Find the Cost of Freedom: Deciding to Thru-Hike the AT
The risks of disassembling one’s life to attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail go far beyond gear, logistics, and on-trail concerns. Here’s the Real Life consequences I weighed, and then a look at how I decided to “break down camp” and hit the trail!
What Am I Giving Up to Thru-Hike?
- My Job – At a time when employment is tenuous for millions of people, the decision to thru-hike right now and give up a reliable stream of income isn’t considered “wise” by many (including my mom, HI MOM!). This issue is compounded by the fact that roughly 30 percent of trans people say they’ve been denied a job, a promotion, or fired because of their gender identity… So getting my next job may prove difficult.
- Affordable Health Insurance – As a transgender woman on Hormone Replacement Therapy, and someone who uses therapy and medication to treat my mental health, this is a risk. MassHealth/Health Connector plans don’t cover out of state emergencies so I’m left paying for private insurance out of pocket through COBRA, which hampers my overall budget significantly.
- A Retirement Plan – I’ve contributed to an employer supported retirement plan for the past six years. I will lose eligibility for those benefits (although I will roll the current funds into a 403B plan, so I don’t lose everything)
- Savings – Instead of hiking, I could’ve spent this money on gender confirming medical procedures to ease my gender dysphoria, or saved a “rainy day fund” for extended periods of unemployment/major life events.
- Loved Ones and Queer Community – We’ll stay in touch, but it won’t be the same while I’m on trail.
- Recovery Supports – Lack of easy, consistent access to Zoom recovery meetings, my sponsor and other sober friends.
Acknowledgement of Privilege
At this point, it’s important I address the huge amount of privilege I’ve benefited from, and continue to benefit from. That privilege has allowed me to have all of these things to give up in the first place. As a white person who lived publicly as a cisgender man until she was 30 years old, I benefitted from the innumerable privileges associated with presenting as a white cisgender heterosexual man. That greatly impacted the education, career and personal opportunities to which I had access. I don’t take that fact lightly. I’ve also benefited from intergenerational wealth. My grandmother left me some money when she passed this year, and that gift will fund much of my trip.
How I Made the Decision
- Checked in with people and researched info sources I trust and respect – Friends, former thru-hikers, blogs like The Trek, and other folks in the outdoor community. They were all helpful, and most gave the same advice “only you can know what’s right for you”.
- Ran the numbers – I scrolled through Trek blogger posts to find hikers with similar budgets/timelines to estimate my costs. For reference, in 2019 median hikers spent between $5,500-$6,000 on trail according to The 2019 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Survey, plus another $1,000-$2,000 for gear. I’ve allotted a budget of $10,000 for the trip, not including health insurance and phone costs. This should leave wiggle room for any unforeseen emergencies, so I believe my plan is realistic.
- Planned for “Societal Reintegration” – This year more than ever, it’s nearly impossible to know what life will look like 5-6 months from when I start the trail, but I wanted to make sure I’d be able to pay rent the first couple months at least while I job hunt and I know I have “gig” work opportunities available to me to help me get through a longer period without full employment.
- Sat with my options – I didn’t rush myself to decide “Yes” or “No”. I came back to the question week after week to make sure my resolve and resources haven’t changed. This coincidentally, is how I decide what tattoos to get as well… it’s just an overall great life policy in my estimation.
Through this process I became sure that attempting to thru-hike the AT was the right choice for me. I’m responsible for my own happiness and fulfillment, and I won’t feel right unless I follow through. It doesn’t come without financial, medical, professional and personal risk. But when are the best things in life ever risk-free? I’m trusting myself to complete the trail AND to pick up the pieces of my life after the trail… I feel confident I will. Using what I’ve learned, I’ll build something new that’s more authentic and more meaningful than ever.
Thanks for reading along. I hope you’ll stick with me through my entire thru-hike by subscribing to my posts here. And be sure to add me on Instagram @selterskelter. I’d love to hear from you!
PS. If you’re wondering, the title is a reference to the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song “Find the Cost of Freedom”. <3
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