For the Challenge – Attempting the Appalachain Trail Southbound in 2021

I’ve been thinking…

As it gets closer and closer to my AT start date, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the “why”. At the moment, I’m still not really sure why I am so drawn to walking these trails. Or why I want to do the AT, for that matter. Last fall, the thought of an Appalachian trail attempt hadn’t even crossed my mind. I didn’t even want to until another thru-hiker told me about their SOBO thru-hike a few years ago. It was mesmerizing to hear about her walk.

I wanted it. I wanted to walk my way through Appalachia. I wanted rain and steep rocky climbs. I wanted a sufferfest full of small moments. I wanted the Springer mountain finish with none of the glory. I wanted the green tunnel, the rocks, the roots, and the ruts in my dreams. I wanted it. But why?

Ever since I found this life, it’s called to me. Somehow it’s not really something I desire to do, and more of something like a soul need—a necessity. Three years later, I’m still doing it a little every year. Sometimes longer trails, sometimes short. And every year, I need to pack up and get on trail. I’ve worked my life around walking, working only seasonal jobs, or guiding on a flexible schedule to fit thru-hikes in. I’ve quit jobs mid-season. Something will come over me in the spring or summer, and all of a sudden, “I’ve got to go for a walk” is spilling out of my mouth, and if I can’t get time off, it’s a prompt “see yall later” from me to the boss.

I finally made it to the halfway point this year since my incomplete PCT hike in 2018.

Am I ready?

After spending two months on trail hiking the Sierra High Route and 650 miles of the PCT in NorCal, I feel relatively prepared physically, and at this point, I’m in full swing of trail mentality. I started my hiking year on June 14th with my hiking partner Nic, aka “Uncle Nutsack,” and got totally wrecked in the 10 days we spent hiking the SHR. Then, on a complete whim in the Mellow Mountain Hostel, after my ride back home to Utah bailed, I met some thru-hikers and decided to finish the miles I missed on the PCT in 2018. Last week I completed the PCT in Ashland, OR, hitchhiked to Seattle to see a friend, and made my way back to my van near Zion to come to Colorado and continue training for the AT by knocking out some 14ers, hiker trash style, and attempting the Weminuche High Route in Southern Colorado. I hope I’m ready. I know my legs will be. I hope my mind is up for it, too.

I’m more prepared right now than for any hike thru-hike I’ve done before. This is me feeling like a hiking machine on the PCT alternate summiting Castle Peak.

But again, why hike the AT?

For the Challenge

The sufferfest of it calls to me. The gnarlier it gets, the more stoked I find myself. Maybe it’s completing something hard, but after it’s all over, I always wish I was back on the trail, still hiking my way to some terminus in the distance. Either way, the AT looks and sounds and appears to be a tough hike. I like that. This year I wanted to challenge myself with something different. Or at least challenge me differently. Hiking SOBO seemed like a great idea.

There’s a lot “less.”

Less people going in the same direction, especially with a later start than most.

Less time before bad weather, meaning a faster hike to finish in (hopefully) halfway decent weather in the south.

Less relaxing and “fun” than a thru-hike with the ability to take more zeros.

Less views like the alpine in the west.

Sunset on the Sierra High Route

But, there are also a lot of “mores.”

More fall colors.

More solitude in the south.

More intensity.

More gnarly weather to learn how to find gratitude for.

More time walking than not.

More miles per day.

More physically challenging for me.

From the last full day of my PCT hike. Thinking about the end of this adventure and the beginning of the next ones.

Do I even like this shit?

When my hiking partner Chris, aka “Rad,” and I started talking about our hiking plans for the year, his CDT attempt, and my ever-changing plans for the time between the SHR and the AT, he mentioned he wasn’t going to be able to get into Canada for the Great Divide Trail. I asked him if he would come to do the AT with me instead and finish his triple crown. I think it was an easy yes because we virtually shook hands on the idea of going for a 90-day SOBO attempt together pretty quickly after our first conversation.

I’m not sure how I’ll feel once I’m on the trail. I’m sure it will change as I get closer, and likely it will change more once we are standing on the summit of Katahdin, looking South at the beautiful monster we are about to tackle. For now, I’m excited and nervous. Do I have the mental stamina to average high miles for three months? Will I even enjoy it? Will my body hold up after the beating 2200 miles will give it? Sometimes, I wonder if I like this shit. I know that I do. I know deep in my heart. It comes out in hoots and hollers into the trees and open air. I see the love I have for walking on my face in the mirror; filthy, exhausted, and grinning.

I’ve got some time to think about it more as “Rad” finishes the last 400 something miles of his CDT hike as well as a whole solo thru-hike to do before I start making my way out East in a couple of weeks. I couldn’t be more excited. I’m living my dream. I live in my converted Astrovan, I’ve gotten to do a challenging hike and a long-ass section hike already, and I get to spend a week or so in the high country of Colorado, for fun, I might add, before even going to Maine!

Near where I call home in Southern Utah. I said goodby to the desert here before starting my journey East to Maine.

I think I do like it. Dare I say love it.

And I know I need it. I need it in a way I still don’t yet have words to describe, but I imagine I’ll find them as I write about my thru-hike from Maine to Georgia over the next three months. I don’t want to be walking in December, so I think I’ve got to go for a walk. More later, from the trails and the zeros, however few and far they are in between.

Rock on, and I’ll see you out there.

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Comments 5

  • Darrell Smith : Aug 13th

    Good luck! Look forward to reading your posts over the next three months.

  • Oma : Aug 13th

    Truly descriptive writing of the trails and your emotional journey as well. Love it. Love you.

  • Tonya : Aug 14th

    Awesome!! Looking forward to seeing y’all on trail! 🙂

  • lindm0120 : Sep 20th

    Looking forward to reading of your journey on the AT. I live in E TN and my oldest son has sectioned hiked the southern end. Your pic of you summitting Castle Peak is awesome! That needs to be a good sized canvas or poster. Trek on!


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