Hiking: Cheaper than college

Many of my high school peers from the graduating class of 2013 have a big year coming up. 2017 is the year many of them will be graduating from college. They’ll have their bachelor degrees in their hands, proud families smiling, and a burning hole in their pocket. I’ll be alone, struggling to dig a hole to shit in, while telling myself (probably out loud) that the rustle next to me was definitely not a bear.

My name is Vanessa, I’m twenty-one years old and I am going to try and hike all of the Appalachian trail in 2017. If you had asked me nine months ago where the Appalachian trail was, I’d probably say on the west coast or South America (remember- I’m not graduating college). However one winter day as I roamed the Internet on my iPhone I came across a blog post on a website none other than Appalachian trials. I read blog after blog after blog. I watched videos of trail days and how to hang a bear bag. I pretty much decided in that first hour of discovering the Appalachian trail that I was going to hike it. I knew it was crazy so I didn’t get TOO ahead of myself but that’s not to say I didn’t waste any time buying a 65 liter backpack, alcohol stove, sleeping bag, food dehydrator etc. Even if I don’t hike the AT all this stuff will be good for… the apocalypse?

I knew that this could just be a temporary craze and in a week I could have no desire to spend six months in the woods. But here I am, eight months later with an even stronger desire to hike and more motivation than I’ve had for anything.

Sometimes I doubt myself, I look at my gear in the backseat of my car after a hike and think of how different it will be when I’m on the trail. I can’t turn back to my car when there’s a rip in my pack cover and the rain picks up. Before I had all my gear I’d fill my pack with gallons of water to make up for the weight, but sometimes I’d pour some of the water out when I reached the summit as a celebration. I’m not going to be able to pour out eight pounds of weight when I’m on the trail.

Writing this almost feels silly to me, because sometimes it doesn’t seem real. I say I’m going to hike the Appalachian trail but who knows if I actually will? I like to us it as excuse now when adults ask me why I’m not attending college (because 95% of adults are stuck in the mindset that every high school graduate needs to immediately go to college). “Do you go to school?” They ask, and I respond “No, I don’t” and I then get the disappointed, concerned smile where they follow up with “Well what do you want to do?” (Like I’m supposed to know at 21) But then it’s my chance to redeem myself and I tell them that I am thru hiking the AT and its suddenly ok that I’m not enrolled in school. AT thru hiker of 2017 is a lot more fitting to me than any university class of 2017.

For the record, just so you don’t think I’m a student hater, I did briefly go to college. I attended one semester the fall after graduating high school and didn’t go back because I didn’t know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I still don’t know what I want to do for the rest of my life, but I think I’ll be pretty content spending half a year in the woods.. Especially next year if Donald Trump is our president. I may stay in the mountains for four years just to wait out the living hell America may become… But I don’t want to get into politics here. I just want to welcome you all into my journey.

If you have advice, cool stories or just want to start a friendly conversation, any and all communication is encouraged!

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Comments 9

  • Kevin : Jul 22nd

    Hi Vanessa! I wish you the best on your thru hike, and hope you actually do get the privilege of spending four years in the wilderness. Our country has pretty much been there the last 8 years

    • Vanessa Lane : Jul 22nd

      Thank you Kevin… A four year hiatus in the woods is what every American needs until they learn to love and only love !!

  • Matt Perrenod (Homeless '15) : Jul 23rd

    Congrats on setting a new direction. Look forward to reading about your hike.

  • Jayson : Jul 23rd

    It’s awesome to see someone at the same point in life as I. Although I have wanted to thru hike the trail for the past few years, I have become entranced with the idea the past few months. Researching every day and hoping I get the chance.

    I would love to just quit my job and do a 2017 thru hike. My peers may have a degree, but they won’t be able to say they’ve hike 2000 miles.

    I hope to see updates on where you’re at with your preparation, itinerary, etc. Good luck!

  • Steve Bock : Jul 24th

    Haha! I was thinking the same thing about Trump becoming POTUS. I’m thru-hiking next year also. Hope to see you there!

  • Dennis : Jul 25th

    I have been working in IT for the past 15 years, and have seen it all. My 2014 AT thru hike was the most rewarding 7 months of my life, and while back in the office among the “professional” crowd, I feel like everything BUT the thru hike has been a total waste of time.

    You are doing the right thing. Best of luck out there.

  • Fred : Jul 25th

    If Trump is POTUS I will join you ! I too don’t know what I want to do with my life and I’m 62. Hahaha
    You’ll do what you want, when you want and the rest of the world will just smile and admire you for that.

  • Kelsey : Jul 25th

    Love your mindset Vanessa. I wish I had been brave enough to just ‘not know’ what I wanted to do with my life at 21, rather than being forced into societal expectations (sitting at a computer desk 10-12/day just dreaming about being outside). I wish you well and cant wait to continue reading your updates!

  • RC Angel : Mar 15th

    So,.,are you part of class of 2017 on the AT ? ?


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