Hiking My Own Hike: an Introduction

Last January, in a fit of cyclical unrest and uncertainty about my future, I sent my brother a text message along the lines of “Screw it. Let’s do it. Let’s hike the AT.” It sounds like such a simple start now, but hiking the Appalachian Trail has been on the minds of myself and my older brother, Andrew, for quite some time. I’m Erin, and this is my story about my love affair with and preparation for hiking the Appalachian Trail.

We had made plans shooting originally for 2012, after I graduated college in December of 2011. However, lack of funds and a deep onset of the depression I’ve been battling my entire adult life shelved the idea indefinitely. Finally, after being fed up with being (then) 26 and aimless, with every decision in my life causing me further grief than they should have, the idea returned to me. “Why not?” With nothing but student loans to tie me down, it seems like now is the time to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.

Sure, the fundraising is going to be hard – I don’t make a lot of money (as a seasonal zookeeper, it turns out loving your work barely pays the bills), but I do work two jobs and I can save a little, and I have a possible shot at sponsorship if I can find the right “spin” as a return on investment for potential sponsors. And sure, Andrew and I may not be at our physical peaks – or anywhere near it – but we’ve done our homework extensively, poring over books on the AT, writing our own blog and keeping a tumblr dedicated to our preparations and segmented encounters with the AT. We’ve tried and tested gear and done as much book learnin’ that two can do. In 8 short months, if we’re not prepared then we’ll learn as we go.

The plan is to step off March 25th from Mt. Springer (by way of the Amicalola Falls Approach Trail), one day after my 28th birthday, and I’m going to hike my own hike all the way to Katahdin. Let me back up and explain why I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail. You see, I’m not a patient person. I’m always in a hurry, never in the moment, moving with my head bent forward as though my thoughts are dictating my steps.

And yet, I’m peaceful outside on a trail. I’ve struggled with various mental illnesses from the time I was 12 – depression, anxiety, trichotillomania, bi-polar disorder. I’m not afraid of talking about them because they’ve been such a large part of my life; I’m afraid of what they do to my life. I see the Trail as a way to calm and coexist, maybe even conquer (hooray alliteration!) this fear. An adventure and a challenge, a reprieve from my thoughts while at the same time learning how to be in the moment instead of merely observing it. Interacting instead of merely existing. I can learn to be a person again on the Trail, but I don’t want to sound like I’m romanticizing it. I know there will be rough days and challenges galore, but it’ll make me a better person because I’m out doing something that I love. I will have to learn to push through the challenges, to amble instead of hurry, and to disconnect from distractions that acted as a safety net but did little to enhance my life. It’s gonna be GREAT.

I also do well in nature – my natural curiosity for plants, animals, and wildlife of all kinds means I’m turning over rocks to see what I find, or looking through guidebooks trying to identify something. I get excited moving in and around nature and I think I understand John Muir better than I understand most other people, especially when he spoke of the sanctity of nature. Perhaps it’s the ecologist in me, but seeing the interconnection of the wilderness and all its moving parts and getting to be there firsthand makes me excited and longing for the Trail.  Although it was Andrew that pitched the idea to me several years ago to hike, I’ve really ran with it. His reasons for hiking are his own, and my reasons are my own – we’ve rehashed the idea of HYOH in our lives over and over again. Together, we’ll have a great time and really test the idea of sibling quality time. With my camera by my side (well, sometimes, gotta be careful with my pack weight), I’ll have plenty to see and experience and write about. Also, I’m gonna get hella fit on the Trail – YES! Let’s be honest, that’s a major draw for me. If I’m going to push my mental and emotional boundries, I may as well do it while getting physically fit and eating all the peanut butter I want in the meantime.

Finally, we’ll be hiking for a cause. While on the Trail, I’ll be corresponding with the third grade class of Santa Monica Bilingual School in Vida Nueva Cortes, Honduras. Through writing trail letters and posting our correspondence on here (which is such an amazing opportunity, by the way!) I hope to raise money for the non-profit that runs SMBS. BECA, or Bilingual Education for Central America, aims to provide bilingual education for marginalized communities in Honduras with the hopes that a great education for some of the poorest children in the world can lead to a better future for the Central American country. My aim is to also get in touch with sponsors who will donate to BECA and further their amazing mission. If you would like to follow my fundraising progress or donate yourself, you can do so at GoFundMe.com/ATforBECA.

Okay, this post became a little rambly so I’ll wrap it up; I’m so excited to be blogging on Appalachian Trials and I can’t wait to share my preparations and aspirations with everyone! I’m also hoping to receive some sponsorship so that I can hike the trail, and I’ll keep everyone updated on that as well. Next time, I’ll be writing about my gear that I have, what I need to obtain, and expense break-down!

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