Why on Earth are my Dog and I Hiking the Appalachian Trail?
Alright. Lets just start by getting this out of the way: spending six months living in the woods seems absolutely crazy! Sure, I definitely get that! If you’d asked me a year ago, I would have agreed.
When I tell people that I am planning to thru-hike all 2,189.8 miles of the Appalachian Trail, they get a little freaky. Once over that hump, they move to the next big concern: hiking alone for six months is even crazier!! I’ve quickly run out of both fingers and toes to count how many times I’ve tried explaining that I’m in fact, not alone; I’ve got my dog Flynn with me! After that, they get even freakier, their eyes open wider, and sometimes I even get a jaw to drop!
“Let me get this straight: so you’re living in the woods for six months, and carrying a giant backpack with a smelly dog, who’s food you’ll have to carry?”
I mean, yes? He can carry most of his own food, but yeah! It does sound a little insane when you word it like that. I guess I can only respond by saying that I simply don’t view it as you do!
How we got here:
The biggest motivation for me to hike the AT began last year around this time, close to Christmas. The truth is, I err on the boring side. I grew up living with my grandparents, and I have always been a rule follower. In high school I was very focused academically: getting good grades, playing three sports, and joining as many clubs as I could juggle at once. Afterwards, as expected, I leapt into college and continued the trend: receiving good grades, being active and involved on campus with both sports and clubs, and (for the most part) following the expectations that had been set for me. I had tunnel vision as I was following the pathway to vet school.
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a veterinarian. Ever since I was a wee youngster! When I found out that despite my nearly perfect application, I hadn’t been accepted to any vet schools, my world felt temporarily crushed. Dramatic, I know. But I hadn’t even considered the fact that I wouldn’t get in. I had no plan, I was ashamed of myself, and I felt like a failure. I couldn’t stand the fact that I would have to return to school and face my very ambitious ivy league peers, admitting that I had no idea what I would be doing after graduation. I’d have to say, that after all my hard work, I hadn’t earned a letter taking me where I wanted to go.
So here I am post graduation, reapplying to vet school and thinking: screw this! I am so incredibly tired of feeling like I have to waste this next year of my life while I once again, wait for the approval of some admission folks to a vet school. I realized that this time that I had been given wasn’t a burden, it was a gift.
So that kickstarted this whole thing! I mean, tru-hiking the AT was something that I had always found intriguing, but it’s something that I never thought I’d find the time to do. I quickly started researching and planning my hike, but in June, it became our hike. Upon graduation, I got an 8 week old puppy named Flynn!
Why we are hiking:
After receiving a little background, this is what our upcoming adventure of hiking the Appalachian Trail looks like to me.
Here is my best shot at explaining my answer to the big question that everyone seems to have for me: why?
- I need this. I need to feel successful in my real life, not just based on grades, and the approval of admissions staff who know nothing about me besides how I statistically compare with other applicants.
- I need this journey to build my confidence and self worth, it’s something that I’ll be able to carry in other aspects of my life. I need to prove that I can complete such a wild and daunting task, and to feel both proud of myself and unique.
- I need a change of pace. I feel like I’ve been granted with this time do something for myself, the opportunity to stray from my expected path in life for a while, and to grow in new ways.
- I want to build a one-of-a-kind relationship with Flynn, a strong bond of pride, loyalty, trust, and friendship.
So I guess that’s the start of explaining why I am going to suffer through months of: blisters, body odor, being drenched and cold, loneliness, missing out on my favorite summer activities, having to sh*t in the woods, sock tans, and spending six months away from one of my favorite locations: my cozy bed.
But, I need this. I need change. I need personal growth. I need six months of hiking with Flynn in the woods.
Why we are blogging:
While we are here at this point in our story, I feel like I owe some further background. I think an explanation of why I am writing blog posts and sharing my experience with those who are interested, should be mentioned.
I am a beginner. I have backpacked only one section of the AT for a long weekend, and I can count on one hand how many times I have camped out before. Some of which, I’ll embarrassingly admit, were in my back yard. I know that only 30% of those who start the trail will complete it, and being a beginner puts me at a much lower percentage of completion. But I am hard headed and extremely goal driven. When I set my mind to something, I just do it. I figure, the only way I’ll get back home to Maine is to walk myself there.
As a newbie, I have so much to learn, and by sharing my learning (mostly the hard way), then maybe I can help others who are going to be in my shoes learn and prepare too.
I hope that as I learn many obvious things to any novice or advanced hiker, that I can share those learning experiences with others in a way that can be humerus, thoughtful, self-deprecating, and honest.
I don’t want to make the trail out to be some mysterious wonderland, because there will be times where I am going to think about the family traditions I am missing back home, there will be times when I am cold and laying next to a soaking wet dog feeling alone in our tent, there are going to be days where I question why the heck I am doing this thing, and that part of the experience should also be shared, not hidden or kept secret.
So, if you actually read through that whole mess, and you’re curious to be a part of this adventure with me, or you just want to see if this whole thing is a flop and I can’t follow through, keep an eye out here! Don’t worry, not all my post will be nearly as long! I’ll do my best to share my experience with you: including preparation before I leave, my time on the trail itself (likely consisting of counting the number of ticks I pull out of my crotch, tending to the insane blisters on my pruned feet, and lots of artsy landscape photos), as well as what life feels like after hiking through 14 states with my furry friend!
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enjoy, good luck and be bold
go get’em gurl!
My heart surgery dashed my plans to hike the AT. So from my Virginia home l will hike with you thru your writing. Wishing you the best… make those memories!
Our friend found herself in the same position after applying everywhere in the United States she looked to New Zealand and is almost ready to finish vet school there 🙂 Best wishes on your hike
Good luck! I’ve been contemplating a way to ask my boss for a 4-6 month leave of absence…