Growing Out Your Bangs and Other Pre-Trail Challenges

Ever since I was 11 years old I have had beautiful bangs. It’s kind of my thing. In fact, it’s the only good thing about my hair. The Hoyt clan has terrible, thin, stringy, hair, if they have hair at all. But my bangs are spot on. It’s easily my most complimented feature. I’m pretty sure that Zooey Deschanel is my spirit animal not only because of her spunky nature, but fabulous bangs. However, as I prepare for the AT, I recognize that it’s probably a lot more sensible to grow out my bangs so I can keep them out of my face. It’s an awkward transition that I’ve not particularly cared for in any way, shape, or form. As I begin to make such a major sacrifice for the trail, I can’t help but wonder: shoot, is the rest of the trail going to be this hard?

When I made the choice…

Spring 2014 was when I decided to hike the AT. However, Spring 2014 Rachel was in a much different boat than Winter 2015 Rachel. Let’s take a real quick look:

Spring 2014 Rachel:

Barkley and I the night we decided to announce to the world we were thru-hiking the AT.

Barkley and I the night we decided to announce to the world we were thru-hiking the AT.

  • Had just undergone a very bloody ending to a relationship
  • Had no prospect or hope of any kind of job
  • Had no firm direction of where her life was taking her
  • Had nothing to lose

It’s been about a year, and I’m here to tell you, a lot has changed. Since my graduation from college, I have moved back home and tried to make some money for the trail. What I had imagined would be just a simple subbing job turned into an amazing long-term, full semester subbing job for both high school and middle school students. I basically got to be a teacher for half of the school year. I had a wonderful time teaching; it really is something I enjoy very much. And I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it too. My students seem to like me (or lie really well) and I believe I made a good impression on the principals. In fact, my time as a long-term sub ended with a very probable job offer that would have started immediately in January. Not only that, but I had two other very realistic job offers come about as well.

Not only was my professional life beginning to show promise, but so was my love life. I’ll spare you the mushy-gushy romantic details, but basically my boyfriend Josh is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Despite my ardent attempts to ignore him because I had a trail to focus on, I soon found myself falling in love with the man who would soon become my #1 fan and all-time supporter in my trek on the AT (I told you, he’s totally boss).

So, what the heck? Life’s suddenly going to get great for me?

The times they are a changin’

No longer am I such a messed up and clueless person. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my moments, but overall I’m on the upswing. Turns out that when you don’t want, or even need it to, life seems to fall into place.

My boyfriend Josh and I. He's pretty dreamy, so if you're jealous, I get it.

My boyfriend Josh and I. He’s pretty dreamy, so if you’re jealous, I get it.

Suddenly I was finding advice like, “Just work for a few years, get some loans paid off, and then hike the trail…” a lot more desirable. I mean, who wants to leave wonderful students, an enjoyable job that I love, and a great boyfriend? That’s kind of nuts when you really think about it. Which brings me to what I feel is one (just one of many) of the biggest challenges of thru-hiking the AT (note: I’m sure Fall 2015 Rachel will laugh at my naïve audacity that I assume I already know one of the challenges): the part where you actually commit to this decision to abandon comfort for the exact opposite! Why leave all the great things a “normal” lifestyle has to offer? Ask yourself: why would we want to up and leave our jobs, significant others, normal hairstyles, and many other excellent facets of what we have come to call the norm?

Well, folks I’ve got one (once again, one of many) answer for you: it’s because if I don’t now, I probably never will.

Come on, let’s talk about your big but…

In one of my favorite childhood movies, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, he talks to his newfound friend Simone about a dream that she is wary of attempting. As she begins to grow doubtful, Pee-Wee interjects with the classic line, “But what? Everyone I know has a big but…” Back when I was 6, that line made me laugh. Today, it makes me thoughtful – and it also makes me laugh, I mean, let’s be honest – because it’s very true. There are a lot of “big buts” that could keep me from starting. To name a few:

  • “…but I could get a job and start paying student loans.”
  • “…but it will be hard.”
  • “…but it’s super scary.”
  • “…but I’ve never really hiked or camped much at all.”
  • “…but I’ll miss my family and friends.”
  • “…but I literally have a big, lazy, butt, I’m super out of shape, and won’t make it two miles.”
  • “…but I have an awesome boyfriend who will come visit me on the trail and smell my grossness, see my nasty legs, and run back home to find a different girlfriend with a normal level of body odor and leg hair.”

Ugh. Even looking at this list, I can’t help but hear it in my head as a whiny and annoying little voice that makes me sick. Even now, seriously looking at this list, it’s all ridiculous. Any one of these big buts can be confronted with a different and positive big but. Want to see?

  • “…but jobs will always be around.”
  • “…but if it is easy, it’s not worth it.”
  • “…but a lot of times the scary moments make for hilarious stories.”
  • “…but I’ll figure it out.”
  • “…but they’ll be supporting me every step of the way and you’ll have Barkley beside you.”
  • “…but you’ll get in shape, it just might not be fun right away.”
  • “…but…but…yeah, you’re right. You’ll be lucky if you keep him after smelling that bad. Let’s just hope that charming wit of yours saves you when the time comes. If that doesn’t work, then you can always get a cat.”

The timing will NEVER be right

About a year before I actually made my choice to thru-hike, I met the man that would soon become my AT hiking mentor. Kanati, a man who thru-hiked in 2008, and I met at a church fellowship meal, and it didn’t take long for him to launch into his experiences and all of his sage wisdom about the AT. 

Kanati in East TN on a reunion hike in 2011 with Bad Hummus (left) and Yeti (right). If you were thinking, "He looks like Obi-Wan," you'd be right. In more ways than one, he's my Obi-Wan.

Kanati in East TN on a reunion hike in 2011 with Bad Hummus (left) and Yeti (right). If you were thinking, “He looks like Obi-Wan,” you’d be right. He’s my AT Obi-Wan.

I was pretty much hooked from the moment he first said he’d hiked it, firing away all types of questions and hearing incredible tales. Since that meal, where I looked up at him with eager eyes and open ears, I’ve turned to him for many different gear decisions and encouragement. However, I’ll never forget what he told me the very first night I met him, when I happened to mention that thru-hiking was a “bucket list item” for me. He said, “The timing will never be just right to thru-hike the AT, you just have to do it.” And he’s right. Spring 2014 Rachel may have felt that it was the “perfect time” when she made the choice, but the truth is that something will come up and there will always be a big but. And folks, I’m just not going to let a big but (literal or figurative) stop me from hiking this dadgum trail.

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Comments 2

  • Ellen Baldwin : Feb 18th

    I’m having hair issues as well, so I sympathize! I have a side shave on both sides of my head, essentially a long-haired mohawk. It is awkward to grow out. I can’t decide if I should re-buzz it for the trail or leave it scruffy as-is. Ahh, these big decisions!!!

  • Kim : Feb 19th

    This is awesome. I made my decision to thru-hike 2016 back in December and I’ve had ups and downs already on my decision. I’m book-marking this so that 3, 6, or 9 months from now when i hit those lows again i can read it again 🙂


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