4 Ways the Appalachian Trail Changed Who I Am

For those who set out to thru hike the 2,185+ miles of the Appalachian Trail, starting out marks a new chapter in life. We even get a new trail name to go along with what will eventually be our new selves.

A lot of people say that during a thru hike, there isn’t a lot of time to reflect. You are so concentrated on what you’re doing that purposely trying to reflect is near impossible. While you are definitely concentrated, there are times here and there when you will catch yourself, silently (or out loud) cursing yourself and others for the events that have made a negative impact on your life. These small instances begin to add up, and after a time, you begin to learn about yourself.

Directly after my hike I noticed a few differences in the way I viewed life. For example, how everyone seemed like they were in such a rush. But a lot of these noticeable differences began to wear off fairly quickly.

Now, 4 months later, I am finally beginning to see the lasting impact that thru hiking has made on my personality. At times, this transformative stage in life can be scary because I am re-evaluating things that I used to hold inherently true about myself. I feel like I’m on a speeding train whose final destination is a mystery to me.

There are new things that I am learning about myself everyday, but there are a few traits that have become abundantly clear in the last few months.

1. I am more self-assured

Being self-assured is defined as “being more confident in ones abilities or character.” I have always been confident in my abilities, but my character…not so much. In a lot of ways I feel that I had been living my life based on the character traits that others saw in me. I believed in people when they told me that a value or view I held was incorrect.

Now, I feel more assertive and I am confident that the views and opinions that I strongly believe in are valid. In some ways I have become more stubborn in that I don’t let the opinions of others sway me as easily as they did in the past. I believe that I deserve to be treated with respect. I believe in myself.IMG_2765

2. I take longer to make decisions

It didn’t take me long on the trail to learn the old adage of “good things come to those who wait.” Whether it was a ride into town or some extra food, anything I needed seemed to come easier if I just let it happen.

Thrust back into the real world, it’s hard to remember this lesson, but I find myself applying it often. Instead of having a “get it done now” mindset, I take a while to consider things, whether it’s answering an email or planning a trip.

I used to feel that if I didn’t act immediately, opportunities would pass me by. Spending 6 months in the woods is a great way of seeing that the world keeps on turning whether you are there to make “important decisions” or not.

3. I need less stuff

At first I was happy to be back in the real world and attracting new stuff. But after the novelty wore off, I realized that I don’t really need any of it. In fact I don’t need most of the things that I already have. I don’t need a fancy ceiling fan, and where did all these candles come from? Seriously they are, like, everywhere.

I was never a hoarder, but I used purchasing things as a way to feel excitement by bringing something new into my life. It was a way of filling my time in between adventures. Instead I now put more effort into finding and planning experiences that fill me with excitement.

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4. I refuse to let life get in the way of itself

I have always wanted to travel, but before the trail I could hardly find the time or the money. If you really want to travel and experience new things like I do, it takes some serious reprioritizing. I am a strong believer that if you get too caught up in working hard and saving money, the real joys in life may pass you by.

To quote my favorite movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:

Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

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