How A Thru Hike Resurrected Me (& Why I am Hiking the AT)
It All Started because I Thought I was Dead
When the news first started reporting on Covid19, I convinced myself that I was dead. Not just, like, dead and buried six feet under, but dead and in Hell. Not that I had ever believed in Hell before 2020. But the existence of a pandemic during my lifetime felt so much like a punch in the face, it was easier to accept that I had died. So yeah, something about me? I’m a super germaphobe, like, if somebody around me is sick I disappear. Covid was almost the perfect Hellish torture for me. Almost. The only thing that would make it worse, were if there were people bent over retching onto the sidewalk.
Not only was I having complete and total meltdowns on the family couch every day, but I was also attending Zoom college. The University of Vermont assured us that we were in an unprecedented time and promised that they would help us through the final two months of a newly created online school system. Spoiler Alert: They did no such thing. Professors were given little guidance, work loads in all of our classes somehow increased, and on top of that, all the pressure I had been feeling as a senior to find a job tripled in a failing economy. I needed to find a way to cope with the anxiety, stat!
My Quarter Life Crisis Led me to the Trail
Before the pandemic hit, I had already been struggling with my identity. Nothing had really changed in the four years I attended college: I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do when I started at UVM as a freshman and still didn’t know what I was doing when I graduated. I majored in English because I liked it. I attended UVM because I knew I’d be able to hike and ski. What I was going to do with my major was something I never exactly figured out.
In fact, the more I thought about my post-grad life, the more anxious I became. My family tried to reassure me that this was completely normal and that every senior felt the same way. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I threw myself into a career right away, I would be losing a part of myself that I hadn’t yet discovered. The idea of living a linear life–Going to school, getting a job, getting married, growing old, retiring, moving to Florida and–UGH–golfing, before ultimately passing away–sent me into a depressive spiral.
I needed a way to control the situation that I was in. If I had to go on sitting inside, listening to the news, and becoming more and more anxious I knew I’d lose my mind. It was imperative that I proved to myself that I was not, in fact, dead. I had to hike. To start a thru hike with no preparation seemed ludicrous. And besides, it was for sure out of the question. For one thing, the ATC had already asked all the hikers to leave the trail. For another, I just didn’t have that kind of cash. So I set my sights on something a little shorter: The 272 mile Long Trail in Vermont.
So you Hiked the Long Trail…What Does that Have to Do with the AT?
Without the Long Trail, I am not sure if my AT dream would ever have been realized. It can be said without hesitation (but certainly with cliché) that the Long Trail changed my life. I started the trail with a lot of anxiety about the trek and the world. I returned home after two hundred miles with a broken foot, a ton of gratitude, a new perspective on life, and a newfound love of long distance backpacking.
The Long Trail taught me a lot of things: how to convert grams to ounces and ounces to pounds (sorry Mrs. Condon, I wasn’t ready to learn about weight conversions in fifth grade!) and to appreciate every sunny day and warm shower. It taught me about the kindness of others. The people around me blew me away; Whether it was just running into somebody who was fun to talk to on a long climb, or a random stranger off the trail offering to take trash from me. It was as if the world knew that I needed my faith in humanity restored. It also finally forced me to stop biting my nails, an annoying habit of which I had had pretty much my entire life. Best of all, it made me feel alive again.
When I got off the trail, I knew with certainty that I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. Since I am pretty much never certain about anything, I knew that I had to follow my dream.
Why Am I Hiking?
Why the AT? Come to think of it, why go hiking at all instead of on vacation to Europe? (I think that is my travel-obsessed sister’s most burning question)? And the most popular question, “Why by yourself?”
I have pretty much at least contemplated hiking the Appalachian Trail in its entirety since I first learned about it while hiking with my dad in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The idea of a meandering footpath wandering through the ravines and over the peaks of mountains from Georgia to Maine intrigued me. Secretly, any time we hiked even remotely close to a place the AT intersected, I hoped that we would get lost and be forced to walk all the way to Katahdin. Much to my disappointment, it never happened. As a student, I never had the time or the money to hike the trail. Now, like many other recent, directionless grads, I have the time, the money, and the freedom to pursue the adventure I have always dreamed of.
And more personally, I am doing this hike for myself. I have always been a little bit codependent in my relationships. As a solo hiker, I am hoping that I can assuage my dependency on others. I would like to become more content and confident in myself. Also, hiking is therapeutic. It eradicates most of the anxiety I feel in my day to day life. Hiking makes me feel like a badass, it makes me feel normal. Even the bad days are good when I look back on them. I want to make sure that my life has depth, not just length. If I can do this, even if it’s only five hundred miles, I can do anything. I am doing this for me.
That’s all for now. Cheers.
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