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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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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