Ryan Poe

  • DAI Student
  • Learn about Ryan's experiences as a student with a disability navigating the COVID pandemic and his decision to take a semester off to hike the Appalachian Trail.

My name is Ryan Poe and I am a student here at URI, studying engineering. I made it successfully through the 2019 fall semester and then found it progressively more difficult finishing out the spring semester 2020 once we went remote due to COVID. My plans for the 2020 summer classes changed quickly, and I dropped advanced physics and some other classes given it was really difficult for me to learn with the limited interactions and distance learning. COVID was hard on us all, especially those of us with learning disabilities. I have dyslexia and have learned really good coping techniques, but it still takes me longer to read information and digest the content. There is something about being physically present in class and interacting with professors/classmates which significantly helps me to learn and apply what’s being taught. I didn’t just want to take classes it at face value, but really wanted to understand the content. I did come back to campus in the Fall of 2020, lived in the dorm and took classes from my room. It was very isolating and stressful. I made the difficult decision to take a gap Spring in 2021 in the hopes that things would return to “normal” this fall.
On February 27, 2021, I started my Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hike which would take me through 14 states and cover 2,193.1 miles. I started this journey by myself and met many amazing people along the way. There were a lot of solo hikers as well and we crossed paths periodically through the journey north, sometimes sharing a campfire at the end of the day or exchanging stories. The greatest thing about the AT was I was in charge. I determined when I started the day, what I ate and how much I engaged with others. Along the way, I got to know myself better in the process. I carried my belongings on my back which started out at 40 lbs.. I figured out pretty quickly what was essential and by the end was down to a 30 lb. pack. I chose to ‘hike my own hike’ and not speed through the trail, but rather enjoy the time given to me to really experience nature and the great outdoors. I averaged 16.2 miles a day and successfully completed hiking the Appalachian Trail 135 days later on July 11th, summitting Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine. The AT is the world’s longest foot path.
Some of my favorite memories outside of the lasting friendships include: all the interesting hostels along the way, sleeping under the stars, the ponies of the Virginia highlands, the alpaca farm, the 4 state challenge (43.9 miles in one day), the ice cream challenge, trail magic left by good Samaritans, and the beauty of the White Mountains. I went through 4 pairs of hiking shoes, and I lost 15 lbs. I think it’s wise to invest in good, lightweight hiking gear to attempt something like this and came to love my Emu hammock which I ended the hike with. I did journal every day- some brief notes about the weather, conditions, mileage for the day, and any highlights. I learned about resilience when the day doesn’t quite go your way, reliance on myself and my abilities to make the best of the situation, and appreciation for the beauty and tranquility of the outdoors.