To most of his Hendrix College classmates, 19-year-old Michael Fibich is just another college sophomore.
He is a pre-med biochemistry and molecular biology major from Katy, Texas, with plans of going into stem cell and genome therapy research.
Fibich, however has an alternate identity as an avid outdoorsman, ultrarunner and thru-hiker known as “Pebbles."
Over the summer, he took on one of the most challenging hiking trails in America, the Appalachian Trail. The trail covers 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine and passes through 14 states.
A former boy scout turned eagle scout, Fibich earned the nickname “Pebbles” by utilizing the small rocks on the floor of lakes to scrub off dirt while washing up outside.
“Everyone on the trail has a trail name,” he said, noting that he came across other hikers who used monikers such as “Cajun Fire,” “Panini” and “Yard Sale."
Having been a hiker for a while, Fibich said it was during a trip to Colorado in 2016 while taking on a 14,000-foot mountain that he got the idea to hike the Appalachian Trail.
“I was with my best friend and some adults I looked up to and I told them and they were like, ‘Your mom is going to hate that,’” laughed Fibich.
He had planned on taking on the trail last year in 2017, but unforeseen circumstances prevented him from being able to go. He did however complete the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain, which is a 500-mile trail that travels through four of Spain’s 15 regions.
He started at the southernmost point of the trail in Georgia on May 13 and traveled north, making him a northbound hiker or a “Nobo”.
Fibich said he had developed an underlying ego from being an ultra-runner that became a driving force to take on the Appalachian Trail. However, Fibich discovered the ego wasn’t enough to get him through the 2,200-mile trek.
“When you get out there, it’s like you have this massive 'ego death' experience,” he said.
He said the motivation has to come from the love of backpacking, enjoying being in nature, the whole lifestyle and the community.
“One big aspect about the Appalachian Trail is that it’s just this big nomadic community,” he said.
Fibich said he met hundreds of people on the trail.
“Sometimes you meet up with groups who walk at the same pace and you stick with them. They become your 'tramily' or trail family.”
As far as housing accommodations go, there are shelters along the trail, but Fibich usually decided not to partake and chose to sleep in his tent.
“I don’t particularly like the shelters, especially in the south. In the south, there are a lot of mice and they will eat your food or tear holes in your bag,” he said.
Food that Fibich needed, considering he had to consume 8,000-10,000 calories a day in order to keep up strength and stamina.
Stamina he used to walk between 10-75 miles a day.
Fibich said there were resupply towns along the trail, where he would stop in for avocados or spinach, but produce would only keep for so long, so he said when the fresh foods would run out, he dieted on Mega Stuff Oreos and Swedish Fish.
The physical strain he endured tested him, even with his background in running and hiking.
There was hardly a day along the trail when it wasn’t raining on him. At one point, it rained for 21 days straight with no reprieve.
“It was like having a bucket of water [constantly] dumped on me for hours,” Fibich said.
The trail also doesn’t offer much in the way of hygienic remedy, as Fibich said he once went through five states without taking a shower.
One of the most difficult physical strains, however, came when he developed Giardia and E. coli from unfiltered spring water in Virginia.
Fibich said he was a little angry that day and it was, of course, raining and the spring looked pretty clean so he scooped some water up and drank.
He started feeling sick, but powered through it. He then came to the portion of the trail called the roller coaster, where the path just keeps going uphill and downhill for nearly 14 miles.
“I was just like, I want to be done with Virginia,” he said.
He kept feeling worse and worse, and one morning when he woke, he realized it was Giardia.
“This was how I convinced myself. I was like these are bacteria, living off the food in my stomach, so I am going to starve them,” he said.
Fibich did not eat any food that day and it was about 27 miles until his next checkpoint.
That night, around midnight, he noticed he was being circled by coyotes.
“Coyotes are typically pretty scared of humans, but the fact that they were circling made me think that these suckers think I’m on my last leg,” he laughed. “I was like, this sucks.”
The only weapon he carried was a small knife, which he’d lost at some point on the trail.
He said that luckily he was able to get away unharmed.
Another difficulty occurred in Vermont, however this one was not physical.
He was on the last few legs of the trail with less than a month left, and he feared he wouldn’t be able to finish.
“That was a huge hit. I remember, I cried myself to sleep because I didn’t know if I could finish,” he said.
He recomposed himself and pushed himself forward, determined to reach the top of Katahdin.
On Aug. 15, he did just that.
Fibich said he cried for about 20 minutes taking in what he had just accomplished.
Fibich hiked the Appalachian trail in three months, two days.
Though not a record, it typically takes hikers double his time to finish the trail.
Current record holders for the trail are ultrarunner Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy who completed the trail unassisted, meaning no sponsors and no crew, in 45 days, 12 hours, 15 minutes.
The assisted fastest known time or FKT, is held by Belgian dentist Karel Sabbe, who completed the trail in 41 days, 7 hours and 39 minutes.
Before taking on the trail, Fibich had reached out to former record holders and Stringbean was the only one to respond with advice and even a schedule of his hike.
While on the trail, Stringbean would ask where he was and the two got to know each other a little better through the shared experience.
Fibich’s future plans include the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,600 mile hike from Mexico to Canada along the west coast.
He also wishes to one day become a yo-yo hiker of the Appalachian Trail, which means he completes it again, and then hikes the entire trip back.
He is currently training for his first ultra marathon, the Arkansas Travelers 100, which he will run Oct. 6.
When asked what pushes him to take on such physically enduring feats, Fibich said: “I love nature. Ive always been drawn to it. I also like to challenge myself to see what I can do."