blaming me for him putting a gun in my face. That really bugged me with how dumb some people can be with high-powered weapons. That is one of the many reasons why people advocate for gun control. So that was the scariest things with humans. Other than that that was the only bad experience, I mean there was this one crazy guy. But you kinda have to be weird to hike the trail anyways.
There was two other times. The first time I saw a bear, I was in my tent. I saw three bears outside my tent, but I was so tired and dehydrated I just decided it would be okay to die. I saw a total of 16 bears but most of them just ran away. The other thing was I got Giardia, because I wasn't filtering my water at one point. It was my fault but it was horrible. There was a hostel owner in Larae, VA that I was super thankful for.
Why did you decide to hike with your dad and what did that mean to you?
So, my Dad came out and hiked the last 700 miles or two months with me. Originally I asked him to come out and do it with me because we had fun on our short hikes, even though they were rough because we both were out of shape. When I asked him to do the trail, he lost over 100 pounds to get ready for it and was able to get off all of his medications. He truly changed his life for me. Which is the coolest thing to me and he is a super hero in my eyes.
When he came out my entire demeanor changed, I was tired of being out there and I was ready to be off the trail. When he came out, we slowed down and started averaging around 13 miles a day compared to 21 miles previously. It was really neat because I was literally following my earthly father's footsteps. I walked behind him every single day, singing, dancing, and enjoying our time together. And I had my Godly Father behind me.
What was the biggest impact of the trail on you?
The biggest impact by far, the entire time I was hiking northbound I kept asking myself what my next plans after the trail was. Little naive me, I thought I would figure it out on the trail. It wasn't until I was hiking with my dad that we began talking about being present. Being present in everything you do, from conversations to mundane to adventures. So I started being present in my hike. I quit letting the "hiking" get in way of the actual hike. Man it was powerful. I began to understand what I wanted in my life without searching for it. I talked to God a lot more and used a constant dialogue, like breath prayers. Since I have gotten back it has been hard to maintain that open line with Him.
The whole being present thing was the biggest impact. Being present in your life, with your friends, in school or at work. Even if you are sitting at the tax office, be there and listen to others. I learned everyone has a story that deserves to be heard, but you have to be the one to listen. Learn to enjoy it, because there is value in everything coming toward you.
What is your favorite piece of gear and what’s the story behind it?
It's hard to answer this, but I have this Sea to Summit sleeping bag bug liner thing that is like sheet, not a bug net. It felt super soft like a bed sheet at home, and to have that comfort on the trail was amazing. It was comfort away from home and it washed out well and didn't smell 24/7. Also, my Osprey Atmos 50 L because it felt so great and didn't rub sores.
(After the interview, Baylor sent me a message and decided that his ultimate favorite piece of gear was his Down Puffy Jacket.)
What would piece of advice would you give to someone who is going to hike the trail?
A couple things, one thing I heard too, everything is always wet, whether from rain, sweat, or tears, or blood. Of the first 30 days it rained 28 of mine, I lost the bottom of my foot twice. You can make it through it, but don't buy a $800 rain jacket because you will get wet. The other is during the trail know that you are living someones dream and yours. The days that it got really hard, I remembered that I was living someones dream that couldn't or would never be able to do it. So take advantage of that and be present. Finally, when you get back, post-trail depression is a real thing. It is really hard to go from enjoying every second to coming back and having to work and the noise is so loud. Be ready for the transition back and talk to people, because its real and be okay with talking. You go from an amazing life adventure to going back to mundane. So plan your next adventure before you get off.
So,What is your next adventure?
Buying a house is my next life adventure, and move out of my parent's house. Also, Andrew and I are going to Yosemite and we get to live like hiker trash for a little bit. Also, College is an adventure on its own.
How can readers keep up with you?
Thank you Baylor for the wonderful interview and please give him a follow and share this with your friends and family.