Hello! Nice To Meet You!
If You’re Reading This…
You are curious about hiking the AT or reading about the trials and tribulations of those who are adventurous (crazy) enough to try. Obviously, I am one of those people. Trail-name Daddy Long Trails (so dubbed by my GF). I was turned onto the idea by my best friend, trail-name Hook, who completed the AT with his wife, Swiss Miss in 2017. Hook introduced me to Warrior Expeditions (WE), a veteran nonprofit outdoor therapy program that helps veterans transition from their wartime experiences through long-distance outdoor expeditions.
Around fall of 2021, I submitted my application… why not right?! Fast forward to December of the same year and I got my first response! A little more ‘to and fro’ via email, a video interview, and viola, I found out on Christmas last year I was selected!!! My official start date, along with nine other veterans, is 26 March 2023, eight days after I hang up the uniform! #NOBO So that’s the “how”… let’s get to the “why”.
After serving in the United States Army since I was 17, I was conditioned to really only do one thing… Army. I was prepared to serve 30-plus years or until they kicked me out. In short, that wasn’t in the cards. In fact, I submitted my WE application before my retirement was approved. The universe happened to be handing out atta boys because technically speaking, I’ll still be on active duty the first threeish months of the hike! In fact, I haven’t even started clearing (administrative stuff to GTFO) yet! I’ll be officially retired somewhere around Pennsylvania (hopefully) or the first of July (actually). So now, here I am, a 41-year-old near-retiree with a little wanderlust and a lotta time. I have the support of my family, awesome/hot girlfriend, and friends. All because of some awesome people trying to help veterans reload and rewire their brains.
Oh yeah, the why. Like I said in my interview with WE, I can’t think of a better way to reset the noggin and transition to civilian life than to be in nature for six months. As a combat medic with four combat tours, you could say I’ve seen and done some things. While I am proud of my service, I’m not keen on carrying things that no longer need be carried. So, in the epic and ever so accurate words of Earl Shaffer, I want to “walk the Army out of my system”. There are other reasons I am electing to do a thru-hike, but “transitioning” is numero uno!
So Now What…
Unlike the vast majority of people who prepare for the AT, some choices are removed from consideration (thankfully). All of my gear, minus my personal items, is being provided for me… box checked. So instead of pouring over the infinite supply of what pack weighs this much or which shoe goes that fast or what date is best to avoid or encounter x, y, z, I just get to read, research and train! I’m kinda an alpha nerd.
Books I’ve read in the last four weeks include “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson (hilarious) and “Appalachian Trials” (will reread closer to start date) by Zach Davis. I’m about halfway through “Pushing North” by Trey Free and I have one left in the chamber, “Walkin’ with the Ghost Whisperers” by J.R. “Model-T” Tate. If there are any book nerds reading this, drop a suggestion in the comments!
My research on The Trek led me to this blogging opportunity. I have never blogged or journaled about anything. I had planned journaling anyhow, via IG and the written word. Again, as another facet of reconditioning my brain to live in the moment. So, I figured why not just blog it for everyone, kind of a forcing function to make sure I write stuff down!
As far as training goes, I’ve completely changed my routine. As you may have guessed, physical fitness is a staple of military life. While some take it more seriously than others, I am of the serious camp. I was one of the Kool-Aid drinking CrossFit cultists for years, started back when there was only like one website. Then for shits and giggles, I gave bodybuilding a shot. I was mildly (overstatement) successful in each, so paying taxes at the gym or in the streets is no strange thing for me.
I’ve actually had to pump the breaks in regard to my training, transitioning back to functional fitness, only a couple of strength days, and of course, hiking! Any current or former military person, who gave a damn, will tell you that ruck-marching is not something you do at a leisurely pace. I have to constantly remind myself to slow down, it’s not a race and I’m not on a clock. While mentally different, physically, it’s nice. Like any other 20 plus year veteran, I’ve got some kinks in the gears. I am planning on a 92-mile thru hike in February. The Lone Star Hiking Trail is the longest trail in Texas and a good place to start my humble fest.
More Reasons and a Couple of Fears…
As previously mentioned, “walk the Army out”, but a few more reasons for electing to hike the AT include:
- BAMF rights… I mean come on! I’m in awe of all those who’ve completed this monumental task and hope to join the fold. Almost 2200 miles… that’s close to double what Frodo and Sam accomplished.
- I’m a self-prescribed introverted extrovert… one of my goals is to meet and talk to as many people as possible for reasons other than the agenda for the day.
- Get back to the basics. Meaning unplug from the automated world we now live in. Enjoy the journey type vibes. A deliberate slowing down of my life, at least for a bit.
The fears. While I might be naive or completly foolish regarding the common fears people have before the AT, I can honestly say that my biggest fears are serious injury (I’m a little worn down) or illness (ticks… yuck). Being away from loved ones is something I’ve coped with many times and for much longer durations than the estimated AT time. Money isn’t really an issue, as long as I don’t party like a rockstar. Being alone (potentially) is not the same as being lonely. Bears, meh, I’ve thru-hiked, camped and Armied in Alaska. “So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice” – Carl Spackler.
I’ll do a gear post in the near future, so you know what the WE will be providing me. I’ll keep you updated with my training and insights to… well, me. Keep in mind, I am not a professional hiker… in fact, I’m about to be a professional at nothing (woot woot)! This will be my first undertaking at a thru hike of this magnitude… so grains of salt people. You can also follow along with my training, meals, etc… on IG @daddylongtrails. Hope this helps someone out there. Lastly, I’d like to thank the Trek for allowing me the opportunity to publish my thoughts, processes, and ramblings. I think that about covers it… i.e. I’m running out of stuff to type. Happy trails!
“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”
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I’m excited to read about your journey! It will be interesting to see how your “why” and whole state of being evolves and deepens over the course of the trail.
Be the you I know you can be, do the you you have always been, share what you can, absorb all that makes you better…. So excited for you to begin the next chapter in your life…. Tk you to all who have made this possible and assisted with this journey. What an opportunity….!!!
Outstanding read, brother! I’m so stoked for you embarking on this adventure, and am super anxious to watch/read as you make your way from the bottom to the top!
I sure hope you out the the pack they give you……after footwear it’s got to be right. Good luck.
BLACK HAWK! 1/1 CAV ’77-EVER