Hiker Intro: From Harpers Ferry to the High Sierra and Back

As I open the countdown clock app on my phone for the 6th time today, it really dawns on me that my dream is inching closer to becoming a reality.  With less than one month left until I drive down to Georgia to start the Appalachian Trail, I feel all of the typical feelings associated with a first thru-hike – anxieties of preparedness and loneliness, but also an insane amount of stoke.  As I tie up loose ends and buy final pieces of gear (thanks REI dividend!), I figured I should introduce myself to y’all!

A Little About Me

My name is Anelia (pronounced uh-NELL-ee-yuh, not like Amelia), and I am a 24-year-old gal from Maryland.  While pursuing degrees in History and Communication Arts & Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University, I was introduced to the amazing world of seasonal employment with the National Park Service, which I have been doing for the past five summer seasons.  My interest in thru-hiking the AT was sparked during my freshman year of high school on a very formative school trip to Harpers Ferry, but my dream to thru-hike solidified after a summer internship in 2017 with the NPS, also in Harpers Ferry.  Through this internship, I developed an immense love for public lands, but I also met many thru-hikers and started developing plans to one day hike the AT myself.  There was something about the spirit of all of the thru-hikers I spoke with – to me, they were living life on their own terms in a way that really inspired me.  That’s when I truly realized that I wanted to get out there myself.

First solo backpacking trip in Sequoia National Park, definitely mastered the egg head selfies.

I put my thru-hiking dream on hold as I finished my undergraduate degrees, working seasonally in between semesters.  After my internship in Harpers Ferry, I decided to actually become a park ranger.  I landed a seasonal gig in Sequoia National Park between my sophomore and junior years of college, where I further explored my love of backpacking and exploring the High Sierra.  I immediately knew I was hooked and spent my weekends logging as many miles as I could.

The following season I worked as a park ranger in Washington, D.C., a weird but valuable few months where I quickly realized city life was not for me.  I finished my degrees in May 2020, remotely in the midst of the pandemic, and immediately ran back to Sequoia as quickly as I could.  I spent the seasons of 2020 and 2021 working in the Sierra Nevada mountains, falling more in love with that mountain range and the amazing folks that live the seasonal lifestyle.  However, devastating wildfires swept through the park in both 2020 and 2021, leading to evacuations and an overall sense of panic that I needed a break from.  After my season ended early in 2021 due to wildfires, I decided to bum around California and Oregon for a few months.  I lived out of my Hyundai Elantra – climbing, hiking, and exploring as much of this wild part of the world as I could.  I climbed in Smith Rock, camped along the Oregon coast, and spent weeks exploring California from Big Sur to Joshua Tree to Bishop, where I got a Wilderness First Responder Certification with NOLS.  I was stoked on the vagrancy, on the adventure, on learning as much as I could, on the people I met during my travels.

Car camping in Bishop, CA.

My Decision to Thru-Hike

After a couple of months being a dirtbag, I decided I needed to settle down for the winter.  I was yearning for regular showers and a savings account that wasn’t quickly dwindling, and the Appalachian Mountains where I’ve spent the majority of my life continued to call to me.  I made the decision to head home to Maryland for the winter, to spend time with family and think about next steps.  For the first time in my adult life, I decided to not apply for a summer seasonal position and instead pursue the thru-hike that I’ve been dreaming about since that first trip to Harpers Ferry 10 years ago.

So, yes, I am filled with the typical feelings of anxiety and excitement one would have before their first thru-hike, but I am trying to focus as much on the excitement as possible.  The next month will be filled with shakedown hikes, plenty of see-ya-laters with friends and family, and last-minute enjoyments of the comforts I have living at home.  But ever since I left California I have been dreaming of the greasy hair, the mornings spent drinking instant coffee before the day’s adventures, the new scenery and exploration, the mental challenge of the uncertainty.  I am excited to prove to myself that I can do hard things, both mentally and physically, and to finally embark on this dream that I’ve had since childhood.  As nervous as I am for this next chapter, I could not be more excited to finally get out there!

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