10 Reasons Why I am Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail
“I really think if there’s something you need to do, want to do, can afford to do, and got the nerve to do… I think you should do it if it’s gonna make you feel better about yourself!” -Dolly Parton
Dolly has taught me a lot in life, but this might be my favorite quote of hers. Although I could leave my “why” at that– I need to, I want to, I can afford to, I got the nerve to, and it’s gonna make me feel better about myself– there is way more to it. Everyone has their own reasons for attempting to accomplish a feat like hiking the entire 2,198 miles of the Appalachian Trail, but these are a few of mine:
- I feel a calling to go. I know everyone can relate to this type of gut feeling, this type of “knowing” that you can’t quite explain. Maybe you’ve felt a calling to your profession, to become a parent, to move somewhere you’ve never even been before, to your faith, or to something else that you just can’t nail down an exact moment in time that you decided. These types of callings both sneak up on you and completely wash over you.
- When I am backpacking, the world feels smaller and I feel bigger. I mean this both geographically and socially. It is mind-boggling to me that the human body– maybe even my own– is capable of traversing multiple states and thousands of miles. I am preparing to walk further than I have ever driven in one trip. This type of accomplishment reframes how you process distance. Long trails pull people from all areas of the United States and the world. You have the opportunity to meet and know people so deeply, without even knowing their real names.
- The Trail offers a unique balance of routine and spontaneity. While my day-to-day might look very similar, I will also have the freedom to prioritize my own wants and needs in a way that isn’t possible in the “real world.”
- Throughout my life, I have felt the need to find boxes to fit into. I never quite felt like an artist or an athlete, a tomboy or super feminine, outgoing or a homebody, but I sure did try to squeeze myself into these boxes that didn’t fit right. I can even remember thinking deeply as a young child whether I was a “daddy’s girl” or “momma’s girl” and I was stressed. The Trail gifts an opportunity to shed all boxes, leave my familiar, and reject all societal definitions of who I am. I just feel like myself.
- If you want to see humanity at its best, spend a few days on the Appalachian Trail. The phrase “the Trail always provides” is only true because of the people within the Trail community. From fellow hikers always willing to share what little they have to generous Trail Angels who give their time and resources purely out of kindness, the Appalachian Trail community is full of the best people. We understand that as we come from different places in life, we all love nature and we all love each other.
- I crave the unknown. For anyone else who considers themselves a “lifelong learner,” has taught themselves multiple hobbies, or is a constant researcher, you understand the unique happiness that comes from new discoveries. At the cellular level, there is evidence that dopamine is involved in learning. Each day, each moment, on the Appalachian Trail is an opportunity for discovery and learning. When I backpack, I ponder what people, plants, views, or experiences are just around the next bend.
- I enjoy being challenged both mentally and physically. The Appalachian Trail constantly humbles me. I have pursued other challenges in life that have humbled me like marching with the Bluecoats Drum & Bugle Corps, competitively cycling in college when I didn’t even know how to ride a bike when I was a child, and training myself to run a half-marathon in just four months (I am not a runner). Each of these things was full of “Type 2 Fun,” or experiences that are miserable while they’re happening, but fun in retrospect. It’s a unique type of fun that only comes from challenge.
- Once I start something, I finish it. Having attempted the Appalachian Trail once before in 2020 and leaving at the direction of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to end our thru-hikes due to the threat of COVID-19, I only feel a deeper burn to complete my thru-hike now. I don’t do anything halfway (or 17%-way, which is what I completed in 2020)!
- Well, because I can. After fracturing my lateral tibial plateau last year– read: breaking my knee– while skiing, I was not sure if backpacking would be in my future. Then after paying for the two surgeries I needed to fix my knee… I was even more doubtful. Physical fitness and financial resources are the two reasons most people quit their thru-hike attempts. Luckily, I am in a place where I have built both of these things back up enough that I believe I can accomplish my goal. Neither will be comfortable, but comfort isn’t a requirement.
- My final reason is that I want this more than anything, and that’s the best reason. No one is making me do it or pressuring me to do it– quite the opposite, really. I think my family would be ecstatic if I changed my mind! This is something my own mind and heart decided for me, so I am choosing to follow it, against all odds.
What are your reasons? Did any of these resonate with you?
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You go girl!! Maybe Ill see you out there, or at Trail Days if I go!
I’ve been thinking about doing that for the last couple years. I’m a 57 year old man in good shape recently divorced after 34 years. I would do it with my dog. I can’t afford it right now unfortunately. I wish you the best of luck.
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