28 Reasons I’ll Be Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2024
Probably the most common piece of advice I hear from folks who have completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, is to thoroughly, painstakingly understand your “Why.” Beyond the physical ability to walk thousands of miles, survive the cold, or climb seventeen Mt. Everests worth of elevation gain, a nearly religious understanding of your motivations is essential to a successful thru-hike.
Less for convincing your concerned family members, partner, and work, and more for convincing yourself later down the road when the ridiculousness of the prospect of a thru-hike has become too much. As noted by Zach Davis in his book, Appalachian Trials, the novelty of the trail runs out eventually. On that darkest night, cold and alone, you’re going to need something besides a love of the outdoors to keep you motivated. He writes,
“…eventually aggravation replaces exhilaration… While running through a lightening storm may have been a rush in the beginning, eventually your mind starts to say, ‘I’m wet. My Tent is wet. I’m hungry, but if I stop to eat here, my food will get wet and I will get cold. I could be watching this storm from the comforts of my couch… Why am I doing this again?’”
In the past, the “why” has always been my biggest hurdle to clear. I am an expert rationalizer of my physical and emotional comfort. I’m not too proud to quit. The moment my brain doesn’t have some higher purpose to strive for, I’m out. So I took some time and tried out the exercise in Davis’ book. I think it helped.
Narrowed down into three main themes, my long list of motivations looks like this:
- I want to build deep community in the outdoors.
- I want to test, prove, and improve my physical and mental ability.
- I want a radical disjunction that gives plenty of room to take seriously the questions: Who am I to myself? Who am I to others in my life?
The original list was longer, but not as easily committed to memory. Memory, on that darkest night, is where this exercise will count. But for those who are curious, my full list of motivations is below.
I am thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail because…
- I want to break out of the early 30s rut– reaffirming that I can still do hard things after having successfully created a life that does an exquisite job of keeping me warm, safe, and well-fed.
- I want to explore other life paths beyond the one to which I’ve become accustomed.
- I want to learn to live straightforwardly with myself and others. The frantic bombardment of stimulus in modern life makes it hard to see what you’re doing sometimes. Who am I to myself? Who am I in my relationships.
- It’s been something I’ve wanted to do all my life and I’d be disappointed if I came to the end of my life never having tried.
- I want to break myself down and reacquaint myself with the value and enjoyment in struggle. Growth through discomfort
- I want to find a community built in a shared ordeal.
- I want an intimate experience with the Eastern landscape
- I want to regain a sense of living in my body, and a relationship with it that makes me proud of my body and its ability.
- I want to give Annie the space we need to gain perspective on our relationship.
- I want to provide my family with an example of achievement outside the conventional “9-5” framework that they can be proud of and admire
- I want to provide a model of dignity and success for myself and others outside the romanticized “hustle culture.”
- I want to root myself once again in respect and wonder and belief in the non-human world, and to figure out a little more what a right relationship with it looks like.
- I want to build a sense of self as an outdoorsy person, which feels at risk with a career trajectory that insists on keeping me inside.
- I want to have a hard, backbreaking, heart wrenching, adventure. To be melted down and recast.
The second list in this chapter of Davis’ book is titled “When I successfully Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail I will…” which highlights the personal benefits that will come from finishing. He pictures them like a pile of rewards sitting at the top of Katahdin.
I interpreted this as a way of distinguishing the full thru-hike from other adventures that might help satisfy the motivations above, but you know, with less time spent away from the life you know and love. Since I am prone to doing a portion of a project and suddenly throwing up my hands and calling it, “good enough,” this sounded like a good exercise.
The list below is a start to the pile of gifts I’ll be placing at the top of Katahdin.
When I successfully Thru-Hike The Appalachian Trail, I will…
- Have a confidence rooted in an accomplishment that is truly exceptional in my eyes, and probably others.
- Have a good story
- Have very good friends from around the country with whom I shared a unique and trying ordeal. New connections for travel and possibly employment.
- If I document it appropriately, I’ll have a strong pile of writing content to work with post-trail.
- Have had an intimate experience with the East Coast, unlike anything another kind of tourism could provide.
- Have perspective on my relationship.
- Have perspective on what work I’ve committed to up until this point, and what work I’d like to commit to moving forward, and what my job should provide me.
- Have an established base of physical fitness to carry me through my 30s.
- A faith in my own ability to survive, here, there, or anywhere.
- Have a capacity to absorb struggle, suffering and discomfort that may facilitate new personal growth throughout my 30s.
- Have a knowledge of outdoor livin that will inform an identity of the kind of person I’d like to be.
- Have a perspective on the non-human world, and human relationships with it, to inform my personal relationship with the larger web of life.
- Have maybe a PhD question? Or at least a good place to jump off back into academia.
- Have the foundation of a noble life goal: a triple crown.
Motivations change. I’m sure mine will. But these are my hopes going into the thing. How will what experience and learn about myself change what I want out of the adventure? I’ll be sure to let you know. Stay tuned.
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