14 States in 14 Weeks

Thru-hiking the Appalachian trail is a slightly insane challenge to take on for anyone. Going solo on this journey is another challenge for me. Now I am faced with a new task, and that is only having 14 weeks to finish. This is not at all by choice. This is how life works out sometimes. My life as a single mom is not as flexible with time. Due to my children having to start school in early September I will only have their summer break to complete this.

Thru-Hiking as a Single Mom

The hardest part for me won’t be the challenge of racing the clock, or the pain my body will feel from all of those miles every day. Being away from my children is what is going to be so difficult. I have three children between the ages of 13 and 5 years old. How could I leave them for months? How selfish of me, some people have said. In my mind I know it’s necessary. This is not something I cannot explain so easily to anyone.

I am a single mother. I was widowed two years ago. Since my grief journey began my only purpose to my life was to take care of my children. I had no other reason to be alive. I did not want to live without my husband and here I was breathing every day and waking up in this same nightmare over and over again. The only thing that kept me breathing was hearing the word mom.

As a single mom there are no breaks. I had no time to heal. School doesn’t stop for kids when daddy dies. Holidays keep coming like a freight train of memories barreling through my head, leaving me in a terrible depression until weeks after they were over. Life doesn’t stop when death comes. All of the day-to-day tasks were in front of me at a rate I couldn’t mentally keep up with. My life was immediately consumed with work and school for them. Life was continuing without my partner, and without any help. My husband’s life was replaced by this unspeakable pain. There are no words for this feeling that was left inside of me.

I Started to Feel Alive Again

I could not keep up with life anymore. It became overwhelming. I quit my job this past summer and started to finally take time for myself. I took the entire summer off to be with my kids. We started camping a lot. Three out of seven days a week we spent in the mountains near our house. There was no phone service, no social media, no internet. We spent time with each other. I finally started to love something again. I felt something change inside me. I was happy out there. We would laugh and play in the creek together. We would cuddle up in the tent when it would rain and share memories about their dad. It felt strange for me to have those feelings. I started to feel like I was still alive.

I can’t tell you the moment that hiking the Appalachian Trail came into my mind. I don’t know how it got there, but I can tell you this. Ever since I started thinking about hiking it I have been slightly obsessed. By slightly obsessed, I mean it’s been keeping me up at night. Some days it’s all I’ve been able to think about. It’s calling my name. The best way to explain it is that I lost something out there. Something irreplaceable and I have to take time to go find it because I can’t live without it.

Time Is not on My Side

Time has been my enemy since my husband’s death. Not having enough time, wanting time to pass for pain to dissolve. I did not have enough time with him. Time is once again an issue. I only have 14 weeks to complete the Appalachian Trail. I have three months to do what it takes most people six months. Taking on a challenge like this, then putting a deadline on it, is a death sentence.

Many people will say I can’t do it. I have to average over 20 miles a day for 14 weeks to complete the Appalachian Trail. This is without any zeros. Zero days are days to rest where you don’t hike any miles. There is no time for breaks. I will not argue with anyone that says I can’t do it. I will just show them that I can. This hand I’ve been dealt by life is hard to play, this losing hand I’m holding. I am still here. I am still fighting and I also now know that my life is worth fighting for.

The trail does not need me. It will remain without me going out there. There will be thousands of thru-hikers on there every year with their own stories, and their own reasons to take on the trail. I need it to prove to myself I can do something impossible. I am not expecting a miracle out there. My husband is not coming back to life when I reach that last mile. I am hoping to come back to life, and more than anything I want to take this precious time to appreciate my children and the life I was given. I can only do that by stepping away. So here’s what I say: Challenge accepted, Mother Nature.

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Comments 4

  • Jim Baker : Nov 16th

    Hi Angela,
    Your article shows an amazing amount of courage and motivation, and I think you’re incredibly strong to have endured such a tragic loss and to plan a 14 week Thru-Hike. I have to urge you, though, to consider something a bit more doable! I hiked the AT in 2017-2018; my daughter and I began together in Harpers Ferry and hiked north to Katahdin, then returned to Harpers Ferry and started hiking south. Our flip flop ended when she became ill and had to stop. I continued, in bits and pieces over the next year, but did finish. I hiked 22+ mile days occasionally but rarely, and really can’t imagine doing it every day. You simply cannot, many days, due to terrain and weather and foot problems or resupply needs or any number of things. Really. Please consider doing half of a flip flop hike during those 14 weeks – take time to see the world around you and actually enjoy yourself. You need that, I believe. I wish you the best – but please, set a goal that is humanly possible!
    Take care,

  • Ruth Morley : Nov 16th

    Angela, I agree with Jim. I understand your desire to do it all in one go, but the trail is extremely demanding in many sections, particularly NH and southern ME. Having done 9/10 of the trail so far, I’ve been humbled, challenged and even frightened by some sections. I’ve had to leave twice for unforeseen injuries. Bodies can only take so much abuse without sufficient rest.

    Please reconsider your plan. Be kind to yourself. Please consider doing half the trail this first year. Soak up the restorative calm of the forests. Enjoy the companionship of fellow backpackers. Take time to linger by streams after collecting water, instead of pushing yourself to extremes to make your daily 20 miles. Take time off every week for a zero day to be kind to your body and soul. They deserve this.

    I sincerely wish the very best to you.

  • Tony : Nov 24th

    Wishing you will find what you need. Some things from the article and your bio I think are important. First, “the trail will remain.” Second, you are a “novice hiker.” It’s not the miles that matter. It’s the time you spend on yourself out there. Why not hike a distance that will allow you to absorb the experience. And allow you to move from novice to veteran at a more leisurely pace. All the best!

  • Kathleen Atkinson : Nov 24th

    I took an outdoor adventure class in high school and learned quite a bit about the AT. I got to talk to someone who set out to through hike the trail and had it all planned out that he’d be doing 20miles per day. They mapped it all out, scheduled all of their resupply points, and knew exactly where every day was going to start and end.

    That whole plan went out the window about 1 week into their trek. By the time they got to NH, and the Mahoosucs 20 miles a day wasn’t even an option.

    I wish you luck, but just hope you’re setting a realistic goal for yourself, especially where you’re tying the achievement of that goal directly to a measure of healing.


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