How I decided to walk 2,200 miles

How I started hiking

I grew up with a longing for the outdoors, but didn’t do anything until I was older since I was busy being a kid. I did try begging my mother to enroll me as a Boy Scout once, but was unsuccessful… thanks, Mom.

On my 18th birthday I flew to New Hampshire to visit my older brother and ended up in Vermont to hike some random trail down by a river. All I can remember was hiking alongside the river, passing a waterfall, and walking through a massive wooden bridge that crossed over said river. Coincidentally there was a side trail that led us to a spot where boulders divided the flowing stream. I built myself a little cairn, took a photo for the “gram,” and made my way back up to finish my hike; after knocking over the cairn of course. That picture became my phone’s wallpaper on the flight home, and served as the spark for chasing views like the ones on that hike. Views I can only find in the outdoors.

That was it, I was hooked. I caught the bug. All by extending my trip by a day to be able to go on this hike where I learned a valuable lesson: “Better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” No big deal, I only missed one day of school and upset my mom a tiny bit… sorry, Mom.

My introduction to backpacking

Four years later, I started learning about backpacking and began planning a trip of my own. I did not know where I was going, I just knew I was going somewhere.

Growing up in Florida, there wasn’t much opportunity for hiking or backpacking, or at least there weren’t any in the areas where I lived (ie. It is flat). And in case you were wondering, yes I’m a “Florida Man.” Also being from Florida, I had no idea of what an REI was and if you don’t know what an REI is, look it up. You won’t be disappointed. As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for me to become a member and not much longer to become a “Green Vest” (REI Employee).

Working at REI opened up the Pandora’s box of outdoor gear to me. Firstly, I could never leave a shift empty handed, but more importantly; I met amazing people. People nice enough to help me plan this trip that I was so eager to partake in. People that get you excited to do cool shit. It was through working at REI and forming connections with my coworkers that I learned the basics of backpacking and then some.

“Should I do a shakedown? Nahhh…”

I had finally decided on the where of my first backpacking trip; Amicalola Falls to Neels Gap. A combination of the Appalachian Approach trail and the trail itself. As a common section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) for people to hike on or backpack through, I thought this to be the perfect trip for me. But the only thing I knew about the AT was from sixth grade geography, not that people hike the whole damn thing!

So I did some research.

In my research I learned that I should do a shakedown hike as a first time backpacker, I did not. I don’t recommend doing this section if you have no experience, I’m just “ambitious,” yeah that’s what I am, ambitious. It is a near forty mile stretch of ups and downs, backs and forths, summits and false summits, and everything else that you can expect when hiking through actual elevation.

The trek (not The Trek)

On my way up to Springer Mountain (the official start of the AT, in Georgia) I passed by an older gentleman who saw me and my gear and struck up a short conversation. He had finally finished his last section of the AT after fourteen years! Needless to say, he’s a bad ass.

Not ten minutes after summiting Springer, I was greeted by two thru hikers who had completed their southbound (SOBO) hike in four months, yes four. Fortunately we had met at the right time, or else I couldn’t have offered my bottle opener for their victory beers. For this, they deemed me “Clutch”, but I will be starting my 2024 thru hike without a trail name (a nickname you go by on trail). I felt lucky to have run into them up there, they added to the spark of curiosity/ insanity that led me to want to hike the AT.

I could not have asked for a better experience along my hike. The weather was absolutely perfect with a high of 74(F) during the day and a low of 40(F) at night. Weather aside, I was hiking during Fall, so the trees and the trail were both full of beautifully colored leaves. With every sore, crunchy step I realized I found my happy place, the place where I belong: the outdoors.

Then I got to Blood Mountain… a seemingly endless traverse littered with switchbacks and false summits. Yay (sarcasm).

For reference I skipped the last water source with the intention of filling up at the base of Blood Mountain, big mistake. When I arrived to this “water source” it was nothing more than a trail of wet leaves. So, I finished the one cup I had left in my water bottle and began my uphill climb.

My decision to walk 2,200 miles

The pain and effort from Amicalola to the summit of Blood Mountain was well worth it. As soon as you arrive to the top and peek over the boulder, you are greeted with the Blue Ridge Mountains, a view that goes for miles. It was at this point that I loosely considered attempting a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail.

It wasn’t until after I crossed under the roof at Neel’s Gap with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, that I made the decision that I was going to walk for 2,200 miles and several months… sorry, Mom.

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Comments 2

  • Sandra Zaldivar : Apr 1st

    Great article with an inside to a newbie’s look at this hike. Mitch is funny and has a sense of adventure that is contagious. Can’t wait to hear more about your hike!!

  • Tony Flohre : Apr 3rd

    While Florida is flat there is a great trail from the Everglades to Alabama. So hope when Mitch finishes the AT that he can explore his home state


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