17 and a Native New Yorker: How I Ended Up On the AT

So, where did it all begin?

Harriman State Park, April 2021

I first got the vague impression that I should hike the Appalachian Trail on April 2nd, 2021. I had just finished two days on the AT in my first-ever attempt at backpacking as preparation for a summer program in Colorado. I was sore to the bone, sick of being cold, and shaken by a narrow escape from being arrested by a state trooper (a long story for another time).

But I could not get the Trail out of my head. I could not understand how, and why, people survived putting themselves through this magnitude of stress and pain every day. How could it even be possible to enjoy it? Over the next few months, I did a great deal of research, trying to piece together this new world I had discovered and make sense of it. Eventually, I began to run the following hypothetical: if I were to hike the Appalachian Trail, what would I bring? What would I eat? What would I need to learn? How would I deal with the constant uncertainty? How would I keep myself safe?

I ran most of these hypotheticals in conversation with my father, and eventually, we realized we were no longer speaking in terms of if, but in terms of when. Just under a year ago, I bought a rather expensive piece of backpacking gear. Once out of the store, my father turned to me, and with a slight smirk, jokingly told me there was no going back from spending $400 on a tent. But I knew that this decision was no joke. The Appalachian Trail was going to be the journey and I was going to have to make it happen. The Trail has inspired every change I have quietly made to my life over the past year, and the dream of someday finishing has kept me going through many months of arduous school work.

So that was it. There was no specific why, no singular moment when everything changed. The decision was made in my heart long before I made it into a reality. Everywhere I turned, something new always pushed me back to the AT.  There simply was no escaping the Trail, its bleeding sunrises fried in morning mountain mist and its deep ancestral roots spanning nations and generations.  I know I have to hike the Appalachian Trail, but I do not yet know why.

So, what now?

Outside Fayetteville PA, April 2022

Over the last year I have worked slowly, but steadily, to put my plans into place. Over every school holiday, I have spent a week hiking a different part of the trail and testing my gear. On my most recent trip, I was given my trail name! My real name is Greek and is also the Latin name for the marshmallow plant, and so I became Migratory Marshmallow. Over the next few days, I whittled my name down to just Migrator. Whether it was birding in Central Park,  identifying sparrows, swallows, and starlings on my block, or memorizing the calls of all the birds native to the Hudson River Valley, I have always really loved birds. And this year, like many birds, I am moving south for the winter. Thru-hiking is much like a great migration in that it is not only communal but instinctual. I cannot stop now that I have begun.

So, starting on June 27th, 2022 (In exactly one week from the day I write this to you all) I will begin my thru-hike in Baxter State Park, Maine, and I will conclude my thru-hike in November/December on Springer Mountain in Georgia.

With all my gear!

I will be leaving behind my city and my family and starting the Appalachian Trail at seventeen. If I am being completely honest, I am a bit overwhelmed by how close the beginning really is. After waiting for what feels like a lifetime, everything is finally falling into place. I am incredibly grateful for the patience my parents have shown in supporting me and providing me with the opportunities (and gear!) to make this journey my own. They could have so easily turned me down, and I will never be able to repay them for just hearing me out. Thank you to all the friends and family who have encouraged me and stayed excited about my adventures, and thank you to all the thru-hikers who have lent me their advice and expertise, I could not be doing this without you all. And thank you for taking the time to learn a little about me. Hopefully, there will be much more to learn in the next few months.

Happy Trails!

Migrator

 

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Comments 4

  • Dad : Jun 21st

    It’s been a great experience watching you prepare for this trek, Migrator!

    From your first sore days marveling that anyone would attempt a thru hike, to your cold weather training and your long distance solos, it’s been a revelation to see you develop the skills and judgment that you’ll use on this adventure. It was a thrill to reach the point where our hikes together became simple enjoyment, knowing that I didn’t have to worry about your ability or preparation at all. And it was rewarding to see you complete your solos with hardly a hitch.

    We can’t know what exactly with transpire on your hike, but we already know the result: your strength, adaptability and vision will grow; you’ll see things you’ve never seen and perceive things no one else has understood. And you’ll grow to understand and love the people who make this trail possible, the people who make the Appalachians a great place to be, and the people who come to the trail to stretch, learn, share and change. What a way to meet America (and the world!).

    See you in December!

    Reply
  • Emmaleigh Hobson : Jun 21st

    It sounds like a lot of thought and careful planning and action has gone into this! I don’t think there is a more capable 17-year-old to do this than you, Althea. I am impressed with your determination and resolve and I think I always have been. I’m excited for your adventures on the Appalachian Trail and for you to learn why you need to do this. I look forward to reading more! Sending love!

    Reply
  • Aunt Lisa : Jun 23rd

    HAVE SO MUCH FUN!! in spite of the sore feet, blisters, bumps, bites, etc.! What a way to tackle life!
    Excited to follow along!
    Love,
    Aunt Lisa

    Reply
  • Pinball : Jun 24th

    Awesome. Earlier in life you do this, the better, I think. Your hiking setup cost more than my first car I got at your age (in 1997). Thank you for taking the time to put everything into a table! So helpful to others.

    Reply

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