Fight Your Demons, Chase Your Dreams

Hi, I’m Fernando. How does one introduce themselves to a world of strangers without it being 90 percent crap? You know, the version of themselves they want the rest of the world to see. I will try my best to try to avoid that here. I’m into punk, beer, whiskey, and hiking. I’m an unapologetic nerd, I have a degree in physics (somehow) and a master’s in management. I’ve spent so much longer than I’d care to admit struggling with my mental health, and I will be attempting to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail this year. Of course I am — otherwise what else would I be doing here?

My Story

I grew up in Northern New Jersey.

(Insert stereotypical Jersey Shore, Bon Jovi, and Bruce Springsteen joke here.)

Now that we got that out of the way, more about myself. I went to Catholic school all my life. This includes an all-boy prep high school. If you knew me, you’d laugh at the thought of me at a prep school; I didn’t really fit their mold.

I’m almost unhealthily obsessed with punk music. My parents took me to my first concert, the Beach Boys, when I was a kid and I’ve loved music ever since. I played in a number of bands in high school and throughout college. I’ve had the privilege of performing on incredible stages such as Arlene’s Grocery and The Bitter End in New York City, as well as the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park.

I can’t exactly pin down when the struggle with depression and anxiety started. I guess it had always been there, but, man, did the music help. In high school and college I was well-distracted. I suppose I was always a bit self-destructive, a lack of concern for my own physical well-being. In my mind “it’s just punk,” right?

Fast forward five years.

What just happened? I’m unemployed, I have no idea how I got here except that this was a disaster of my own making. My dad was sick getting chemo and I barely finished grad school after dropping out a few times. Something needed change.

Finding Peace

I was always into the outdoors as a kid, and my parents took me camping a lot. I was in Scouts until I became too cool for that, at least in my mind (spoiler alert: I wasn’t cool). So I found myself heading back to a place where I had no negative memories. The place where I always remembered being at peace.

The first time I tried to section hike happened on a whim. I liked to day hike, so why not push it for a few days. So I packed my dad’s old Army rucksack, an old-school external frame pack, with all my old gear. Every piece of gear I brought with me was from the ’90s; the pack was much older. Needless to say, not a single bit of it was light.

I brought some friends with me that first time. We barely made it ten miles. I loved it. After the first failure, I went home, changed up my setup, and went back out the next weekend. This time I made some 28 miles on my own. My friend Bob asked to join me next time; we made it almost 35 miles! When winter hit and it got too cold, I read about hiking.

Bob and I talked about maybe thru-hiking the trail one day, but that weekend I don’t think we really thought it would happen. We had barely made it through those 35 miles, and attempting so much more than that seemed unrealistic. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing.

I knew this wasn’t an answer to my problems, but it gave me the peace of mind to find the answers I was looking for. I was finding peace in the tranquility of the trail. Was this what I was looking for all this time? I found so much beauty in a world where I thought none still existed.

Flower close up

Fast forward a few more years. I managed to pull myself together, mostly due to the trail and the unwavering support of the people I didn’t manage to push away. I’ve now covered hundreds of miles of the Appalachian Trail. Since the first time I stepped foot on the AT as a kid, I always thought, “Maybe one day.” March 14 is that day. What started as a way to get out of my head long enough to think clearly has turned into something so much more.

My Mission

Everyone has something they are trying to accomplish on the trail. Some are in it for the challenge while others are running away from something. Some people are looking to answer something about themselves. I’m doing this because this is where I’m at my happiest. I want to show people that there is so much beauty left in the world despite what the news cycle might show us. I want to show people in a place like I used to be that the world is so much bigger than the space between your bed and your light switch. No matter how dark everything seems there is light to be found. Fight your demons and chase your dreams.

I’m so excited to be able to share this journey with everyone. I’ll update you all as much as I am able on trail. I’ll get a few more posts out before I leave, as long as I don’t procrastinate as long as I did with the first one. I think I’m always going to end these with a band quote because that’s just my style.

“Expect me standing tall, back against the wall,
‘Cause what I learned was
It’s not about forcing happiness;
It’s about not letting the sadness win.”

The Wonder Years – “Local Man Ruins Everything”

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Comments 15

  • Sherpa Dan : Feb 17th

    Awesome to meet you Fernando. I hope to run by and not over you on the trail.
    Peace be with you.

  • Tich : Feb 17th

    That was beautiful! Hoping you’re able to reach many who face similar demons, giving them hope in finding their inner peace.

  • Donnelly : Feb 17th

    You sir, are the man.

  • Ner : Feb 17th

    Awesome read bud. I look forward to more. Godspeed

  • Ronnie lawler : Feb 17th

    Your fortitude will keep you going. Look foward to reading your journey.

  • Aurea : Feb 18th

    Inspirational. Looking forward to reading about your journey. Godspeed.

  • Shoelace : Feb 20th

    Good luck. Keep up the writing. Of physics doesn’t work out, the writing might. You’re good at it. I’ll be looking for updates. Happy trails

  • Cindy : Feb 20th

    Thanks for sharing your story. I relate to the issue of dealing with depression and anxiety. And, the peace that the outdoors brings. Dogs also help me a lot. Hence, my chocolate lab, Moxy, and I start the AT NOBO in 5 days:) see you out there. I’m sure you’ll pass me… on m a slow hiker.

    • Fernando Rios : Feb 20th

      Wish I could bring my dog! Good luck!

  • Melissa Thyen : Feb 20th

    Loved reading your first post and look forward to more. Doing it because it’s where you are happiest. The best reason. One of my reasons for sectioning. Good luck on your journey.

  • Sarah : Feb 20th

    I love this so much! Mental illness has been a long ans difficult battle for me and hiking has been my biggest help as well. Can’t wait to read your updates along the way!

  • Warrior AT2019 : Feb 20th

    Wow, it sounds like we were separated at birth, Fernando! I can relate 100%. I’m really sad that I can’t hike this year (my thru hike is 2019) just because I’d like to be right there encouraging each other along through the rough days. I will be following your every step!! You’ve got this Fernando!! Happy Healing!

  • Sassafras : Feb 20th

    This is excellent and a lot of why I’m hiking too. And apparently we start the same day, so perhaps our paths will cross!

    • Fernando Rios : Feb 20th

      Hope to see you out there!

  • slowrush : Feb 22nd

    fernando, your story, purpose for thru-hiking, and way of expressing yourself are inspirational. i wish you all the best out on the AT and look forward to following you sharing the experience.


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