From Never Backpacking to Springer in Two Months
Up until mid-December 2017 I had never backpacked in my life. This is my story of how I decided, planned, and hit the Appalachian Trail in two months as well as my hiker-intro post.
Why I Chose to Hike the AT
Though it’s true I am an Eagle Scout and have done my share of car camping (or glamping, as the kids say these days), until December of last year I had never backpacked before. Actually, I never really had an interest in backpacking. After leaving my summer job in northern Michigan, my life was a blank slate. I had no future job lined up and had just ended a relationship. Suddenly, I found myself with an urge to go off into the wilderness for some self-reflection. A little nature and solitude would do me some good, I thought.
So with ample free time and the world at my disposal, I decided to hike the Grand Canyon from rim to rim to rim in December 2017. I had visited the canyon earlier in the year but didn’t have the chance to hike down to the river. Hiking from one side to the other and back seemed just the kind of wilderness adventure I needed. However, five days in the canyon meant backpacking. I chickened out on the self-reflection part and invited some friends to come along. This proved to be a great introduction to backpacking and we were able to help each other out and make mistakes without dire consequences. I borrowed most of my gear and it was a good way to figure out what worked for me and what didn’t. In hindsight, this was my shakedown hike.
After completing the hike, I felt confident in my wilderness survival instincts. After all, I was an Eagle Scout. It seemed there wasn’t too much to this backpacking thing. As my friends and I road-tripped back to Wisconsin, I was still riding the high from the canyon. I thought, what if I just keep hiking? Life was so simple on the trail. Everything I needed was on my back and all I had to do was wake up each morning and walk.
As we drove, we listened to the audiobook “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. The thought of the Pacific Crest Trail crossed my mind but the logistics and timing of a PCT thru-hike didn’t work as well as an AT hike. By Christmas, this thought of a thru-hike had manifested into a decision. I was going to hike the AT. I had decided on a whim, but why not?
How I Planned My Hike in Two Months
To be honest, I didn’t really plan that much. I’m a procrastinator. I had now backpacked five days in the Grand Canyon; the AT would just be 30 five-day hikes, right? Sounded easy enough. Throughout January and February I spent most of my time binge-watching “Shameless” on Netflix. In my brief productive moments I perused a couple of gear lists on The Trek and made a few trips to my local REI.
I went through my gear list and narrowed it down as best I could. There were enough trail towns and post offices on the AT if I needed to add or remove any items. Not wanting to be a part of the bubble of hikers leaving in the spring, I opted for a Feb. 28 start.
Thus, I planned my hike via reading other hikers’ gear lists and adapting them to my own needs and buying a guidebook. I think most potential hikers get bogged down in the planning stage when you really just have to get out there and do it. Figure it out as you go. At the time, I didn’t feel it necessary to do any shakedown hikes with my newly bought gear—the Grand Canyon hike had served this purpose.
Ready to Go
The two days before I left were a bit hectic with packing. As I said, I’m a procrastinator. Finally, with my backpack packed I headed off for Springer Mountain.
For me, the AT was going to be a mental challenge, not physical. I was off to seek adventure in the wilderness. I craved the solitude of nature and the camaraderie of the hiker community. I was hoping to breathe into myself a greater sense of self-reliance, autonomy, and independence. I was ready, yet anxious for what was to come. And if I was not ready, learning from my mistakes would be part of the journey.
Eight Weeks Later
Now, after eight weeks of hiking, I am almost 900 miles along and going strong. Future hikers, you don’t need to stress about the hike. As they say at Nike, just do it!
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