A Late Fate to Recreate After a Great Wait
I didn’t grow up with a love of the Appalachian Trail or with any of the skills that are necessary to successfully survive a night in the woods. Sure, I always loved being outside and I played by the creek with my neighbor kids, but my family’s versions of spending time in the great outdoors was relaxing at a beach resort or enduring a marching band rehearsal in the snow. Heck, I didn’t even sleep in a tent for the first time until two weeks after I graduated college.
In 2018, while working as a consultant, flying 2-3 times a week between different college campuses and living in hotel rooms, I devoured more books than ever before. One of these stories was the infamous A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (I would love to know how many A.T. hikers exist solely because of the words of this man). Coincidentally, I read this while staying in Pennsylvania, just half an hour from the Appalachian Trail.
Spoiler… I hiked a different trail that weekend. Still, this new-to-me concept of moving across most of the Eastern U.S. on your own feet had me deeply intrigued. I had never realized such a feat was possible! As a runner of half-marathons, I thought 13.1 was plenty long enough for me.
Throughout the next 8 months, I kept my interest to myself, reading little bits about the Appalachian Trail in my dark and lonely hotel rooms and taking longer and longer walks in state after state. Eventually, I tested my idea of thru-hiking the AT by hesitantly running it by my mom, who believes I can do absolutely anything. While that’s great for my ego, I needed to run it by someone who knew about outdoor challenges and knew about me. Luckily, when I asked him if he thought I could accomplish a thru-hike, his answer was a resounding “maybe, you’ll only know if you try.” Nothing motivates me like the subtle doubt of another person.
I spent the next year saving what was left of my travel food stipends, bartending a beer patio all summer, then returning to substitute teaching. To save more money, I moved back in with my mom after 7 years on my own. I told everyone who would listen about my plans and shaped my entire future around thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.
March 4th of 2020, I began my hike… only to have the metaphorical floor ripped out from under me by COVID-19. As I am this year, I was pretty publicly open about hiking the trail. While news about C-19 slowly trickled through the Trail community, I really thought I was doing the right thing by keeping to myself, avoiding shelters, and just backpacking through the woods. Eventually, I opened Instagram and was stunned by multiple comments calling me selfish, uneducated, hateful, and uncaring, just for being on the A.T…
Now look, I know their words came either from their love of the Trail and desire to protect it or possibly even jealousy that I was hiking while they were not–most likely, a mixture of both–and we were all doing what we thought was best given the situation that we had no precedent for, but these strangers’ words cut deep. Didn’t they understand I had nowhere else to go? Didn’t they know I had planned this for two years? Couldn’t they understand the sacrifices I had made to be there? I had no car, no apartment, and no job… what was I supposed to do? I wasn’t trying to hurt anybody… Didn’t they know this was my dream? My “only” chance at my dream? Still, day by day, it became more obvious to me that I needed to return to Indiana and wait out whatever might come of C-19. So on April 1st, my mom picked me up, wet and snow-covered, just short of Erwin, TN, wiped me all over with Clorox wipes, and carried me back to her house.
It felt so unfair. I was full of grief. I had considered countless scenarios and endless factors that might halt my thru-hike attempt; I thought I was prepared for anything that might come my way. “Global Pandemic” wasn’t one of those things I had planned for. I kept wondering why now? Why “my year?” This scenario wasn’t in Appalachian Trials. What was I supposed to do? Get a job? Wait it out and return if and when the ATC gave the a-okay? Ultimately, during that time at home, I taught myself how to embroider, found out I’m awful at making bread, got a job with Habitat for Humanity, and dated my now-husband.
So Now it’s 2023…
My dream to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail has been five years in the making. I have more challenges and tie-downs than ever before: a husband, two dogs, two knee surgeries, a car, rent, and leaving a job that I love… yet I am still eager to temporarily relinquish the things that are most important to me so that I may pursue this dream. My dedication to my hike of the A.T. is greater than ever before because, well, I have to be dedicated in order to justify my selfishness and irresponsibility.
Most importantly, through all of my trials, I strengthened my love of the Appalachian Trail and practiced the skills necessary to backpack the backcountry. You don’t have to inherit these things as a child; some of us find them for ourselves as a way of finding ourselves.
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Sounds to me like you’re Unstoppable. Good luck and I look forward to following your trek.
Wish I could take a few months myself…alas both daughters decided to marry in the SAME year. So it’s quick trips in and out for me. It has to exciting now as the date draws near. Somehow I think you will do it, all of it. I don’t get that impression from most. Keep writing and stay the course.
I’m sorry that you had to endure such unnecessary criticisms as you push on, I look forward to reading of you adventures!
It’s not selfish to hike the trail, it’s a gift you’re giving yourself. I have a husband at home too, going to take care of everything while I’m gone! While it’s a privilege to hike, it’s not a selfish act
What Kara said….
March 1 – 30 years ago was my start date – I had a lot going for me. I just needed to step away. My reason to hike- my old brother and I would spend weekends hiking thru the Catskill(3200 club) we talked often about the AT. Motive was instilled, the opportunity arose and I had the means. I’m so glad cell phone were not invented. A true escape. Good Luck- The world will be here when you get back.
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