Am I Crazy? Why I’m Hiking the Appalachian Trail
My Mom Certainly Thinks I’ve Lost My Mind
Hi, my name is Sam, and I’m going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.
Roughly four months ago, I got the idea that I should spend 4-6 months in the woods hiking all 2,200 miles of the AT. When I told my parents, they weren’t surprised, but still thought I may have a screw or two loose. I hope this intro will help them (and all of you readers!) understand why I’m hiking.
What Led to This Decision (or Crisis?)
There are a couple different events that led me to this idea. I just finished my first major wilderness adventure–completing the 46 High Peaks in the Adirondack Mountains of my home state, New York. I loved the full range of senses and emotions that I felt while pushing myself to finish another peak– the exhaustion, the frustration of slips and scrapes and tumbles, the calming smell of red spruce and balsam fir in the crisp air, the determination to keep moving forward, the joy of reaching the summit, and the bittersweetness of finally completing something that meant so much to me. In one hike, I could feel more emotions than I would over a week at home.
I also started my first “adult” job at a small biotech company in Syracuse, which is where I grew up and went to college. This was my plan all along–go to school for biotech, and then get a good job. Get a 9-5 and climb the corporate ladder. I even prioritized this goal over some of my closest personal relationships.
But it didn’t take long for me to realize that something didn’t feel right. I worked myself to the point of exhaustion in college to keep my grades up, and then jumped right into jobs and internships because that’s what I thought my next step in life was supposed to be. When I took more time to think about it, I realized I was unhappy, burnt out, and not entirely sure how I wanted to participate in society just yet.
That’s when I knew it was time to make a change.
Why the Appalachian Trail?
The seed for hiking the AT was planted soon after finishing the ADK High Peaks. At the suggestion of my friend, I read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods”. While it may not be a perfect representation of what the AT is like (I guess I won’t know until I start), I loved the idea of embarking on such a romantic, insane adventure. And that’s all it took to go down the rabbit hole. Soon I was spending hours on backpacking forums, reading about specialized camping gear and optimizing pack weight, and how to prepare for an endeavor as large as the AT. After living in the same place for so long, I needed to get out and do something exciting. Something a little crazy.
My research led me to a book called Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis (the founder of The Trek), which emphasizes that mental preparation is even more important than getting the right equipment or working out until you can sprint up 10 flights of stairs. Part of this mental prep involves creating some important lists to reinforce why I’m hiking the AT, and reasons to keep going when the going gets tough. I’ve included them below.
My AT Lists
I am thru-hiking the AT because:
- I enjoy being outside, backpacking and hiking
- The challenge and romance of thru-hiking inspires me
- I’ll have time to clear my head and think about what is important to me
- I’ll be surrounded by like-minded people with the same goal as me
- It will be a break from my normal life–but not quite a vacation
- I’ll probably lose a few pounds (which I could use, if I’m honest)
- Deep down, it feels like I need to try this, or I’ll regret it for the rest of my life
When I successfully thru-hike the AT I will:
- Be more self-confident
- Have a better perspective on life’s joys and challenges
- More deeply understand the connections between nature and humanity
- Be calmer, more patient, and more independent
- Have deep, meaningful relationships with new friends
- Be able to live with only life’s necessities
- Have gained a profound sense of accomplishment and a new set of skills
If I don’t complete the Appalachian Trail I will feel:
- Like a failure
- Less confident in my abilities
- Like I’ve let down my friends, family, and supporters
- Like I’ve wasted my time, money and potential
- Less motivated to give life my all, and settle instead
After thinking about hiking for months, I finally took the plunge and committed. I quit my job, started telling my friends and family my plan, and began prepping.
I have to admit that I’m nervous to start my hike. I do think that anyone that tries to walk the entire AT is a little bit crazy–but what’s the fun in staying sane all the time? At the end of the day, I think that I would regret not trying this adventure more than I would if I tried and failed. And I believe that by using these lists and receiving support from my friends, family, and you, reader, that I can hike the entire AT this year. Wish me luck!
Stay tuned for my next post, which will cover the research I did to prepare for this hike, and go into detail on all of the gear that I will be bringing with me.
Supporting the AT
If you’ve made it this far into my first post, thank you. While I’m excited to share this adventure with all of you, I also want to minimize my impact on the AT and give back to the hiking community. That’s why I’ve decided to start a fundraiser for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, one of the many nonprofit organizations that maintains and protects the trail so hikers can enjoy it today, and in the future. If you feel so called, you can donate at the link below:
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