From Hating the Outdoors to Hiking the Appalachian Trail
An Uninspiring Start
I was a typical, introverted, nerdy teen. The type of teen whose parents joked about them being a vampire. My Vitamin D levels were so low that I had to get a prescription for high dosage Vitamin D supplements. I even had a written description for 30 minutes of sunlight a day. Hiking on a trail would be the last place you could find me. In fact, to me the outdoors were uncomfortable, unfulfilling and gross. But then I entered college, and I developed intense anxiety.
Suddenly, taking the wrong route to school led my mind down a terrifying spiral of negative self-talk. I was not in a good place. I had an intense obsession with the idea of perfection and what other people thought of me. My mom would always say that getting outdoors and exercising would help, and for the longest time, I ignored her advice. Finally, I gave in and tried going on a small hike through a local historical park and found that mom was right.
Things Start to Change
I was immediately hooked and started looking into hiking. I very quickly stumbled upon thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. It sounded like the perfect post-graduation plan. I started “getting the gear” and planning short hikes to work up to being a thru-hiker. One such hike was a failed attempt at the C&O Canal, where my father injured his knee. I found that when hiking I wasn’t as concerned about things not going perfectly. My mind took the accidents and mistakes I made as inevitable learning experiences. I learned how to actually mentally deal with failure and managed to go on a couple of really great hikes along the AT with my family. It’s easier to stop chasing perfection, once you leave it to nature to decide how things will be.
I decided not to do a 2017 thru-hike, in favor of working abroad in Mongolia as an English for Specific Purposes Instructor. I definitely don’t regret that decision. Living in Mongolia and seeing the history of nomadism has given me more confidence in my own ability to hike the trail. It has also given me the perfect gym for preparing for a thru-hike. There are hundreds of hike-able mountains (as you can see in the banner photo) and the -40 degree winters will help me prepare for winter camping.
Where I Stand Today
So the real question is…why are you doing this. I no longer need to be prescribed high dose Vitamin D, and I willingly go outside on my own. I’m an adult who has a great academic future. Why bother taking 6 months and hiking, when I could be getting a job or getting my masters? I honestly don’t have a long philosophical, romantic, or insightful answer. My reason is plain and simple. I’m doing this because I feel like I need to. When I think about returning to America, I think of the trail *insert cliche John Muir quote here*. I’m now gathering gear, that I won’t be able to see until I get back to the USA a week or two before my hike. I can’t guarantee that things will go smoothly, but I’m hoping that the trail will provide.
If you would like to read more about my adventures teaching in Mongolia, you can check out my personal blog and follow me on Instagram and Twitter.
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