Why Are You Hiking the Appalachian Trail?

“Do you think you should do this, at your advanced age?” my 66-year-old dad said to me last night half-jokingly at dinner.

I am 42, just left my job of 12 years, and am off to live in the woods. Six months ago the phrase “NOBO AT thru-hiker” meant nothing to me; in just a few short days it will be my work, my daily existence, my identity.

At My Advanced Age…

I turn over the word “advanced” in my head. I look it up and see that when not referring to my age, it means “far on or ahead in development or progress; new and not yet generally accepted.” Also “to move forward in a purposeful way.” So thanks, Dad. I guess I’ll own this word.

I’ve been trying to convince myself lately, “This is the perfect time to thru-hike the AT: I’m young enough and old enough.” After all, my inspiration came from meeting a 60-year-old thru-hiker woman at Bear Mountain last year. I know that for me, at 22, I would not have had the mental fortitude or emotional stamina to take on what’s ahead.

Why This? Why Now?

I get why people ask. It’s like when I see a woman lugging her suitcase through the airport in high stiletto heels, my first thought is “Wow!” and my second thought is “Why?” This pretty much sums up people’s reaction to my news. I’m leaving a dear community of friends and colleagues, a rewarding job of over a decade, and a neighborhood I love. And I’m not coming back. Not to the same situation, anyway. This thru-hike is the bridge between what came before and what comes next, and I don’t yet know what that will be.

So how do I answer the “why” question? I start with the usual things—needing a change, longing for the outdoors, curiosity about new towns and people, time to sort things out, etc.

But it really boils down to what I recently heard magician Nate Staniforth say about his choice of profession: “Sometimes you know something about yourself that you can’t prove by any other way other than just doing it.”

Here’s What I Don’t Say

People keep telling me I’m brave. And I wonder: what’s the line between brave and reckless? Brave and impulsive? Brave and foolish?

Last summer after I guest-preached at a church, a six-year-old girl came up and asked if I would pray for her to be brave. Her face beamed up at me with urgency and beauty and a whole lifetime of hard things, and I recall thinking, “Girl, you’re brave already.”

Bravery and courage can be tricky words. Author and activist Glennon Doyle said, “Courage—it’s always got rage in it.” I can’t get that out of my mind, the rage part.

I love my life overall, but there have been some doors that have slammed shut for me in recent years: personally, vocationally, relationally.

“The grief-armies assemble, but I’m not going with them,” writes the Sufi poet Rumi. And I won’t. I won’t let my life be defined by the blows that invariably come to us all.

Still. There are hurts I have yet to hike out. Losses I can only lament into a hailstorm. Questions that need to be hurled from across a ravine, waiting for an echo reply.

So It Begins

Though “new and not yet generally accepted,” I trust the next six months on the Appalachian Trail will move me forward in a purposeful way. I believe that thru-hiking, however it all shakes out, will change me into a grittier, funnier, kinder version of myself: a woman more wide open and unafraid in the face of storms, blisters, hunger, and humanity.

Advance onward.

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Comments 74

  • Kim : Mar 14th

    The road less traveled…many wish they could, including me…advance on Cari!!!

    Reply
    • Carilyn Pattison : Mar 14th

      Thanks Kim!

      Reply
  • Christina : Mar 14th

    Look forward to reading about your adventures!

    Reply
    • Cari Pattison : Mar 14th

      Thank you Christina!

      Reply
  • Barbara : Mar 14th

    I am so excited for you and I look forward to following your adventure! Rage is a useful thing… a force to be channeled, a catalyst for change. Rage on!

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thanks Barbara!

      Reply
  • Erik : Mar 14th

    Prayers for you in this trek! May the journey uplift, encourage and inspire you for what is to come!

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thanks Erik!

      Reply
  • Jill Muir : Mar 14th

    Let your journey begin.. one step at a time 😊

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thank you Jill!

      Reply
  • Anne Binkley : Mar 14th

    Totally cool 😎 Cari! I wish you the best of luck and courage with many blessings along the way!

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thank you Anne!

      Reply
  • Sara : Mar 14th

    Proud of you! Can’t wait to follow along with your adventure! You have a lot of support here rooting you on! <3 Sara

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thanks Sara!

      Reply
  • Kelly Jancski : Mar 14th

    Cari,
    I met you at the start of another great adventure- our first yoga teacher training. That was a pivot point that required faith and bravery, and ultimately changed our outlooks and life trajectories. Thank you for taking us with you in this meaningful way. I have no doubt that nature and God will lay out triumphs and tribulations wherein you will find the answers you seek. Keep Calm and Hike on!

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thank you Kelly!

      Reply
  • SusanSB : Mar 14th

    Eager to follow the journey and keeping you in prayer as you sojourn!

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thanks Susan!

      Reply
  • Tamara Tucker : Mar 14th

    Happy trails Cari! I look forwards to reading about your journey

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thank you Tammy!

      Reply
  • Christine : Mar 14th

    When I think of you on the AT, I imagine another trail of beautiful energy left behind with every step you take. I look forward to learning where your journey takes you.

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thank you Chris!!

      Reply
  • Denise : Mar 14th

    “Girl! You’re already brave!” Enjoy this time. Be well, be safe, be bold! *me be jealous* 🙂

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thanks Denise!

      Reply
  • Deb : Mar 14th

    “Advanced Age” – That cracked me up! LOL! I’m 58 and heading out this year for a Flip Flop Thru. Age is just a number. You got this!!

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thanks Deb!

      Reply
  • Andy : Mar 14th

    Is there a way we can subscribe to your posts? I’m not seeing it…

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Yes Andy- there should be a link on the blog.

      Reply
    • TaoJones : Mar 14th

      At the bottom of the story, click on the AUTHOR PAGE link. At the top of the next page, you’ll see Subscribe to Cari Pattison’s Posts. Put your email address in the box and click on SUBMIT. There ya go . . .

      TJ

      Reply
  • Heather : Mar 14th

    I am so inspired by your cou(rage)! Looking forward to following your journey. Sending prayers, positive vibes, and sisterly support!

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thanks Heather!

      Reply
  • Karla : Mar 14th

    I look forward to each and every post and will pray for great and powerful things to grace your path!

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thanks Karla!

      Reply
  • Ruth Morley : Mar 14th

    Based on your writing and attitude in general, I would love to hear you preach. And I’d also happily join your yoga classes!

    As for your father, please let him know that this 66 year old gramma of two has completed the southern half of the AT and will do the northern half starting in May. 42 sounds pretty darned young to me! Just remember to take your first month easy, with shorter daily mileage. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has excellent advice online regarding training. This approach truly works, spoken from experience.

    I look forward to following your blogs. Remember, don’t let the others with jack rabbit starts influence you. Take care of your body and it’ll take care of you.

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thank you Ruth!

      Reply
    • Nancy Protzman : Mar 16th

      Cari is a wonderful preacher! We’ll miss her at our church.

      Reply
  • Ruth Morley : Mar 14th

    For those who want to subscribe to these posts, scroll down to the end of her entry. There you’ll find her photo and bio. Just under the photo you can tap on Author’s Page. This page will give you a space where you can enter your email address to subscribe.

    That said, this subscription works off and on. Just make note of how to find her online and check periodically. It would probably work also to just Google her full name, the Trek, and Appalachian Trail. That should get you there.

    Reply
  • Sian : Mar 14th

    Darling Cari.
    You are searching for something more. And you deserve to find it. How amazing. How wonderful.
    Keep searching. Soak it in. Maybe it’s just peace . I know that’s what I’m constantly working towards. After that who knows! ❤️❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thanks Sian!

      Reply
  • Heather Hill : Mar 14th

    As another Heather said upthread, your cou(rage) inspires. I feel we’ve been on parallel paths these last couple years and think often about our last talk. Who knew our prayers would be answered like this, so clearly yet disruptively. It’s time to follow new paths—ones that will forever change us yet help us become more fully who we were created to be. I can’t wait to hear about your journey!

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thank you Heather!

      Reply
  • Jsach : Mar 14th

    So grateful you are sharing your journey.
    Looking forward to every post!

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thank you Janice!

      Reply
  • Rozsa Gaston : Mar 14th

    The advanced age thing is a crock (Sorry, Cari’s Dad.) You are 42. GREAT age to set off on a new adventure. When you hit your 50s you will be going thru the change of life. It will take 10 full years to get thru this stage and you will have sleep issues and occasional hot flashes if you’re anything like the rest of us that would be make it tough for you to manage hiking the Appalachian Trail.

    When you hit your 60s you’ll be at a great moment. Not worrying too much about your career, enjoying your health (I pray), but slowing down a bit. Not an optimal time to decide to hike the Appalachian Trail.

    Now’s the moment, Girl. You already own it.

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thank you Rozsa!

      Reply
    • Ruth Morley : Mar 15th

      I agree that the 40’s are a great age. But I respectfully disagree on the 60’s not being a good time , as well, to tackle the AT. I’m 66. I have half of the AT to complete. I’m the youngest that I’ll ever be the rest of my life. Seize life and GO!

      Reply
  • Claire : Mar 14th

    Can’t wait to hear about your journey, in the mountains and in your heart and mind. You got this. We are pulling and praying for you! #tramily

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thanks Clairie!!

      Reply
  • Sandra Marinella : Mar 14th

    I am filled with such pride in all you write and in all you do. I celebrate your journey! xox

    Reply
    • Cari : Mar 14th

      Thank you Sandra!

      Reply
  • Susie Pattison : Mar 14th

    You have such a skill for writing, among so many other skills. I can’t wait to read along over the next 6 months. Be safe, have fun, and soak up this opportunity. We love you!

    Reply
    • Cari Pattison : Sep 23rd

      Belated thanks, Susie!

      Reply
  • Peter Allen : Mar 15th

    Cari! so excited for this adventure for you. traveling mercies upon you — i’ll be following along.

    Reply
    • Cari Pattison : Sep 23rd

      Belated thanks, Peter!!

      Reply
  • Bill Vickery : Mar 15th

    I’m 48 and heading out in May so I love your line about “advanced” age. I’ll own that one too! Awesome writing – keep sharing your story

    Reply
    • Cari Pattison : Sep 23rd

      Belated thanks, Bill! Hoping you’re still out there, or have already summitted!

      Reply
  • Becky B : Mar 15th

    You are an inspiration. I soooo admire your courage and take-charge attitude. I will miss you so much! But oh how I will look forward to these updates along the way! Love you, friend!

    Reply
    • Cari Pattison : Sep 23rd

      Belated thanks, Becky B!

      Reply
  • Pony : Mar 15th

    Ha! The idea of 42 as an “advanced age” to be hiking the AT….

    I hiked in 2016 at age 54. For a good month of that trip, I hiked with three younger guys, 23, 25 and 28, and through Virginia we were hiking 150-160 mile weeks. The rest of the trip I wasn’t hitting that kind of mileage, but still easily averaging over 20 per day, even with nearos (I took no zeros until NH/ME), except in NH/ME, where everyone’s mileage drops (mine went to 16 miles a day).

    In New York, I met a hiker I’m still friends with who was 69, and he was knocking out 20s every single day, never a zero. I also met a man thru-hiking with his dog in Gorham who was 74.

    So, you can tell your pop you’ll be just fine.

    I hope you enjoy your hike. Mine was a life-changer.

    ~Pony (CT’15; AT’16; Foothills Trail, Alabama Pinhoti Trail ’18)

    Reply
    • Cari Pattison : Sep 23rd

      Belated thanks, Pony! Wow, I love your story and congrats on your huge hiking achievements!

      Reply
  • Lesley : Mar 15th

    This is amazing, Cari! Best wishes as you do the most awesome thing EVER!! You’re going to rock that trail! So proud of you. Have a beautiful, inspirational, and safe journey! You are a powerhouse of courage and strength!
    Xoxo, LASHY

    Reply
    • Cari Pattison : Sep 23rd

      Belated thanks, Lesley Ash!! Love you!

      Reply
  • Nancy Protzman : Mar 16th

    Cari, what a wonderful beginning! I’m going to savor every minute with you. Thanks for including us via this blog. Love you!

    Reply
    • Cari Pattison : Sep 23rd

      Belated thanks to you, Nancy!

      Reply
  • Audrey Payne : Mar 16th

    GIRL, you’re less than half the age of the oldest person I met on trail last year (and he was doing just fine)! And there is no rule that says twenty-somethings get to have all the fun. Have the most amazing journey – it will be difficult not to! 🙂

    Reply
    • Cari Pattison : Sep 23rd

      Belated thanks, Audrey! Sounds like you had a great 2018 thru-hike! Did you meet Kudzu? She was my AT mentor and inspiration!

      Reply
  • Shari : Mar 17th

    Your words speak volumes to me. Onward and upward one step at a time. You are an inspiration and a breath of fresh air. Best of luck…

    Reply
    • Cari Pattison : Sep 23rd

      Belated thanks to you, Shari!!

      Reply
  • paul middleton : Mar 17th

    Very happy trails to you, Scout. I’ll be anxiously and somewhat enviously following you along the way. You have definitely showed tons of courage on your many endeavors so far. Proud of you. Was great to have been with you on that Yellowstone adventure long ago. Blessings and good thoughts go with you every step of the way.

    Reply
    • Cari Pattison : Sep 23rd

      Belated thanks, Paul! Hope you are well!!

      Reply
  • Sugar Genereaux : Mar 23rd

    Looking forward to seeing you in Norwich, Vt.
    I will stay tuned with your progress😊
    Cheers, Sugar

    Reply
    • Cari Pattison : Sep 23rd

      Belated thanks for this Sugar! Here’s to Norwich, VT next summer!! Hope you’re well 🙂

      Reply
  • Cindy Tether : Apr 10th

    I’m enjoying your adventures vicariously. Thanks for the detail and humor of your blog. Blessings on your journey!
    Cindy

    Reply
    • Cari Pattison : Sep 23rd

      Belated thanks to you, Cindy!!

      Reply

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