8 Reasons I’m Thru-Hiking the AT in 2023

“You’re going to do what? Where? For how long? At this point in your life? Why?!” 

I get these questions (and others) a lot. And it makes sense. Why would I quit my job(s), step away from my life and go live in the woods for six months on purpose? Since you’ve gone through the trouble of clicking on this article, I’ll tell you!

Honorary Mention for this list: Getting to see cool trees.

8 Reasons I’m Thru-Hiking the AT in 2023

1. It is one-third of my bucket list.

A few years back I told myself that before I died, I had to do at least one of three things:

  • Hike the Appalachian Trail
  • Open a breakfast sandwich food truck
  • Give a career in live performance an earnest attempt

I guess enduring ~2,200 miles of hiking seemed easier than the other two options.

2. I needed a reprieve from my job.

A little over a year ago, I was working in Investment Operations for a wealth management firm. (That’s the fancy way of saying I filled out paperwork and moved money around for wealthy clients). The work itself was interesting, and my colleagues inspiring, but the volume of tasks was unbearable at times.

My view for 40+ hours a week.

It was around August of 2021 that I seriously set my mind to hiking the trail. At that time, my workload and responsibilities were significantly increased with no additional compensation. Frustrated and stressed, I started daydreaming about the trail. Then it dawned on me. Why just dream? I had squirreled away most of my paychecks during the worst of COVID. Maybe this could be a reality.

After some rough calculations, I realized I had enough to finance a thru-hike. I left my job shortly after that discovery and moved back home to Wisconsin. Two previous employers hired me back so that I could cover my expenses while I waited for my start date.

I needed to quit regardless of going on the AT to preserve my mental health. I often think about how if I didn’t have my face pressed so hard into the metaphorical meat grinder, I probably would still be at that job and wouldn’t have set my sights on a thru-hike. Funny how things work out in the end.

3. A 2022 thru-hike wasn’t feasible.

Making the decision in August 2021 to hike the trail left me with seven months to prep for a thru-hike if I wanted to start in March of 2022. For an experienced backpacker, that would probably be plenty of time. But I didn’t even own a backpack, let alone know what to put in it.

I made the choice to wait for the 2023 hiking season so I had time to research the trail, curate my gear, and get in some much-needed shakedown hikes.

I will admit, as March of 2022 got closer, I had several moments where I considered heading to Georgia and figuring things out as I went. I’m very glad I stuck to my original plan. There is so much I have learned from doing shakedown hikes this summer and having the time to compare different gear for my kit.

4. I am (currently) healthy.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease nearly six years ago. The disease is a little different for everyone, but it manifested for me by greatly restricting my diet and making it impossible at times for food to move through my digestive tract. There were periods at the beginning of my diagnosis when I would be bedridden for days at a time. I recall months of liquefying all my meals and dealing with waves of intense bloating pains.

Pre-surgery me. 6’1″ and ~165 pounds because I quite literally couldn’t get calories into me.

I was fortunate enough to receive corrective surgery in 2021. Nearly a foot of damaged colon was removed from my body. Food now moves significantly easier through my digestive tract, and I’ve been nearly symptom-free since then. However, I still have the disease. The surgery only addressed the worst symptom, and now I’m on regular medical treatment to keep my body in this healthy condition.

With all this in mind, thru-hiking this year is the prudent choice. While I am hopeful I will be symptom-free for years to come, it’s not a guarantee. I want to celebrate and make the most of my body while it will let me do so.

5. I am nervous about the effects that climate change will have on the trail.

Let me be clear: I’m not a scientist. But it seems like mankind isn’t taking the greatest care of our home. If you’ve got a second, I’d suggest looking up the Holocene Extinction (spoiler alert: humans are directly and indirectly killing a lot of things). The dream of hiking the trail feels time-sensitive.

Now, it’s possible that the trail won’t be significantly impacted for years to come. It’s also possible that we’ll all band together and make significant changes that undo the impacts of climate change. Who knows?

All I know is that I’d rather not take the chance. I’ll go now while the beauty of this nature is there to be enjoyed.

6. It sounds scary!

This one might sound cheesy, but it’s true. Until I started prepping for this hike, I had been camping maybe twice. As of writing this, I haven’t camped by myself. I’m still not comfortable walking around the woods at night. (In my mind, every leaf rustle is Bigfoot and every twigsnap is Mothman until proven otherwise).

Additionally, I have to put everything in my life on hold to do this. I will be leaving behind my family, friends, two cats, and my partner to take on this challenge. Physically separating myself from those I love is one of my largest apprehensions of the hike. After the isolation I experienced during COVID, I am not looking forward to more alone time.

But I have decided that I don’t want to live my life avoiding things because they scare me. It is my hope that I will come out of this adventure braver and more confident than I am now.

Two of the ladies that I will miss the most during my hike.

7. I find joy in the crucible.

There is something to be said for doing difficult things of your own volition. Yes, I expect the trail to be difficult, and yes, I expect to have some low-morale days. But it will all occur because I seek the challenge. There’s no outside force telling me I have to do this trail. (If anything, I have outside forces reminding me I don’t have to do this and I could continue to live where there are beds and showers.)

Endurance activities have always been alluring to me. I’ve dabbled in long-distance running and rock climbing and enjoy finding that extra reserve of energy that I didn’t realize I still had in me. Pushing my body as far as it will let me makes me feel more alive.

Maybe hiking the AT is an extreme way of convincing myself that I can do a full marathon.

That also goes for mental strength. Completing the trail feels like it will earn me the ability to push through anything. Thinking, “If you got to Katahdin, you can handle this,” will certainly make future challenges seem more manageable.

8. I’m ready.

At the time of writing this, it’s been a little over a year since I’ve moved home to prepare for the trail. I’ve been binging articles, videos, blogs, vlogs, and whatever the kind workers at REI will tell me. At this point, the only thing left is to do it.

Do I wish I did more shakedown hikes?

Yes.

Will I make rookie mistakes on the trail?

Oh for sure, bud.

Am I hiking from Springer to Katahdin in 2023?

There’s no other option.

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Comments 21

  • Bill Clark : Nov 8th

    Sounds like the time is right David. Good luck and I’ll hopefully see you on the trail next year.

    Reply
    • David Firari : Nov 8th

      Thanks, Bill! Hope to see you out there and best of luck with your hike.

      Reply
  • Pinball : Nov 8th

    Nice intro Good Soup. Look forward to your posts. As an infrequent section hiker, I’m right there with you on uneasiness of sleeping alone in woods. I get to recalibrate on every section ^_^. Also relatable- I find the separation from girlfriend and my overly large pet crew to be the worst part.

    Reply
    • David Firari : Nov 8th

      Thank you, Pinball! Glad you like the article. Also happy to know I’m not the only hiker who is wary of the woods at night. How much of trail have you hiked? Any tips for dulling the pain/discomfort of missing loved ones when on trail?

      Reply
      • Pinball : Nov 9th

        Two 55 mile trips this year (May GA, Sep GA/NC) my starting year during a career transition. Following years planning on doing two one hundred-ish mile trips per year within normal vacation allotments. Pumped for Spring as I will tackle some of the Northern end (MA/NH).

        3-4 days is plenty long enough to miss loved ones. My solution was to ensure battery life for tent time picture sharing (or wherever reception was decent during day). I’ll trade ya: “show me a selfie of you and our pet crew and I’ll show you a tunnel of trees.” If I was doing a full thru, I’d come up with a schedule minimal system of contact frequency.

        Reply
        • David Firari : Nov 9th

          Thanks for sharing! Best of luck on your section this Spring!

          I really like your picture swapping idea! I am probably going to borrow it and see how it works for me.

          Reply
  • Jabez : Nov 8th

    I’m looking forward to following your hike! How did you get name Good Soup? I had one night of camping as my shake down-glad you’ve had more than that. Day hiker to thru hiker age 61 in 2019 and hope to do again. Only one option. Katahdin. Jabez 1st Chronicles 4:10 Good luck!

    Reply
    • David Firari : Nov 8th

      Thank you for your kind words and the thoughtful scripture message! Happy to hear you’ll be following along with my hike. I’m an over-planner by nature, so hearing you only had one shakedown before your trip puts me at ease that I’ll be alright.

      As for “Good Soup”, it started when my friend showed me a clip from the HBO show Girls. Adam Driver’s character tries to lighten the mood by commenting on his meal, saying “Good Soup”. I appropriated the phrase into my life, using it the same way someone might say “that’s cool”. And I say it a lot so the name stuck!

      Reply
  • Tractor : Nov 8th

    Your ready, not knowing was the best way for me. Just remember their is your plan and then their is the AT plan , the two are very different you learn to accept the AT work with what it throws at you and laugh at the end of each day and say wow that not what I was expecting. Happy Trails

    Reply
    • David Firari : Nov 8th

      Thank you for the advice! One of the things I look forward to on trail is taking it one day at a time. I do enough planning in my off-trail life, can’t wait to let the trail plan for me.

      Reply
  • Tinkerbomb : Nov 8th

    Looking forward to crossing paths on the AT next year!

    Reply
    • David Firari : Nov 8th

      Same to you! Hope to see you out there!

      Reply
  • Monkey : Nov 8th

    I was with you up until the part about climate change. That one was a bit ludicrous, not sure if you’re really serious. But thru hiking is great, best of success in that.

    Reply
  • Sherpa : Nov 10th

    Really enjoyed your intro….a great way to start my day! Your thoughts on handling adversity towards your goal of Katahdin are spot on….reaching Big K is not easy AND it’s rewards will help you power through post hike difficult times. I only wish my hike at age 49 had been years earlier as it’s life improvement benefits would have been that much more a part of my resume. Hope to see on Trail…perhaps at my 20th reunion at Trail Days or later in Maine at the Lazy Bear!……..shhhhhh, it’s not a hostel but our getaway cabin in Grafton Notch. Sherpa

    Reply
    • David Firari : Nov 10th

      Hey Sherpa! Glad to hear you enjoyed the article and thank you for sharing part of your AT experience. I love hearing how the trail has affected other hikers.

      My current plan is to attend Trail Days, so I hope to see you there! I wouldn’t say no a visit at the Lazy Bear either. Sounds majestic!

      Reply
  • Seadog : Nov 10th

    Hi Good Soup, you are an overcomer and it’s motivating to read about like minded people and thank you. I’m also preparing for my own AT thru hike in ’23. I’ve been preparing since last year by doing several overnighters in the backcountry here in the SC upstate. In June I thru hiked the Foothills Trail a 77 mile Natl Scenic Trail following the GA, SC, and NC borders. It was an amazing experience and now I’ve got the bug! I was anxious in the beginning, it was two days before I dug my first cathole. In other words, I was a little uptight! Mom always said there’s nothing there in the dark that isn’t there in the light. Although that’s not entirely true of the wilderness I have to remind myself that the creatures I share my time with have their own agenda and I’m not on it. Once I relaxed I was cruising and it was all about setting tasks to complete each day. I take a lot of comfort in having my Garmin Mini with me. It allows anyone I choose to follow my track and I can communicate with those dearest to me no matter where I am. I’m in the process now of upgrading some of my gear from the “intro gear” that I started with until I was sure about this pursuit. Now it’s time to spend $$ and shave ounces. I had an interesting encounter recently with a couple of SOBO AT thru hikers (Cinnabon & Vamonos) that were crossing at Clingmans Dome when I was vacationing in the area. They were gracious and answered my many questions. In answer to my question about starting point they said if they had it to do over they would flip flop by starting in the middle go NOBO then go back to that starting point and finish SOBO. Now that’s real food for thought. 🤔 So, I share many of your thoughts and I can’t wait to share the same amazing experience you’re going to have. I hope to cross your path, Happy Trails! 🥾YOU GOT THIS! 🌄

    Reply
    • David Firari : Nov 10th

      Howdy, Seadog! (Great name, btw)

      Thank you for sharing your AT prep stories. The bit about your first cat hole had me giggling. My first cat hole also taught me the importance of not waiting ’til the last minute to start digging. Ha!

      If you aren’t already, I’d encourage you to apply to be an ’23 AT blogger for The Trek. Would love to follow your story during your hike. Best of luck to you and hope to see you on the trail!

      YOU GOT THIS, TOO!

      Reply
  • Jan : Nov 12th

    1) Start off slow.

    2) You will never be alone on the trail. There are plenty of other people. Many doing a thru hike also.

    3) Download Guthook and get the THIN guidebook from the Appalachian Trail Conference.

    4) I really enjoyed BEING on the trail. I hated the time suck of resupplying ( I suppose if you have enough funds you could Uber instead of waiting to hitch a ride ) and making the mistake of wanting to be in certain places by a certain time.

    Reply
    • David Firari : Nov 13th

      Thank for your the advice, Jan! Especially points 2 and 4. I always seem to forget that the trail is populated by other hikers when I’m worrying about being away from my family. I’ll just have to track down a tramily.

      I’m planning on hitching as much as I can; I want to get the full thru-hiking experience. I’ve also read about the “town vortex” and hope to get sucked in too much, while also taking time to enjoy the communities along the trail.

      Reply
  • Rubyslypperz : Nov 20th

    Hello! My brother, at age 57, just finished a “flip flop” hike of the AT (NOBO from Rockfish Gap, VA, to Katahdin then SOBO from Rockfish Gap to Springer Mountain). He planned it that way for many reasons
    – crowds, weather, etc. 219 days. He was pushed to his mental and physical limits but glad he did it. He has a whole series of prep videos and daily videos of his journey on YouTube if you’re interested or looking for advice on anything and everything from what to pack, what gear to buy, and how to tie your bag in a tree so a bear doesn’t get it. Hike Over the Hill is the name of his vlog. Good luck!

    Reply

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