How I Finally Convinced Myself to Say “Yes” to Hiking the Appalachian Trail

It’s here. The time has come. I’ve waited over ten years to finally say it: I’m hiking the Appalachian trail. 

It sounds strange to say it out loud, and I still don’t think the reality of what I’m doing will set in until I’m putting one foot in front of the other on my 2,198(ish) mile path. Ever since I learned about the AT in my late teens, I have been captivated by the beauty of the Appalachians and the culture of thru-hiking. I swore to myself that when I graduated college that I would be one of the badasses that hiked it.

But I didn’t. 

I then swore to myself when graduate school didn’t work out that I’d hike it – but I didn’t. I told myself just one more year of teaching, and then I’d hike it – but I didn’t. It became my pattern: I was going to do it, but I could never bring myself to commit. 

Now, I’m saying yes. I’m breaking the pattern, and I have never been more convinced that what I’m doing is right (although I think my 31-year-old body will be wishing I had hiked in my 20s). I’m ready for not only the highs but the lows. I’m even ready to fail (if that happens). 

So how did I get here? I’m Carly – and as one of the 2024 AT Trek Bloggers, I thought I could introduce myself by sharing how I finally committed to hiking the Appalachian trail. As a quick note, this is my first long distance thru-hike, and I am in no way an expert. However, I hope that by sharing some of my story, maybe I can also help others find their own path to going on an adventure of a lifetime. 

Here are the 5 ways I finally convinced myself to say “yes” to hiking the Appalachian trail.

I silenced the haters.

Starting with this one first, because it is a big one. For a little context, I’m from a small town in South Carolina where people seem to just never leave. My mom and dad are from there, and their parents, and their parents, and their parents (you catch the drift). I’ve always described my hometown as a little black hole, and I’ve been sucked into it for the past decade. People kinda treat you like you’re weird when you leave. Tell them you’re going to hike the entire AT for six months? Now you’re crazy. When I told one of my best friends what I was doing, she (understandably) responded, “You could be eating lobster with me in Martha’s Vineyard this summer, but instead you’ll be wiping your ass with leaves.” They aren’t wrong – all thru-hikers are a little crazy! And although they may question my sanity, my close friends and family continuously support me, following up with comments like “I’m proud of you” and “You’re going to crush it.” I wish I could say this was the response from everyone I’ve told – but it’s not. It’s okay to not understand, but it’s not okay to be unsupportive and negative. I’ve found as I’ve researched thru-hiking the AT throughout the years that certain online communities can also be negative, derogatory, and downright cruel. I’ve stopped reading so much online apart from a few trustworthy sources (*insert shameless plug for the Trek here*) and silenced any outlets and voices that don’t contribute positively to the mindset that I’m trying to cultivate. In terms of my close friends and family, I’m explaining why I’m doing what I’m doing. The rest? I’ve got to let them go. Although the people in my life may never fully understand my thru-hiking desires, they want nothing more than to see me fly. I’m letting my support system become my roots – not tying me down but holding me up. 

I embraced fear.

“Embraced” may be a strong word – more like “faced kicking and screaming while hysterically crying.” Over the years, I’ve done my best to try to conquer some of my biggest fears. Yes – it was just as bad as it sounds. I’ve always been scared of heights, but I started rock climbing. The first time I went, I froze, paralyzed, and had a full-blown panic attack on the side of a mountain. Fast forward and I’m climbing up routes I never thought I’d be able to – even attempting a summit in California that required route finding and mountaineering boots. Did I cry still? Absolutely. But it got easier each time. I did the same thing with my other fears, such as public speaking, eventually became a high school science teacher and faced arguably one of the scariest audiences ever: teenagers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still terrified to hike the AT. It feels scary, and that’s how I know it’s right. Since I’ve faced other fears, I know I can face this one too. 

I learned to be alone.

The number one response that I get when I tell people I’m hiking the AT is, “You’re going alone?!” Like overcoming fears, becoming comfortable in my own skills and abilities took time. I started small – a hike alone, then camping alone, and then backpacking alone. I wanted to summit 14ers in Colorado, so I planned a trip and went. I soon realized that if I waited on other people to go with me that I’d be waiting forever. The more I did alone, the more confident I became. The biggest turning point for me was when I finally broke out of my hometown bubble and moved to Montana for three months to work as an outdoor educator in Yellowstone National Park. Nothing can quite get you more acquainted with your own mind than driving 33 hours across the country. I finally feel capable enough to rely on myself and brave enough to have only my own thoughts for entertainment (at least for a little while). 

I got dirty.

And not in the sexy-fun way. I mean in the “I-haven’t showered in nine days” way. It sounds silly, but being away from all of the comforts of normal life put into perspective what I truly needed. The dirtier I was, the more fun I was probably having. 

I got old(er).

You may think this point has to do with me feeling more mature and wise, but honestly, most days I still feel like an “adult imposter.” What I’ve really learned as I’ve watched my hair turn gray and my skin begin to wrinkle is the sobering adage: life is short. I will never have a more perfect moment than I do now – I just sold my home, weeded out my material possessions, and quit a job I had for six years in order to reevaluate my career goals. If I don’t say yes now, I never will, and I know that I can’t live with that regret.

Surprise! I have one more quick reason for you… 

I entered my “fuck it” era.

Yep, I said it: fuck it. I’ve spent way too long worrying about what other people think. I’m hiking the AT because fuck it – why not?!

I hit the trail on March 23rd heading NOBO from Georgia to Maine. If you care to take this journey with me, you can subscribe to my Trek posts or follow me on social media (both shown below!). I can’t wait to share all of my highs, lows, and “fuck it” moments with my favorite thru-hiking community. 

I’ve got my roots set – now it’s time to spread my wings.

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Comments 14

  • Ricky : Mar 14th

    Great article Carly! I love the f**k it mentality. Getting there is the hardest part of the trail…the rest will fall into place. I start March 22nd (fellow Trek blogger), maybe I’ll see you out there! Enjoy the roller coaster!!

  • Johnny Mccalla : Mar 14th

    I am Carly’s father Johnny. She is by far a better writer than I, so I will be extremely short.
    Her Mother, Kelly and I, are one of many who told her she was crazy and there should be something else out there to do other than the AT. After much discussion, her mom and I came to the conclusion that she should be fine because of the many positive character traits she has developed over the last 31 years.
    We are so proud of her and will be following with much anticipation.
    Daddy and Mom love you my little Suggie.
    Happy Trails

    • Jeff Greene : Mar 23rd

      From one dad of an adult daughter to another, props for raising a strong young (despite what she thinks) woman!

  • Margie Robertson : Mar 14th

    Keep up the incredible work! I can’t wait to see what you write next.

  • Chris : Mar 14th

    “Silencing the Haters” that’s the worst part of the internet (and people in general.) I’m following this one YouTuber who went out on a shake-down hike. Things failed for her, but she learned. Some folks were bashing her, but the shake-down hike did what it was supposed to do, that is find out whats-what BEFORE you’re out there and can’t do anything about it. As I said to her, “Haters are gonna hate, the best revenge is success.” Anyway, all us readers got your back and we’re rooting for ya!

  • Kelly McCalla : Mar 14th

    You are a complete and total badass! Independent , fearless while being fearful and the master of your own ship! Get out there girl and climb those mountains! Women everywhere are proud of all the females like you who take their rightful places in the world – at the front of the line – ready to go DO IT!
    Get it Carl and make yourself proud. We already are.

  • Angela Brown Humphreys : Mar 15th

    Girl, I am so proud of you and can’t wait to follow your journey. You know I like vicariously through you! Stay safe girl I know you got this, I am so excited for you and your article is spot on. Take care and trek on girl! Stay safe and know there are a lot of people that love you and are envious even if they won’t admit it. Trek on girl!

  • Corrie : Mar 15th

    Carly! This made me tear up! You were destined for this journey and I am without a doubt that things happen to and for us when they are supposed to. You ARE going to “crush it” and I’m so excited to be able to follow along. Hopefully we can bring you some magic when you are in VA 😉

  • Theresa Garcia : Mar 15th

    Howdy! This post could not be written any better! Looking at this article reminds me
    of my previous roommate! He continually kept talking about this.

    I’ll forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a great read.
    Many thanks for sharing!

  • Tom : Mar 16th

    Great post Carly. I’ll definitely be reading about your NOBO hike . Should be a blast !!!! Now go kick some ass !!!

  • Tom : Mar 16th

    Great post Carly. Don’t think the trail’s going to be ready for you !! Look forward to all your adventures on your NOBO. It’s time to kick some ass !!

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  • Kathleen Watkins : Mar 22nd

    Way to go Carly! It’s so fun and inspiring getting to see you take on this challenge. Wishing you the best and can’t wait to follow your adventures on here!

  • Danielle : Mar 26th

    I always said you would be the first woman president but I think completing the AT is way more badass! From reading your middle school diary to now your blogs here on the Trek, I’m cheering you on every step of the way. The little green-eyed girl with dimples is out there making her dreams happen. Stay safe and happy trails, Gwennie!


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