Why Hike, Why Now? Answering the Big Questions
In mid-April I will be setting out on my flip flop thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. When I tell people of my plans it usually prompts a series of questions: “What is the Appalachian Trail?” “How long is it?” “How long will that take?” “Don’t you worry about bears?” “What are you going to eat?” These questions are all pretty straightforward and easy enough to answer. But sometimes I get questions that take a bit more time and reflection, and these usually tend to revolve around different variations of “Why?” “Why hike?” “Why hike the Appalachian Trail?” “Why now?” and “Why a flip flop hike?” A full answer to any one of these questions could fill pages if not volumes, but I’ll take a stab at it here in just a few brief paragraphs.
For me, the attraction of hiking lies in the numerous challenges one encounters on the trail (both mental and physical), the satisfaction of replacing the daily chaos of normal living with a life of focused simplicity, the excitement of never quite knowing what is around the next bend, how your day is going to unfold, and who (or what) you are going to meet along the way, and experiencing that unique combination of solitude and camaraderie that one finds only on the trail.
Why Hike the Appalachian Trail?
The Appalachian Trail is considered the hoary grandfather of long-distance trails (although technically this is a bit of a slight to the awesome and slightly older Long Trail) and an AT thru-hike has been a lifelong dream. It is a trail incredibly rich in history, rich in breathtaking scenery, and rich in challenges. My ultimate goal is to knock out the Triple Crown (the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail) and I decided I should start with the AT. I am already fairly familiar with the AT, having section hiked a good bit of it over the years, including several multi-week hikes. This is an advantage in that I am realistic about the physical and mental demands of the trail, but I also must confess that, in some small way, I wish I was embarking on my thru-hike as a newbie with a completely fresh and exhilarating sense of adventure and heading into the unknown.
This is an easy one: Because I can. I find myself in an amazing and unexpected place both professionally (self-employed and happily between clients) and personally (a very supportive girlfriend and family who will look after things while I’m off having my adventure). There is no great drama in my life and I’m not hiking to solve problems or to discover anything profound about myself (although I know the trail can and does do this for people and that of course is part of its magic). I am incredibly fortunate to be in this situation and it made me realize that if there can be such a thing as a perfect time to do an AT thru-hike, for me that time is now.
Why a Flip Flop Hike?
I wrestled with this decision for a very long time. The draw of the traditional Georgia to Maine NOBO hike is very strong. After all, that is how it has always been done. Envisioning that glorious last hike up Katahdin is an important motivation that can help one deal with the grueling day-to-day reality of long-distance hiking. The camaraderie and the strong bonds that form during a NOBO hike, when you often hike with a group for days or weeks at a time, are also appealing. In the end, however, I decided that, for me, a flip flop hike would work best. I was not looking forward to the extreme overcrowding that has become the norm in Georgia during the traditional NOBO start dates. I also hope that by choosing a flip flop hike I am helping in some small way to mitigate the unfortunate environmental impacts resulting from the exploding popularity of the AT. I also realized that having a dramatic finish at Katahdin was, for me, less important than enjoying the whole experience. I will still summit Katahdin, and it will still be dramatic. I’ll just be doing it halfway through my hike rather than at the end.
These are just some initial thoughts on my answers to the big why questions. Everyone’s situation is unique and everyone has their own reasons for hiking. But what it all really comes down to is that each one of us will be out there having the adventure of a lifetime. Good luck to all the 2018 thru-hikers and I hope to see you on the trail!
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