Appalachian Trail Dreams Run in the Family

An Apple Falls Far, but not too Far, from the Tree

My cousin wasn’t great at robbing banks. Unsurprisingly, then, he was in and out of prison for most of my life. He is about 20 years my senior, and as a child I remember my mother getting regular calls from him. My single mom would put on that collect call—which she definitely couldn’t afford—from a federal prison to quickly talk to him. He would ask me how school was going and tell me how he looked forward to getting out soon. Whenever he would talk about getting out—and staying out this time—he would always talk about how he was going to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Then my mom would get back on the call and he’d ask for a little commissary money to get him through the month.

Growing up in southeast Tennessee the Appalachian Mountains were an ever-present background, but the trail was too long for me to imagine even as a kid. The enormity of that walk from Georgia to Maine seemed just as impossible as him staying out of prison for any meaningful period of time. So when he talked about the trail, I wasn’t in awe or even really that curious; I was full of pessimism and pity. Pity for him having a dream that I was sure he would never accomplish. My heart hardened after years of hearing “I’m gonna get out soon” and “I’m gonna stay out this time, I promise.” I had little patience for seemingly irresponsible and pie-in-the-sky dreams like hiking 2,200 miles. My cousin has been out of prison for a few years now, thankfully. He never hiked the trail, to my knowledge, and I can’t say I’m surprised about it.

So What about Me?

Meanwhile, I also got out and stayed out in a sense, but under far different circumstances. I dreamed responsible and achievable enough dreams. In 2009 I left Tennessee to attend a top 10 university and live in a big city up north. I worked jobs that I was good at but that weren’t exactly what I dreamed about growing up. I tried on engagement rings and almost settled down with a tech salesman in a condo with a dog. First my own depression and anger put cracks in the relationship. Then the salesman began to make decisions about our life without me. I came to them with another reasonable and achievable dream but they doubted my abilities. Finally the cracks became chasms and that life fell apart.

Cut to February 2019

While researching hiking gear a trip to Glacier National Park with my new boyfriend, I started reading articles and watching videos related to backpacking. This, of course, led me to content about America’s most-beloved long trail: the Appalachian Trail. That’s how the AT came stomping back into my life, reminding me of the mountains of home and my own dreams left unrealized between childhood and now. It made me think that maybe it wasn’t Michael who I should have pitied then. Maybe it was myself for not having his same audacity to dream such a big, impossible dream. Could it be that I was more like him than I thought? Maybe I too wasn’t so great at seeing my dreams through in the complacency of adulthood. All of my irresponsible and pie-in-the-sky goals from the past were judging me as I kept going down the AT rabbit hole online. So even though I was supposed to be researching Montana and day hiking, my heart kept pulling me back east and to Michael’s old dream.


Glacier National Park West Entrance Sign

Glacier National Park west entrance sign.

But Now It’s My Dream

And one that represents more than just walking 2,200 miles. But I’ve dreamed before and let myself down in the execution phase. I don’t want to have the same pity for myself thinking I’ll never put my money where my mouth is like I did for Michael. So I am hiking to prove I can put in the work into accomplishing this pie-in-the-sky, seemingly impossible, wonderfully irresponsible dream. And I guess some small part of me is hiking it for Michael too. I don’t have Michael’s phone number, but I did find him on Facebook. I don’t think we’ll reconnect because of me hiking the trail—family is complicated like that sometimes—but I do hope he’s accomplishing his dreams out there.


Woman hiking uphill in a forrested area of Glacier National Park

Hiking in Glacier National Park, September 2019.

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Comments 3

  • Avatar
    Jeff Hancock : Jan 5th

    China. YOU ARE THE BEST! Following. Happy to talk gear, tents vs. hammocks, stove or not etc. I own about 15 books about the AT specifically and ultralight hiking (oh, knees). Happy to share titles, they are all kindle versions though.

    • Avatar
      China Addison : Jan 5th

      Thanks, Jeff! I appreciate any and all wisdom you’re able to provide. 🙂

  • Avatar
    Tara Nooteboom : Jan 8th

    So proud of you and and can’t wait to read your reflections every step of the way!


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