Georgia on my Mind… And Chocolate!
It is past midnight right now as I am writing this, and I can’t get that Ray Charles song out of my head. In a little less than a week I will be starting my thru-hike. It doesn’t come without its fair share of anxiety and angst. But I’ve accepted this. This is a very new experience for me. It’s a new experience for most people for that matter, and the days until I start in Georgia can’t come closer. I suppose that as I approach my scheduled start date, it seems only customary to formally introduce myself and elucidate my reasons for hiking. I mean, isn’t that the one of many questions people ask of thru-hikers? Why the hell are you doing this? Are you crazy? Maybe just a little.
Backpacking is a relatively new obsession for me. I didn’t backpack until I moved out East for college. Back home on the West Coast (best coast?), I day hiked. I loved day hikes. I was fortunate to have a wildlife preserve near my house, and I would go to that almost twice a week in the summer. But backpacking? Backpacking, or camping for that matter, never crossed my mind. I did express some desire to camp when I was in elementary school. It started with a simple request to my parents if we could go camping. Next thing you know they went to Costco and bought a Coleman tent. They set it up in the living room, and told my sister and I that we could sleep in it on the weekend. I suppose I should’ve specified that I wanted the tent for outside.
Now to be clear, my parents did this knowingly. They just aren’t the camping type, clearly. Camping was never an activity that we did when we had time. My weekends were mostly preoccupied with soccer games or tournaments and sleeping in a tent in the middle of the woods, or even in the backyard for that matter, never made sense to them. I would ask my parents why we never went camping, and I always heard “we grew up sleeping on dirt, we worked hard so you and your sister don’t have to do that. Why would we camp?” Alright, point taken.
I have found that my parents have less control over me now that I have moved across the entire United States. So against their better judgements, I took on backpacking. I had friends that did it back home and it felt like the next step up from day hiking since I loved doing that so much. I unknowingly joined a backpacking club called DC Ultralight—I had no idea what ultralight backpacking meant. Imagine how out of place I felt when I showed up to the trailhead on my first trip with my 4 pound Gregory Backpack carrying a 2 person tent with a 30 degree synthetic sleeping bag and right across from me was someone with a 40L pack using a tarp and a quilt. My perception of what backpacking was changed after that trip. Here is my lighterpack that is still subject to change, if you’re interested. Be honest, you don’t care. Only they do (that is a joke).
Now I can’t identify the exact time and the exact reason on why I decided I wanted to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. There were a whole host of factors that accumulated over a long period. Some of it was my frustration with adapting to zoom and semi-in-person classes. The culture shift of living in a big city definitely played a factor. And going to Mt. Rogers for the 4th of July for sure sparked some interest of seeing what the whole trail had in store (I can’t wait to go back and see the ponies). But when I think about it, I do feel that my real reason for hiking won’t be something that I know now. There are things that are hidden, clouded by the chaos of life, that I know will be illuminated when I start walking with the Summer.
Ultimately, do I have overt reasons for why I’m hiking? Of course, on the surface I do. I’m doing it to explore a part of the US I have never seen before. I’m doing it to finally feel free after two years feeling more or less confined in a large city. But did I have to put myself up to the task of walking 2200 miles during my summer vacation? No. But something just told me I had to. That’s the closest thing I have to a reason at the moment, so there it is. If nothing what I just said made any sense, I would like to remind the readers, does any of this really make sense? Starting a thru-hike NOBO May 8th? Get to Katahdin before school starts August 31st? My parents would say no. My co-workers and bosses would say no. I think most people would say no. But here I am, taking the complicated, at times, unnecessary route. For truly what? I’ll have to hike to find out. If you see me on trail say hi! Or not, I don’t care.
Some gratitude to end it all.
Thank you Mom, Dad, and Sister who let me take this awesome adventure. I promise I will be home in August. I love you guys.
Thank you to my coworkers and bosses at REI. Although many of you think I won’t finish or possibly die on trail (Brian, Alec, Julia, Marlena, and Lynda), I’ve had a lot of support and encouragement from you all (Kevin, Michael, and Grace). Special shoutout to Grace, Emmy, Sam, and Colin-ish who said they think I can finish.
Thank you DCUL and all of the people I backpacked with. One can never be fully prepared for a thru-hike, but I’d say I have done pretty well to prepare as much as I can because of you all. Thank you Karan and Kylie for being my chauffeurs to trailheads. Shoutout to Adrian, Kylie, and David who believe I will finish. Also, Susanne I’m expecting some trail magic when I’m in Maryland!
Thank you to my friend Julia who has graciously agreed to be my storage garage this summer. Thank you for the free food this year, teaching me how to behave when I’m going through the south, and most importantly, introducing me to Pimento cheese.
Thank you to my friend Emily who will also be holding onto my gear. Everyone needs a friend who is willing to hold onto your smelly gear and ice axes. Although you think you own elevation because you went to school in Colorado, you’ve been an awesome person to go on adventures with nonetheless. Also you understand that a hike isn’t over until you go to a Waffle House. Hope to go on more adventures when I get back (with your fellow Coloradoan Abby?).
Special shoutout to my old friends back at the Chocolate House who were the first ones to hear about my crazy idea of hiking the AT. The store is still my favorite place. I will be back in the Fall, if you will have me.
If you’re reading this and wondering, what can I do to support? Crack open a bottle of Kombucha, grab a piece of your favorite chocolate bar or truffle (No Hersheys, no Lindt, no Ghiradelli, no Russel Stover, no Ferrero Rocher. These are for smores only, not for normal consumption. Instead go for a 70% dark chocolate bar with fruit inclusions. If it were me, I would go for one with orange inclusions. If you’re a milk chocolate person, maybe be bold and try a dark milk bar around the 55%-60% range). I love chocolate. Sue me.
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Chandler,stay safe and know you’ll make it to Katahdin.