Mailboxes Along the Appalachian Trail

This couple is living in lavender and making music as they hike the Appalachian Trail. In fact, they will be releasing an album this Friday.

There are some things that stand out when scrolling through Instagram. One such thing is a picture of two people hiking the Appalachian Trail totally outfitted in lavender from head to toe. Another eye-catching sight was that, in a pastime where every ounce in your backpack matters, they are carrying an acrylic ukulele and a child's xylophone, so that they can play both impromptu and planned concerts along the trail.

Meet Logan and Jillian Ivey, also known as the Mailboxes. The couple from Cleveland, Tennessee, has been married for five and a half years. They originally met playing music for homeless people on Christmas and were friends at first sight.

Jillian's band, the Mailboxes, was formed in college when she was 18. The name, Mailboxes, is a representation of Jillian's love of writing music and performing. She says, "Songs are like letters you write to people. Mailboxes are common, but they can carry all different types of messages, and my songs are a vessel to take one message from one place to another."

Playing original, acoustic songs and trained as a classical pianist, Jillian was on a different musical path than Logan who, at 18, was singing vocals for a metal band. They started playing together in the Mailboxes, and she thought they were just friends, but there was more there. They dated about a year and a half before getting married.

Logan found, as he played with a band, that he liked hanging out with musicians. "I wanted to learn to play so that I could hang out with them all the time, so I learned bass and jazz as much as possible."

When Jillian asked him to play for her band, it seemed like a good idea. Logan played in metal bands and the Mailboxes on and off for at least 10 years, and throughout that time, Jillian says he quit her band at least three times. "At first, I had a harder time finding my place in other genres--metal felt like home, but I like a challenge," Logan explains. "Any time something makes me uncomfortable, I'm willing to push through it and see what comes out on the other side.

After they got married, Jillian started touring with the Mailboxes but needed people to commit to her band full time, and Logan was having a similar issue with his own band. The Mailboxes got to open for the band Reliant K and recorded a record the last year of college. The Mailboxes also won a national competition that brought in $10,000. With the money, she bought a keyboard and paid for an EP. Jillian started booking the Mailboxes' tours, but Logan started missing her as the band traveled, so they joined forces.

"I didn't believe he would join me on tour because he had quit my band 3 times," Jillian says, but Logan said he liked a challenge, so he bought a drum set and taught himself to play drums. He also renovated a van that became their tiny house that they toured in. It was during this time that they began to collaborate on music and went on a full-time, cross-country tour to the West. When they returned, Logan went back to Tennessee to work. At work, he fell and broke both his arms shattering some bones that resulted in two metal plates and 12 screws in his arms. Tough injury for a drummer and his wife. Jillian was working several jobs to keep going.

This made Logan realize that he wanted something more. "After I broke my arm doing a job I didn't love, I thought about what I really wanted and realized I wanted to leave behind what I've been doing."

With that in mind, Logan and Jillian decided to go and hike the John Muir Trail as they were planning an album. "The trail is a very different environment with its vastness and dramatic views. We wanted to see these 'foreign' kind of lands," Jillian says.

"Logan has given me a 'you-can-do-anything' kind of spirit. My family always encouraged me to follow my strengths, which were music, so I wasn't outdoorsy or athletic. I tried it out (hiking the John Muir Trail) because my husband with two broken arms wanted me to hike with him. I got so excited as I started running and getting the gear. The beginning of the trail was very hard. By five days in, I felt like that was my life--I'm good and I can do this. The hike changed my perspective on myself and my abilities. It was a mental breakthrough. After that 18-day hike, I could run nine miles with no trouble. It was a mental thing that boosted my confidence and how I see myself."

After hiking the John Muir Trail, they decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. Part of their reason for this adventure is to publicize their album. "With an album release, there's a standard way of doing that, but we're not doing it that way. There's also an understood way of how you should do a thru-hike, but we're not following those rules either," says Jillian.

To make themselves truly stand out, they decided to do the hike wearing only lavender. Okay, so why lavender?

"Lavender is metaphorical for the album. You realize that you have set things in your head of what your life should be. But this time I realized I didn't have to follow this imaginary set of rules that I had been living by. The album is about discovering, sort of an art expressive tour."

Not-so-surprisingly, lavender hiking gear is hard to find. Not a problem. Logan taught himself how to sew and made all of their gear. If that seems like an amazing thing to do, you haven't met Logan. "Everyone is capable of learning new things. People get afraid and limit themselves. Instead of saying I can't, believe that you can. It may be hard, but you can still do it," he says.

So, decked-out in lavender, they began their journey. "When we started the AT, I was totally ready," Jillian says. "We did 16-mile days from the beginning."

But the Appalachian Trail is different than the John Muir Trail. Jillian explains, "We were humbled by the difficulty of the AT and humbled by the beauty. I can't get tired of the blue mountains, the trees, and being outside, but our favorite part is the people and the connections we've made. We've met many military veterans. On the trail, people leave space to open themselves up to make connections with others."

Jillian goes on to say that the AT is not a trail you can rush. It's a social trail, and we're playing music along the way, so we thought we would be done by June 21."

The Iveys realize that June 21 was a very ambitious date to try to finish the trail. This is a problem because they have a tour that starts on June 21 in Maine, the northern terminus of the trail, after two months promoting the new album that comes out tomorrow, Friday, April 26.

"We're still trying to figure out how to make that work, and we're open to returning to the trail after the tour."

So far, they've been on the trail 41 days. When we caught up to them, they were in Hampton, Tennessee, at the Boots Off Hostel, which is about 1/4 of the way.

"We've heard a lot of 'The Purple People are coming," Jillian says.

They've been trading concerts for being able to set up their tents for free."Though they're not making much money on the trail, the hostel they were staying at when we spoke offered to pay them to play a concert. In the coming weeks, they're playing the Flip Flop Festival in Harpers' Ferry, West Virginia, and are playing at Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia.

It had been a tough week when we spoke them last Saturday. Logan broke his toe and that's slowed them down, making it the slowest week of the trip so far, but they're nowhere near quitting the trail. "I don't think that we would ever quit the trail unless we were physically unable to keep going. The trail means so much, especially to Logan--it feels like home. I can't believe we're getting to do this. I love every part of it."

Obviously, the Iveys know a thing or two about taking a fresh path. Their advice?

Logan says, "You can do anything. Even that simple of a phrase is what pushed us to realize that we really can do what we set out to do. People can achieve great things and are always challenging beliefs of what can be done. Mental barriers are the biggest barriers to break. Work on those barriers. Our story might not be for everyone, but someone may be energized by this and think about what they can do. It's important to read other people's stories and be inspired. We get excited about people's dreams. We believe in them and their dreams and that energizes us."

For now, the Mailboxes are on the trail. After that, who knows?

"We have an art gallery event in Chattanooga on October 5. Other than that, we've been allowing ourselves to see where things take us. The trail has taken us to places we would not expect, but that means we have to be open to where we're lead as we try to figure out as much as possible about how to do music and art full time."

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