ACTION REQUIRED: HOW TO – Decision Making
It was only at the beginning of this month that I said out loud for the first time that I decided I am going to be attempting to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail this summer. My girlfriend and I had just come down the Blue Dot Trail from the summit of Mount Tammany (a hidden gem in New Jersey if you ask me), and before we set off to go back to her campus, I knew it was time to decide. Of course, she knew I had already decided, and I probably did, too. I just wanted to take as much time as possible to assure her I wasn’t wandering off into the deep wilderness into the open arms of hungry bears with blissful ignorance. I had put a lot of thought into this.
Even though I only said it out loud just a few weeks ago, my friend James called me out back in February saying that I had subconsciously made up my mind already. He posted a run on Strava titled “ACTION REQUIRED: HOW TO – Decision Making” one night while I was sitting in my weekly Microeconomics Tuesday night class. He grabbed his headlamp and went outside before it was dark, planning to settle for two miles. However, something happened at mile two—he pulled out his headlamp and kept pushing as it became dark. The key was, he had made the subconscious decision to run longer before he even took a step by bringing the headlamp. He noted that when you need to do something, your subconscious has already made the decision for you.
I knew exactly what he was talking about. As an avid runner, I have experienced that too many times—telling myself I’ll do an extra mile or two if I meet certain conditions (like not exceeding a certain heart rate), failing to meet those arbitrary conditions, and then tailing off for the extra miles anyway. Some ideas that creep into the mind are more essential to be materialized than we realize sometimes. Those ideas aren’t always small, either. Going into my spring semester at Ursinus College last year as a sophomore, I had started toying with the idea of transferring to Rider University so I could save money living at home and focus more on school. I wasn’t fond of the idea of distancing myself between my girlfriend of one year at the time and my track & field teammates, but the idea kept nagging at me, and I ultimately decided it was the right thing to do. My subconscious had decided some time before, like my friend James said happened to him.
He ended his Strava post with this: “Josh. You already bought the book.”
For a moment, my heart stopped and sped up, and time stood still and felt infinite. A couple of weeks ago, I had bought AWOL’s guide to hiking the Appalachian Trail for 2023, just to take a closer look at how my day-to-day would look if I did thru-hike the AT. My plan at the time was to look at it on paper first, and if that alone was overwhelming, then doing it would surely be too stressful to be a good thing. Pretty sound logic, I thought at least. That is until it dawned on me that was already directly funding the idea with my own money. Some part of me recognized in that classroom that night that this is the right time to go.
But before I even knew then, some part of me decided back when I first thought of this crazy idea back in January. My friends and I have dreamt of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail ever since I got into hiking. The first time I had heard about it was probably coming down that Blue Dot Trail on Mount Tammany for the first time some years ago. About a quarter-mile from the parking lot, the blue blazes turn to white blazes, which I did not understand at first. I turned around, and there was another trail that went up a slope next to the trail we had been hiking down. My friend pointed up the slope and told me that if you just stayed on that trail and kept going, you would get to Maine. Um, what? I wondered how it’s even possible one footpath could exist and be maintained for that long of a stretch, much less how anyone could actually walk along the whole thing. Now, every time we do Tammany, we can’t help but imagine what it would be like to reach this point after roughly 1300 miles of hiking from Georgia. Maybe we would be met by loved ones and friends, offering their attention (and maybe some wings!) while we enthusiastically stumble over our words trying to share the endless stories we have curated thus far. Could you imagine the sense of achievement and empowerment, along with the lessons learned and the parts of the world seen? To top it off, we would only be able to finish our journey by summiting the massive Mount Katahdin, making it feel all the more earned.
Admittedly, I was always the one who wrote off the idea as too hopeful dream. The best chance would be to do it after graduating college before getting into a career and starting a family, sure, but I have always been skeptical that it would be a good idea to go off onto the Trail in the six-month window between graduating and the dreaded start of paying off my student loans, whatever scary number that would turn out to be per month for who knows how long. If it were ever going to happen for me, it was going to have to be once I retire with all my debts paid off and my kids grown to adults. And even then, who can guess what my health would be like by then, if I even made it that long.
That all changed when I got my final exam schedule this past January. My last exam would commence on May 2, and then I would go back to school for my senior fall semester on September 6. Four months of summer, all while still being a dumb college kid… here we are.
My name is Josh, and in a little less than two weeks I will be catching a flight to Atlanta to start my northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Wow, feels good to say that. I’m aiming to capture some of my thoughts and emotions on this journey through writing, and I am very grateful to be able to share them through the Trek. I could keep this all to myself, but I’m hoping that writing through this platform will hold me accountable to sticking with this dream. Would really suck to make an “I Quit” post to the world, that’s for sure. I also hope to expose my somewhat unorthodox thru-hike to the other college kids or to whoever else is out there wondering if they can squeeze their dream in before life starts, or whether they should. Who knows, maybe I’m naïve and maybe I’m making a mistake. But as far as I can tell, if you’re meant to do something, and the time has come to do it, the decision has already been made—you just don’t know it yet.
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