IOE Alum Hikes Pacific Crest Trail

What do you do if you have four months off between graduation and starting a new job? If you’re Ryan Kennedy, a recent IOE graduate, you walk from Mexico to Canada. Starting at the Mexican border on May 2nd 2017, Ryan walked 2650 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail through scorching deserts, snow-covered passes and remote forests over 112 days. The trail stretches continuously from Mexico to Canada winding through California, Oregon, and Washington, where he now resides in Seattle, working for Amazon in their supply chain data science group.

Ryan completed his BSE and MSE degrees in IOE at Michigan in 2016 and 2017 respectively. He also earned an international minor, studied abroad in France, worked as a GSI for Mark Daskin’s Service Operations Management class (IOE 419), and served as President of the Club Sports program.  While at Michigan, he participated in the Engineering Global Leadership (EGL) specialization within the Honors Program. The program ends with a capstone project through the Tauber Institute for Global Operations, in which Ryan and his EGL teammate, Kyle Gilbert, placed 2nd. Ryan got a job with Amazon through his participation in the Tauber capstone project.

When asked why he decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, he said his decision came down to a few factors. Many of his friends were already working full time and he had about four months between graduation and his job starting. Ultimately, he thought the hike would be a great way to explore the west coast. “I’m from Chicago originally, so I’ve been pretty rooted in the Midwest my whole life,” he said. “This was a great way to get out and explore before finalizing my stop here in the pacific northwest.”

“One of the best aspects to ‘trail-life’ was the culture,” he said. He enjoyed connecting with people from all over the world; the shared experience of being on the trail was all they needed in order to relate. “Each person I met had a different, wild, backstory and motive for completing the trail. Social divides were forgotten; phones and technology were left behind. There was this openness. You talked to every person you passed and you would make friendships over campfires recounting hilarious trail-stories or exchanging the latest trail gossip only to never see them again, or perhaps see them a thousand miles later.”

When asked if he used any IOE skills during the trip, Ryan said planning the trip was like logistics 101. “You put a great deal of thought into gear selection, training, dieting, planning resupply points to account for all what-if scenarios and develop mitigation plans, yet out there, real-life hits and you learn to make do with what you have on the fly. When I was in my groove, I was eating about 7,000 calories and walking 35 to 50 miles daily,” he said. He credits his mom as his “chief operating officer” while he was on the trail. She sent boxes and did other necessary things when he was on the trail without cell service.

As for gear, Ryan says he focused on bringing as little as possible that would safely get him through each section, which is something he learned about in Mark Daskin’s operations research class. “I essentially lived the ‘Knapsack Problem’ and while it was hard, it wasn’t quite NP-Hard. I would be hundreds of miles from anything and people would be surprised with how small my backpack was. I definitely carried way less than I did freshman year lugging calculus, physics, and chemistry books around from Bursely to Central campus.”

Below is a 1 second per day highlight video Ryan made summarizing his journey.