Take a hike with Malverne's Jake Catalano on the Appalachian Trail


Jake Catalano took finding a new path to a whole new level. His 111-day odyssey on the Appalachian Trail led to a new career — and a new chapter of his love story.

“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Catalano, 25, said. “It was definitely worth it in the end, just to feel that sense of accomplishment.”

Catalano, of Malverne, started his hike of the 2,190-mile trail in Maine on Aug. 2, and completed it on Nov. 11 in Georgia. The trail presented no shortage of challenges, both physical and mental.

For the first month or so of the journey, it rained nearly every day. Catalano had to ford rivers while carrying 35 pounds of food and supplies. He had no access to cellphone service, towns or other people. His socks were never dry.

“That’s something I learned about myself,” he said. “How resilient I can be to adversity.”

The scenery, however, made the tribulations worth it. The flora and wildlife, Catalano said, were amazing — he saw five bears, countless deer, wild pigs, and even a rattlesnake. He picked wild blueberries in Maine. He hiked along the summits of the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

“Being above the tree line was something I’ve never experienced before, and it’s just incredible,” he said. “It just holds this incredible beauty, and was one of my favorite parts of this.”

Amid the trail’s inspiring scenery, Catalano found himself more deeply committed to the decision that inspired his trek in the first place: to switch careers, from manufacturing to renewable energy.

“This trail definitely helped further that interest in protecting the environment,” he said. “Just making sure we move to sources of energy that involve less carbon.”

The vast majority of people who hike the Appalachian Trail go south to north, so Catalano’s decision to start in Maine and hike south made the experience much more introspective, he said.

Occasionally, however, he encountered other people and experienced what hikers call “trail magic,” when kind strangers offer food, beverages and supplies out of sheer generosity — which Catalano welcomed, given that he spent three months subsisting mostly on Pop-Tarts, instant mashed potatoes, tortillas, peanut butter and olive oil.

But all the kind strangers in the world couldn’t replace the one person who was missing — Catalano’s partner, Daniella Liporace

Though otherwise alone, he was kept company by a bear pin that Daniella had given him. Every time he looked down at the pin, he was reminded of her, he said.

“Just being away from her for so long, it really made me appreciate her more,” Catalano said. “I really missed her the whole journey.”

He had already decided he wanted to spend his life with her, but he got the inspiration to propose at the end of the trail while hiking the beginning of it, in Maine. Three months and a life-changing trek later, it was finally time. Daniella met him in Georgia and hiked the last mile with him — and was met with a surprise.

“After I celebrated a little bit, I knelt down and asked her to marry me,” Catalano recounted.

As it happens, “trail magic” refers to more than generous strangers — hikers also use the phrase to describe the trail’s uncanny propensity to reveal exactly what they need at exactly the right time. Now, with his odyssey completed, Catalano has a newfound sense of resilience, a fiancée and a renewed confidence in his life’s path.

“It made me reflect on what’s important to me in life,” Catalano