Hi Hello, Let Me Introduce Myself
Hey, folks! My name is Ben and I’ll be blogging for the Trek as I attempt a northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in the Spring of 2024.
The trail has been a dream of mine ever since I watched the first Lord of the Rings movie as a pre-teen. What purer form of adventure and friendship could there be than a walk through hazy mountain passes, sprawling valleys and plains. A continent-wide hunt for some higher good with strangers and nearly-friends, all while pursued by unholy creatures of the abyss?
Where I Come From
I am from Rochester, NY, but moved away in 2014 to build trails in California with AmeriCorps. There I met a girl from Manhattan, KS, who talked me into moving to Kansas City the following year. Kansas City, MO is where we have lived for the most part since then, working in libraries and environmental non-profits around the metro, and teaching geography at one of the local community colleges.
Right now I work on a training farm for refugees and immigrants who are interested in starting small farms. Most of my career has been spent in environmental non-profits of some kind, many looking at the ways public health and wellbeing intersect with the local ecology. The rest of my time is spent reading, writing, and whatever seasonal hobby (fixation) I’ve locked onto. Photography, cycling, mandolin, Neo-paganism, gardening, rock climbing, puzzles, dog training, whittling, have all made the rounds through our house. Thru-hiking would make the list of the fly-by-night interests, except for one thing.
Planning for an attempt of an Appalachian Trail thru-hike has been in the works for years now. An earlier attempt in 2021 was canceled by the Covid-19 pandemic. Back then, my motivation was to have a “hard, backbreaking, heart wrenching adventure,” and while that remains true, I feel it a little deeper now than I did two years ago.
More than a test of will in the mountains, I believe more firmly now in the trail as a channel for a renewed perspective on what is important to me in my longer term life trajectory.
Not My First Time in the Woods
This won’t be my first time in the woods. As mentioned, I have experience with AmeriCorps building backcountry trails in the Sierra Nevada, which was the first foray in my adult-life into tent living. Since then I’ve backpacked in the Finger Lakes of upstate New York and the Ozark mountains of south central Missouri, and spent plenty of time in the Adirondacks, Colorado, Kansas, and Utah.
However, 2024 will be my first time thru-hiking. My biggest challenge while out on my own on a backpacking trip has always come not from the physical effort of hiking, climbing and generally slogging across the land. It’s always been a mental game– a recognition that going out into the woods alone, in some ways, is a profoundly unnatural act. We are social creatures, and tearing my mind away from home with its warm bed and food and loved ones, has always been the main hurdle.
Which brings me to how I’m preparing for that.
What Can I Expect?
The book “Appalachian Trials: a Psychological and Emotional Guide to Successfully Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail,” by Zach Davis was important to my preparation in 2021. The book helped emphasize for me that the hard part of thru hiking is not necessarily walking for thousands of miles through the wilderness. The hard part is often the journey’s psychological aspects– eaving loved ones and routines behind for an upsettingly long stay in the outdoors.
While I won’t detail the specifics here, my takeaways from the book included the importance of clearly stated goals, and tightly managed expectations. It’s important to spend time exploring they “why’s” of your journey, but it’s also important to understand that no matter your prior experience, thru-hiking and thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail will defy any preconceived expectations.
I have hopes and suspicions about how the trek will go: parts of me will be melted down and reformed, more likely than not. However, I am trying my best not to go in with rock solid expectations for how the trail will feel, or how I’ll react to the conditions as the summer progresses.
The Japanese saying applies here, “Hold on tightly, let go lightly.” Fervently believing in and commiting to your ideas and goals is the only way anything gets accomplished in life. But we also have to be keenly aware of when those same ideas and goals no longer serve us, or might even be hurting us. In those moments we have to be willing to let go.
What You, Dear Reader, Can Expect From Me
I had a friend who completed the Pacific Crest Trail a few years ago. He strongly suggested putting together a creative project to tie to my hike. Beyond something to keep your mind busy, a video or a blog or a photo essay, is a way to capture and channel the emotions, successes, trials and tribulations of the long walk.
I’ll be posting the usual gear lists, training schedules, and preparations in the months leading up to my trip. I will also be using this blog as an honest mirror into my feelings and experiences on the trail. 2024 promises to get really real, so I hope you’re ready for it.
Anyways, nice to meet you. Like I said, I plan to keep you all nice and updated on my preparations for the trail, so keep a look out. I’ll see you in the new year.
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