Elliot “Ballflap” Schaefer (@elliotschaefer) is bonafide Bedrockin’ thru-hiker who’s just a couple weeks off his finish of the Appalachian Trail. We hit him up with a few questions about his hike, several of which pertain to his impressive feat of hiking the whole trail in two pair of Bedrocks.
We’re happy to be not “just another camp sandal brand,” by designing and building footwear for serious mileage, and outfitting chargers like Elliot. Read below to get the scoop on Elliot's experience hiking in sandals, AT vs PCT, and other tidbits from the trail.
Let’s get this out of the way, where does the trail name come from?
My trail name is Ballflap, I got it on the PCT at Mount Laguna on the third day of my thru-hike. I hadn't trained or anything for the trail while carrying a heavy load and my buddy and I thought it would be a good idea to start doing 20 miles from the get go. It was not! I had a huge blister on the ball of my foot and limped into Mount Laguna. An old army medic who was also hiking helped by cutting the dead skin off while sharing a bottle of tequila. He said "Man you got a fat flap of skin hanging off your foot huh?" His eyes lit up and said "YOU'RE BALLFLAP!" I couldn't really argue that.
That seems like a weighted name to carry the rest of the trail! From earlier convos I know you started the trail in Bedrocks but switched to trail runners after the flap, before going back to Bedrocks for the rest of the trail. It seems like this story might be bad marketing for us - what's the story there and why did you go back to hiking in sandals?
I loved hiking and just walking around in my sandals before I switched and I wanted to keep hiking in them honestly. The main reason for the switch was to get ready and comfortable with trail runners for the Sierra's as I would have to wear crampons. 2017 was a big snow year for the Sierra Nevada and the snow capped mountains were constantly on my mind while in the desert as I'm from Arkansas and hadn't done much high elevation hiking. After exiting the Sierra and most of the snow in the Northern California section, I wore out the trail runners and went back to my Bedrocks. I had kept them as a camp/town shoe while hiking in shoes and once I switched back to sandals I haven't ever looked back!
Perhaps someday we'll have a sandal/neoprene booty option for the High Sierra! Upon completing the PCT, did you know you wanted to continue on and do the AT?
People looked at me like I was crazy when I asked if I could attach my crampons to my sandals but I'm still holding out hope! I had no idea. When I finished the PCT I knew there'd be some other adventure on the horizon but was focused on where to go immediately after. I ended up working in Vail, Colorado that winter and around February decided that I wanted to keep hiking and adventuring throughout the world and the Triple Crown was my logical (or illogical) next step. The AT looked to be, logistically and financially speaking, the easiest long distance trail to hike on that short of a notice since I'd be starting the AT in late April.
Feb to April is short notice! Seasonal work is rad that way - it forces you into something new and provides that opportunity to hop into another big adventure with the money you've put away.Hikers talk about the differences between a thru-hike on the AT vs. PCT. In regards to that, what did you find to be true and what did you find to be a misconception after getting on the AT?
Exactly and mountain communities are a blast to be around as most everyone is out there skiing, snowboarding and living an outdoor lifestyle. There are definitely major differences in the two trails but they're also pretty similar in the day to day aspect of thru hiking. The AT is the physically more demanding without a doubt. The trail is less graded than on the PCT and there tend to be more steep inclines and declines on more uneven terrain, although the trail is much more dangerous on the PCT when the weather turns in high elevations.
The PCT is a prettier trail in terms of views and general grandeur. You're constantly moving from one gorgeous extreme to the next and the West Coast contains almost every type of environment on the planet. One thing that was pretty similar was how tight the trail community was on each trail. Hikers come from all sorts of backgrounds but because we all share a single purpose to hike these long trails, everyone on trail seems to be friendly and understanding that we're all out here on a personal journey during a thru hike.
When I’m backpacking (In Bedrocks of course) I get a lot of comments from other hikers about my footwear choice, and sometimes a good deal of flack. What was the frequency of those conversations for you? Any memorable haters?
I get a lot of second glances! I'd say about 1 in 10 people would ask me how I was doing it, why I was hiking in sandals and probably the most frequent question, do I ever stub my toe? (the answer is actually no!) The trend seems to be trail runners right now so most younger hikers were more curious than judgmental but there was an older gentleman wearing big boots in Pennsylvania that insisted that I was going to hurt myself and that you can't carry a backpack without some sort of ankle/foot support. The conversation went in circles, and as he walked away I heard him say something about "hippies."
There's a lot of things I prefer, but most importantly it's much more fun in sandals. It feels less like a chore to put on/take off sandals - when walking big miles it seems more like a stroll through the woods! The biggest advantages however are the mobility and flexibility you have with sandals. It's the most natural way we walk without sacrificing any comfort. My feet grip rocks better and it helps strengthen all the bones in your feet as your foot moves just like it would barefoot but with a little protection on the sole. An added bonus is never having to worry about wet shoes and super smelly feet.
Two pairs! The first pair had around 1,000 miles on it and could have kept trucking while the second lasted me 1,200 miles through rocky Pennsylvania, the Whites and Southern Maine! It's great not having to worry about getting a new pair every few hundred miles and that's not even counting all the town walking, side trails and random side trips that I took. It also eliminates the need for a camp shoe to save some weight for all the ultralighters out there.
Elliot was one of the first thru-hikers to complete the Appalachian Trail in our Cairn 3D PRO Sandals.
We're stoked you made it in two pairs. You sent the first pair back at Harpers Ferry as we wanted to take a look at how the new 3D pro was holding up after 1000+ miles on the trail. We are pumped on the results, especially considering the number of shoes hikers are wearing through.
Making a durable, repairable, and re-soleable piece of footwear is high on our priorities when it comes to design + testing. I'll try to make this the last footwear specific question of the interview...But for the folks and skeptics wondering. Were they any moments you wished for some close toed shoes on the AT?
Stoked to hear that! For me the only times have been in loose scree on some summits in Colorado. Closed-toe might have been nice, but at the end of the day my group summited quicker and safer than those in spikes heading up the ice...
From meeting up at PCT Days last year, I know you were hiking the trail with a crew of friends (many of whom you converted to Bedrocks, thanks!) Did you hike with a group this year or take it more solo?
Loose rock scrambling is a pain no matter what! The freedom makes me feel like a mountain goat at times. This year I went solo. I met a bunch of inspiring and amazing people along the way and hiked miles with a few of them but this was much more of a solo endeavor for me than the PCT. I tended to move at my own pace on the AT and after already having that cool experience hiking with a group on the PCT, I wanted to challenge myself and see how I could develop and hike as a solo traveler and kind of find different experiences alone. Not any better or worse of an experience, just different!
I wanted to jump onto the CDT on the way down from Katahdin! I'll be taking on the CDT next summer with a possible section of the PCT if I can swing it - hopefully internationally after that! Until then I am Bedrocking parts of the OHT in Northwest Arkansas and parts of Colorado while keeping them on hand in my ultimate frisbee bag to put on after the cleats come off.