Can I do this? Yes, I’m doing it!

What Was I Thinking?

I strapped on my pack and cried. I’d already been through one frantic round of “what can I ditch?” after I first discovered how heavy my fully loaded pack was. (Note to self: you should have kept the puffy!) Now the blue monster was a few pounds lighter, but still well over 28 lbs. How on earth was I going to carry this thing for 8 or 10 miles a day? Could I even hike 8-10 miles?

The tears kept coming. I was in full-blown confidence meltdown mode. My husband and daughter smiled sympathetically as they said goodbye, telling me how proud they were that I was even trying this backpacking thing. I carefully thrust my pack into the trunk, warning them that I might chicken out and return home again before lunch. Then I jumped in my car and headed toward Amicalola Falls.

These weren’t the nerves of a departing thru-hiker – no, that fleeting childhood fantasy had not yet returned to take up permanent residence in my mind. This was just my first real backpacking trip and I was terrified I’d fail. At the age of 51, I hadn’t done much outdoorsy stuff since before I had children. Although I’d always enjoyed hiking, sailing, and other fresh-air endeavors, I set them aside for years while I worked and raised a family.

It’s Time to be Me

Something about turning 50 flipped a switch in my brain, suddenly releasing me from the bonds of preconceived notions about what I “should” be. It was incredibly liberating to finally realize that I owned my life. (Better late than never on that one!) If I was ever going to be the person I was meant to be, I couldn’t wait any longer.

So here I was, trying to be a backpacker. Was this really me, or simply a vision I conjured up? Suddenly I felt like a total imposter.

It’s amazing what a few miles on country roads can do for the psyche. By the time I reached the visitor center at Amicalola Falls an hour later, my “Backpacking 101” group was ready and waiting. My jitters had abated and I was feeling braver. I was the only woman in our group of five, but it didn’t matter. I was doing this.

Welcome to Backpacking


Over the course of the next 36 hours, we encountered sun and rain, sleet and hail. I had to sleep in the shelter because my tent got totally soaked as I tried to set it up in a chilly downpour. I shivered all night in a 30-degree bag, tossing and turning on my noisy sleeping pad. A mouse ran down my back. I put too much water in my Mountain House meal. I peed in the woods. It was…amazing!


Sunday afternoon I arrived home exhausted and elated. I had walked my first steps on the Appalachian Trail, setting my foot on the southern terminus at Springer Mountain. I learned a lot that weekend, and quickly confirmed that I knew nearly nothing about backpacking. So what? I was hooked.

“I’m Doing It”

In the months leading up to that trip, my husband, Jim, and I had started day hiking more frequently and we also read several books about Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. Sensing that my sprit of adventure was aching to be un-caged, Jim teased me mercilessly. At least once a day he started a conversation with “when you do your thru-hike…” I finally looked at him and said, “Stop joking, I’m doing it.”

It took me a while to convince Jim and my two daughters that 1) I wasn’t crazy and 2) I was in fact planning to take a six-month sabbatical from my business to go walk in the woods.

That was barely six months ago. Since then I’ve been training, doing shakedown hikes, and backpacking whenever I can. I spend hours and hours researching and planning. I’ve got most of my gear together and now I’m down to fine-tuning, shaving weight and comparison testing to see what works best for me.

Can I Really Do It?

Next April, I’ll start my thru-hike exactly 11 months after that fateful first trip. I feel like I’m ready. I could leave tomorrow but the doubts still creep in: Can I really sleep alone in the woods? Will the foot I broke on summer vacation be OK? Will the rest of my body do what my brain wants it too? Can I bear to leave my beloved pets behind? Will I be heartbreakingly homesick? Can I afford this?

All those answers will come in time. For now, I’m forging ahead. I’m excited to share my journey with you here at The Trek, and to make new friends on the trail and off. It will be an epic adventure, and I can’t wait.

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Comments 9

  • Nancy Grimes : Nov 1st

    Good for you! I’m am eagerly awaiting your adventure.

    Reply
  • Don Maynard : Nov 1st

    I think you can if you think you can, you go for it girl!

    Reply
    • Wild Bluebonnet : Nov 2nd

      Yes, you can do it. Run down your dreams👍🏻

      Reply
  • Pumba : Nov 2nd

    I loved your article. You are right where you need to be…. just believe and enjoy your next adventure as it unfolds before your very eyes. Remember you don’t know what is around the next corner of the trail but that part of you wants to know and your training has led you to this point…trust it and enjoy your adventure. I admire you. I too started later in my life 50 years young with the idea that I had let too much slip away under the guise of thoughts I would some day do ALL those things I had dreamed/desired to do… since then I have run a half marathon and other multiple 10 AND 5K’s to prove to my self that I had the “right stuff”. I believe now. I have embarked a few 2-4 day hikes with my hike partner Tango Delta Delta on the Superior Hiking trail..inspired by Shug Emery videos on You tube…Thanks Shug…Whoooo Buddy.

    Reply
    • Joellyn Sargent : Nov 5th

      That’s amazing, Pumba, and inspiring. Thank you!

      Reply
  • Belinda : Nov 5th

    Your feelings sound so familiar! I’m planning a thru-hike too, my first section next summer, and then, hopefully the whole thing summer of 2019. That “Am I crazy, can I do this?” thing we keep telling ourselves is unnerving. I look forward to reading about your experiences!

    Reply
  • Mark Dye : Nov 7th

    This is great to read. I was at the Stover creek shelter back in May when you was there on your first trip ! Great to hear that you are still hiking, good luck!! Maybe are trails will cross again some day

    Reply
    • Joellyn Sargent : Nov 9th

      How cool, Mark! I’m surprised you remember me. I hope I’ll see you on the trail.

      Reply
  • Zombietrailwidow : Nov 17th

    Positive expectations influence positive performance, the inverse is true too! Also true is that your family and friends, even those who don’t yet know you are sending to you positive vibes and the belief that you will succeed! 👣🌈
    ZTW

    Reply

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