Dreams of the Appalachian Trail – Planning My 2022 Thru-Hike

I feel so incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail with my mom in 2022. I’ve been dreaming about this trip for almost 20 years, and know first-hand how difficult it is to find a six-month window to escape from work, family, and all the day-to-day obligations of life in mainstream society.  I’ve begun planning thru-hikes of the AT on two previous occasions, only to have those plans fall through in the months leading up to the hike.  In March of 2020, my mom and I were 10 days away from our planned start date when the Appalachian Trail Conservancy advised all hikers to stay away from the trail. Next year – 2022 – is our year.

My First Experience on the AT

On the AT in 2003 – that’s me on the right, and my cousin Eric on the left.

My dreams of the Appalachian Trail began in 2003, when I was 19. After my first year of college, I hiked the Northernmost 600 miles of the AT – from Mt. Greylock to Katahdin. The experience was life-altering, and sent me down a path that included working as a field biologist in extremely rugged outdoor conditions.  After college, I worked on a field crew studying one of the smallest bird species in the rainforests of Jamaica, and went directly from there to the Arizona desert where I worked with the critically endangered California Condor.

While working in Arizona, I developed the idea for a documentary film about the condor recovery effort, and began the slow process of transitioning into a career as a documentary filmmaker and podcaster. By the time my first film was complete however, tragedy had struck my family.  My dad had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and I returned home to spend time with him and the rest of my family.  As the end drew near for my dad, my mom and I began to talk about doing a long-distance hike together as a way to heal and get past the grief of losing my father.

Hiking the Long Trail End-to-End

My mom and I on the Long Trail in Vermont.

While we initially had our sights set on the Appalachian Trail, we eventually settled on something a bit more manageable – the Long Trail in Vermont.  This was my mom’s first foray into the world of long-distance hiking, and by the time we had reached the end, she was just as enamored with life on the trail as I was (I made a short documentary that aired on Vermont PBS about our trip).  Almost immediately after completing the Long Trail, we set our sights, once again, on the AT.

That was in 2013. Since then, I’ve gotten married, had a son, bought a house, and made a career for myself as a documentary filmmaker.  When I was younger it felt easy to escape into the mountains, but at this stage of my life finding a way to take six months off from my normal life is a serious challenge.

Planning for a 2020 Thru-hike

In the summer of 2018, my mom and I decided that 2020 was our year to thru-hike the AT.  As our proposed start date approached, we spent countless hours planning and preparing for the journey, oblivious to the looming crisis that would ultimately postpone the trip.  I was planning not just for a thru-hike, but to produce a podcast series that would document the journey and explore the history of the AT.  Although this project was put on hold along with the trip itself, I did produce one episode that tracked our preparation for the trip, as well as our decision to postpone as the COVID-19 crisis deepened (you can listen via the embedded Apple Podcasts player below).

A Different Attitude for 2022

In the months leading up to our proposed start date in 2020 I was scrambling to tie up loose ends in both my work and personal life.  I was anxiety-ridden thinking about the logistical details of the trip, the production schedule for my podcast series, and the idea of being away from my wife and son for so long.  This time around, as our proposed start date for our AT thru-hike approaches, I’ve adopted a much more laid-back attitude.  The pandemic has trained me to focus less on future planning, and more on being ready in the moment for whatever might come next.  So as our start date approaches, I’ll be focused more on spending time with my family rather than plotting out our trip and trying to set up podcast interviews.

I’ve learned a lot about myself these past two years, but I’d say the most important lesson that I’ve internalized is the ability to recognize and appreciate how privileged I am to have this opportunity to explore the Appalachian Trail.  My next steps involve continuing to find ways to use this privilege to benefit others, and I imagine I’ll be doing lots of thinking on that topic as I embark upon this six-month meditative trek across the spine of an ancient mountain range.

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Comments 8

  • Eddy Grunenwald : Dec 3rd

    Looking forward to following your hike. Matthew. But I, too, will be thru-hiking the AT in ’22. It will be my 2nd attempt and it will be interesting to see how it differs from the last. Hope to see you out there.

    • Matthew Podolsky : Dec 3rd

      Hi Eddy – thanks for sharing this comment! See you on the trail!

  • pearwood : Dec 3rd

    I am looking forward to my six months in the Abbey of the Appalachians starting February 1.
    Steve / pearwood

  • Miranda Turner : Dec 3rd

    I’m so excited to meet another wildlife biologist out there! I’ll be on the lookout for you!

  • Paul Evans : Dec 5th

    Love your attitude, and your writing is excellent – very to-the-point and not grandiose. People like you and your Mom are a credit to humanity.

  • Marian Van den Meydenberg : Dec 6th

    Yes, I, too, will be following you! Not on the trail, however, but through your mails and podcasts. I don’t know how I landed this link but I’m grateful!

  • Miranda : Dec 17th

    Your son and I will be following you and gram along the way! Have fun and call as often as possible!

  • Sandra : Dec 17th

    We will miss you and mom but can’t wait for updates and to find out what cool project comes out of it. Loving this writing, keep up with it!


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