ATC Intern to Prospective Thru-Hiker

Why Does One Hike Over 2,000 Miles?

Many think this journey I am soon to embark on is absolutely crazy- and… it is. When I tell people I am going to hike the Appalachian Trail they ask ” the whole thing”?! I have just been an “all in or all out” type of girl I guess. I hope to give some insight as to what brought about this “crazy” mission of mine. After all, up until recently I was definitely deemed more of the cautious “indoor type”.


How did the dream begin?

College graduation was rapidly approaching. My family’s arrival was coming near and I had no plan set for afterwards. I knew I needed to act fast to come up with a summer game plan. Needing to get away from my college atmosphere, I knew my time in Asheville, NC had come to a close.

My Mom mentioned summer internships at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters in Harpers Ferry, WV. My family owned a cottage I could live in, if offered the position. I thought oh how boring- nobody lives in Harpers Ferry. But with no better ideas of my own, I interviewed with two people, namely Laurie Potteiger and Tenny. Little did I know these people and this experience would be life changing.

I started my Internship in the middle of May, summer 2015. My position was way more amazing than I could have ever anticipated. Working in the Visitor Center, my role was to photograph and provide hospitality to all those coming into the visitor center. This included Harpers Ferry tourists, day hikers, section hikers and thru hikers. It really was a dream role. Hearing trail tales, I was so intrigued! I would not be alone in Harpers Ferry for the summer after all- I was meeting new friends everyday! And super cool ones at that.

It didn’t take long for me to take on the role as the Harpers Fairy. I began providing trail magic to the hikers in exchange for new friendships and stories. Before I knew it, I was dying to be on the trail with them and luckily for me- my loving, understanding supervisor allowed me opportunities to do so. I was opened up to a whole new world of AT Trail Culture- and I absolutely loved it. I learned the ways of the Thru-Hikers and transformed from a meekly day-hiker to an actual backpacker.

When a Nightmare turned dream to reality.

Even though my summer internship and adventures on the trail made me fall in love with the AT and dream to thru hike, I was encouraged to first continue my ” career launch”. I accepted an AmeriCorps Service position and moved my life to southern California. Before I left, I found out my Mom had been diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I was nervous to leave home, but felt confident my Dad and Brother had her care under control.

After about three weeks of living in California- I received a call from my Mom that changed my world as I had come to know. Not only did she have Cancer, but so did my Dad, and he was in critical care in the Hospital. I jumped on the next plane home, never to return to California.

Dad had known of his illness before I left and chosen not to tell me. My best friend, he wanted me to follow my dreams. In three fast weeks, he was taken from me. With my Dad’s death, and Mom’s intensive chemo treatment, my world was crumbling beneath me. I knew I must stay home to lookout for my younger Brother, care for my Mother and attempt to “heal” from this trauma surrounded by the love and support from my home community.

A Pain I can Control

It became clear that my dream to thru hike the AT had been put in my path at the right time for a reason. The dream helped me get through the most dreaded winter. I knew come spring, I would have to hit the trail.

Hiking the trail is not all fun and good times and I know that. But it is a challenge that I can be in control of. Not being in control of the pain caused from Cancer coming into my family was the worst. I feel like now, I am finally mentally tough enough to tackle this daunting journey. Something I am choosing to put myself through, that at anytime I can leave from. Unlike the pain I am experiencing from my loss.

If there was anything I learned from my previous trail experiences, it was that the Trail provides. I am hiking the trail in honor of my loving Father who always told me to follow my dreams. I will serve as a Leave No Trace Ambassador and allow the trail to provide for me, what I need. In addition, I write in hope of my journey being able to inspire others to use hiking as a strategy to cope with pain, loss, and mental health issues.

looking forward to meeting fellow 2016 NOBO’s

feel free to Facebook me: Eliane Coates

or Instagram: Ellecoates

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Comments 3

  • Tatanka : Feb 3rd

    You had and have great parents. LIVE YOUR DREAMS! Hope to follow you on your NOBO16 adventure on FB and best of luck. I too one day will follow this dream but will have to wait for now. Will be taking my daughter up to UNCA in a couple of weeks for a college visit. I beleive she has it in her blood!

  • SIMPLE MAN : Feb 3rd

    Wish you the very best .Hope you make it.Lost my mom ,my mother in law ,my sister and then my wife last August to cancer.Rips at your soul .Need someway to heal and carry on.The Trail.

  • cousin : Jun 28th

    I am so proud of you. Stay as strong as you have been. I can not wait to see you in New York. LU.


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