When I started the Appalachian Trail, I was engaged. We’d been together for 5 1/2 years, had a dog together, were ready to buy a house together. There’s nothing I love more than a plan, and boy did I have a good one: thru-hike the AT for 6 months, then explore the country with my fiancé in her new trailer and choose the location for our future home. We had our stumbles and bumps in the road – but what couple doesn’t? Still, my life felt more stable than ever. I had it all figured out.

Then on Day 25 of my AT thru-hike, it all fell apart.  She texted me to say she wasn’t ready to get married and thought we should split up. Even though there had been signs, it felt like the floor dropped out beneath me and suddenly I was reeling, spinning, adrift. At that moment, my “AT experience” completely shifted in context and meaning – but looking back I couldn’t be more thankful it happened. I had so many preconceptions about the journey ahead of me when I set out, and that world-shattering start helped me realize how pointless it is to cling desperately to a plan in this ephemeral universe of ours.  I had to let go of everything and let the Trail show me the way.

Smiley white blaze

And look how friendly it is while doing so!

Fine, I’ll Make Friends

I’m an only child, and I truly love being alone.  Although I grew up around a bunch of kids my age, I also spent a lot of time in my own world, exploring the woods around my house and dreaming of adventure.  I often felt alien, like an outsider looking in – among people, but not of those people.  Although I’m (depressingly) good at it, as I get older I’ve grown increasingly tired of modifying my personality to better fit a group dynamic.  At the same time, I couldn’t agree more with that old Groucho Marx chestnut, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member”.

So for a variety of reasons, I planned on hiking the AT in complete solitude, even taking a month for silent meditation somewhere along the way.  As I mentioned in my first blog post, I’ve imagined what it would be like to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail for almost as long as I can remember – and I always pictured myself as a solitary poet monk, wandering through endless woods in blissful silence à la Henry David Thoreau.

Look, I have so and so for a penis. It never fails to get a laugh.

Thoreau, as you know, was also famous for pretending large objects were his penis in photographs.

But despite my isolationist intentions, by the time I fell asleep at Stover Creek Shelter that first night in Georgia I’d already found folks I would end up hiking with for the next two months: The Homestead.  I met Giggles and Ducky before I even set foot on trail, at the Amicalola Falls ATC-hosted “Safe Start” presentation, which we sat through to receive our AT 2022 pack hangtags.  FOMO and Marathon arrived at the shelter shortly after me, and Sleepy rolled in (appropriately) late at night, long after it had gotten dark.  We played cards, we laughed, we might’ve even sang together (or maybe that was just me).  And we talked for hours, about everything under the sun.  It was the first night of my thru-hike but it was already abundantly clear to me that the types of people who’re attracted to something as gargantuan and difficult as the Appalachian Trail are my people.  Weirdos and wanderlust-ers like me, unique in all the right ways.

I wasn’t looking for thru-hiking companions.  Far from it.  I’ve done extended solo backpacking trips before, some as long as three weeks; solitude is an old friend.  In the absence of others, I can quickly drop into a “flow” state of mind and absorb the goodness of nature without distraction.  Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese expression roughly translating to “forest bathing”, and is an all-time favorite concept of mine.  And much like regular bathing, I prefer to do it alone (unless I’m accompanied by a beautiful woman, much like regular bathing).

Yet somehow, I found a tribe.  We hiked together loosely, sometimes spreading out over a few miles before meeting at our predetermined spot for the night.  We had similar mileage goals, were in similarly good shape, and made decisions as a team.  We’d roll into camp, already cracking jokes and doing our best “Southern” accents (in quotes because the multiple Mainers in The Homestead were hilariously bad at it – like a couple of molasses-soaked Foghorn Leghorns starring in Gone With The Wind) before gathering around a fire to talk about the day ahead and enjoy a well-earned meal.  I grew so fond of these new friends, when I pulled ahead of the group to hike with an old pal through the Smokies, I took three Zeroes in Hot Springs, NC just so they could catch up.


Most of the tribe, shockingly there is not a single photo of all of us at the same time. (Left to right: FOMO, Giggles, Ducky, Tarzan)

But around Day 41, little tensions started to snowball.  I saw it happen to other tramilies at almost the exact same time; the honeymoon phase wears off, and everyone slowly realizes that they have slightly different goals from one another.  In our group, it centered around how often we’d take a “break” from the trail to stay at a trailside hostel or go into town.  Some of us (myself included) got tired of paying to sleep in hot, overcrowded bunkhouses that reeked of feet and rumbled with snores all night, when we knew we’d sleep like little cherubim in our tents in the woods.  For other members of The Homestead, the promise of a shower, a real toilet, and an enclosed building were the only things pushing them forward on the hardest days.  No one was right, and no one was wrong.  We all just had different needs.

One member at a time, The Homestead split up.  First Marathon, then Sleepy, and then Tarzan (a later addition to the group) peeled off to Hike Your Own Hike.  I certainly didn’t blame them – they owed it to themselves to do what was best for them.  As wonderful as it is to hike with a group, the only person who’ll get you to the next waypoint is YOU, and if you start making too many sacrifices to keep others happy you may end up failing yourself.  So when the Trail Days festival in Damascus, VA rolled around in mid-May, and I was the only one who wanted to go, I knew it was my turn to leave The Homestead.

Playing Catchup

#TrailLove picked me up at Reeds Gap, VA (mile 845.2) on Day 68, and we spent a glorious 4 days at the festival before he kindly shuttled me back (seriously, what an awesome guy).  It was a wild weekend of reunions with old trail friends and high times with new ones, most of which I will not write about here (because, you know, my Mom reads these).  Once I finally got back on the Trail, I felt like a rocket with a lit fuse and was ready to demolish some damn miles.  I’d gotten a little break from the lovely strangers-turned-pals I’d spent more than two straight months hiking with, and knew that by the time I did eventually “Catchup” to The Homestead, I’d actually be eager to rejoin the squad.

Mcafee Knob View, sunrise

Time to spread my wings and soar, baby.

So from Day 72 to Day 97 when I hit Delaware Water Gap, PA (mile 1296.8), I flew down the trail.  Suddenly unshackled from everyone else and with 900 miles of trail legs beneath me, I was determined to push myself to the absolute limit and find out what I was capable of.  I’d thought 22 miles was about as much as I could do in a day – until I completed the 4-state challenge (Day 83) and realized that was a mental barrier, not a physical one.  All I had to do was maintain 3 mph, every hour, for 10 hours and I could knock out 30 miles a day.  Easy peasy, right?

What followed was a series of 28-32 mile days across PA that began triumphantly but ended in exhaustion.  At first I was amazed at what I could accomplish day in, day out, but that was just the problem: every day started to feel exactly the same.  I would wake up at 7:00, be on the trail by 8:30, and then hike without pausing (other than to refill water) until 6:30 or later every night.  Set up camp, eat dinner, massage my knees and feet, read for 30 minutes, fall asleep, repeat the next day.  Initially, I was enjoying the benefits of hiking alone, especially the spontaneous deep conversations with thru-hikers I hadn’t yet met (tramilies are like tribes – you’re either in-group or you’re out-group, and the two don’t ever mix fully in camp every evening).  But as I basically ran across PA, I was moving so fast that I hardly interacted with anyone, mostly because no one around me was keeping my pace.

destroyed hoka mid gtx

This pace also completely destroyed my Hoka Mid GTX’s. Observe the missing tread…

By the PA/NJ border, I was beginning to have less and less fun.  As proud as I was of how many miles I’d covered in such a short time, and as much as I enjoyed the freedom of hiking alone, I knew I needed to make some changes to get back to that feeling of ecstatic joy I’d maintained up until that point.  I needed a reason to slow down a little.  Cue my best friends.

One Is Silver And The Other, Gold

I don’t have a particularly large social circle, but I’d do absolutely anything for my three best friends from college.  We were basically inseparable from freshman year until we graduated from Wake Forest University in 2014, and have stayed in close contact ever since.  They were my biggest supporters when I announced I’d be attempting a thru-hike in 2022, and I was psyched that they all wanted to join me for a section.  Jake aka Gator (so named for the knee-high gaiters he wears like a uniform) hiked the length of the Smoky Mountain National Park with me, and immediately caught the AT bug; a little over a month later he joined me again for a long weekend in southern VA as I climbed Dragon’s Tooth.

Gator and Catchup - Dragon's Tooth

And look how handsome that SOB is while doing it.

Pete aka Moans joined me when I needed it most – right after I passed into NJ.  I enjoyed coming up with trail names for these goofballs, and Pete’s was particularly fitting: he never once complained, but there sure were a-lot of sounds coming out of him as we climbed each hill.  He’d be the first to tell you he’s not the fastest hiker, but god bless ’em, he’s fantastic company.  After hiking at a moderate pace with The Homestead, and then extremely fast by myself, it was such a delight to have an excuse to slow down and really enjoy myself again.  We ate ice cream every chance we got (and damn are there some incredible creameries in NJ/NY), watched Top Gun: Maverick from our tent at the Warwick Drive-In Theater, and laughed so hard and so often that my cheeks were physically sore at the end of each day.  It was like a vacation in the middle of my thru-hike, and completely reinvigorated my spirit for the remainder of the AT.  The promise of getting to hike the NJ/NY section with Moans had gotten me through the purgatory that is Rocksylvania, and the great memories from his visit (and newfound slightly slower pace) smoothed the way in CT and MA.

Moans is from NY. Can you tell?

3 mph feels great to maintain, but it doesn’t leave many opportunities to stop and smell the roses.  I’m proud to say I never missed a summit-view blue blaze (ok, at least the ones under .5 miles), but basically only stopped for 60 seconds at each one.  After relearning how to enjoy backpacking with Moans, I continued to ease off the gas until I was hiking a more comfortable 2.5 mph.  I even began allowing myself to stop before my planned destination – kind of a big deal for an obsessive completionist like myself. Suddenly, I was having fun again!  The day I crossed into VT, I stopped after only 12.8 miles because I was passing a particularly scenic beaver pond (and the first along the trail).  I stripped down to my birthday suit, sat on a flat rock at the edge of the pond, and watched the sun set over the mirrored surface while beavers circled closer and closer, slapping their tails against the water in a show of strength.

In Rutland, VT, I was joined once again by Gator as well as Sam aka First Blood (much like Rambo, he just wants to be left alone).  From there until Hanover, NH we moved like a unit up and over Vermont’s Green Mountains, including a night at the most breathtaking shelter of the entire Appalachian Trail (The Lookout, mile 1722.6).  As much as I told myself I didn’t need anyone, as much as I refused to join other tramilies after leaving The Homestead, I couldn’t have been happier hiking with these old friends of mine.  There’s something to be said for experiencing hardship with new people – you learn a ton about their character in an extremely short span – but I’d trade that any day of the week to hike with these boys I love with all my heart.

I mean, look how freakin’ cute First Blood is. He’s having so much fun.

Better Off Alone

With renewed joy in my soul and a spring in my step, I hiked by myself until the beginning of the White Mountains when I ran into some fellow thru-hikers that were a little too lovely and a little too much fun to leave behind: Amelia Airheart and Sunshine.  We spent the next 35 days together leisurely strolling through the Whites and southern Maine (at least, that’s how it felt for me) as Amelia and I developed a little trail romance.  It wasn’t my first fling on the trail (I mean, everyone gets a few rebounds, right?) but it was certainly the most serious.  Too serious, as it turned out.  It was my own fault; they say hiking is better than therapy, and I’d had a ton of time to process the breakup with my ex-fiancé, but I wasn’t quite prepared for a serious new partner.  It was beginning to require more emotional energy than I had to give, and it slowly dawned on me that I was starting to have less fun again.  I needed to get back to my solitary backpacking roots.

Just before the 100-mile wilderness, I told her I couldn’t keep hiking with her, and began a silent meditation that lasted until Millinocket, ME (mile 2178.8).  I will cherish the memories from those 8 silent days for the rest of my life.  It was extremely challenging to not greet fellow NOBO thru-hikers or the exuberant SOBOs I was starting to encounter coming the other direction down the AT.  But what I gained had incalculable value.  I hiked by myself in complete silence, stealth camped next to ponds by myself in complete silence, swam and sunned myself in complete silence – by forcing myself to stay silent and still, the sights, sounds, and smells were heightened to a level I didn’t think possible.  It wasn’t the month of silent meditation I had envisioned when I started, but it was just what I needed.

Maine is absolute perfection. “The way life should be”.

The morning I summitted Mt. Katahdin, I awoke to an empty camp.  As usual, everyone else had risen and left before I woke up at 7:00.  I climbed the great mountain alone, and when I reached the summit, I was blessed with 8 minutes of solitude before some day hikers arrived (which wasn’t altogether terrible – someone needed to take my picture!)  As I stood there alone, the clouds suddenly parted and the great state of Maine opened up before me.  It was every bit as majestic as I had hoped, and more.  I had accomplished my goal, alone.  Although I had lots of support along the way, no one walked any of the 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail for me.  No one carried my pack a single foot of the way for me.

It was fitting that I should end the Trail the way I initially intended, since every other aspect of the Trail was so different from what I’d imagined.  I began with all these ideas about what it would be like, what it would feel like to finish, who I would be afterward.  But I had no idea how much of an impact The Homestead, my collegiate best friends, or a cute redhead named Amelia would have on my AT experience. In the end, the Trail taught me everything I needed to learn.


I only thought about the Appalachian Trail growing up, with singular focus.  Now that I’ve finished, all I can think is: what’s next???  Please follow me on Instagram @wolfewanderer if you’re interested in my next adventure – I think the Mountain to Sea Trail in North Carolina?  Possibly the CDT after that?  Who knows!

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 3

  • Jess : Oct 3rd

    Good for you for going after what made you happy! Not always an easy task. Rebounds eh? Glad you had fun out there

  • Joe : Oct 3rd

    I’m exactly the same, loving solitude and peace

  • Jason : Oct 7th

    I’ve been following you on IG since you were on Backpacker Radio.

    This was a GREAT write up.

    Thanks for taking the time to share!


What Do You Think?