How to Hike the AT Without Quitting Your Job!

Hello there! My name is Ricky, I’m 32-years-old and I’m from the Mount Washington Valley of New Hampshire, in the heart of the White Mountains! I’m a Marine Corps veteran, an active duty law enforcement officer, and an avid outdoor enthusiast. I enjoy mountain biking, skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, fishing, swimming, reading, playing hockey, and hiking of course.

How I became obsessed with hiking the Appalachian Trail

I first stepped foot on the Appalachian Trail in 2004 as a part of a sixth grade field trip. My classmates and I hiked up Crawford Path to Mizpah Hut and spent two days exploring the Presidential range, summiting Mount Jackson and Mount Pierce. At that time I had no idea that I was on the Appalachian Trail or what it even was. Little did I know that years later I would become enthralled with all things AT.

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I found myself hiking in the woods of the White Mountains again. I fell in love with the solitude of the trail and decided to embark on the challenge of completing New Hampshire’s 48 four thousand footers. This frequently put me on, or near, the Appalachian Trail and I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with various thru-hikers along my way. I was somewhat familiar with the concept of thru-hiking as a few of my friends had completed the AT. I was inspired and intrigued by the stories I had heard from the thru-hikers I met, as well as my own experiences along the sections of AT that I’d been hiking.

I was officially bitten by the thru-hiking bug and began completing longer section hikes in the White Mountains, meeting many thru-hikers as I went. During a section hike last summer I met a group of thru-hikers who referred to themselves as “the magic school bus”, consisting of Ozark, Two Spoons, Togo, and Radio (who was a trail correspondent for The Trek.) Meeting this group gave me a small glimpse into the sense of community that exists along the trail, which reminded me of the community I once had while serving in the Marines. I’ve missed those bonds and the camaraderie that came along with it. It occurred to me that hiking the trail would not only be a great adventure but would connect me with other like-minded hikers all striving towards the same goal.

Do I quit my job?

After spending countless hours watching YouTube videos, reading several books, obsessing over gear, and section hiking a good chunk of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, I began toying with the idea of possibly leaving my career in law enforcement and heading down to Georgia to start the long trek towards Maine. However, the idea of forfeiting my pension seemed like an irresponsible decision for my future. Was I really going to give up everything I worked so hard for? A leave of absence was out of the question so the only other option was to continue completing small sections hikes when time allowed.

So now what?

Unfortunately, I won’t be thru-hiking this year, but LASHing (long ass section hike) will allow me to maintain my career while still fulfilling a part of my dream to hike the AT. None of this would be possible if I didn’t have amazing support, both at home and at work. I don’t know how far I’ll make it but I’ll be walking northbound to wherever the trail takes me starting later this month. Finally, this dream I’ve poured so much time into is becoming a reality!

Why Do I Tell you this?

Life is about choices and compromises and I feel that being able to find the balance is the key to happiness. Yes, I want to hike the entire trail in one go but I love my job, and the people I work with, and the community I serve. I may have to hike the  trail one section at a time, but who knows, maybe one day I’ll be a thru-hiker who gets the privilege to hike it all in one shot!

Well, if you made it this far I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to read about my story. I’m looking forward to exploring more of the AT and meeting lots of new folks along the way. If you see me on trail please stop and say hello, I would love to hear about your story as well.

‘Til next time!

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Comments 12

  • .com : Mar 11th

    My AT hike was a LASH along with some shorter sections. Was the perfect choice for me, I was a teacher & could use spring breaks, summers & Christmas break for my hikes. Grateful to my husband & daughters who supported me all the way. I followed seasons rather than a straight NOBO or SOBO. Enjoy your hike!

    • Ricky : Mar 11th

      Hey, thanks for the comment, Just over a week until I step off, can’t wait!!

  • JadedFan : Mar 11th

    Hi, Ricky.

    I loved your post. I too am not in a position to leave my job and was actually thinking about this over the weekend. I came to the same conclusion. I intend to hike sections.

    Now, with that being said, I am 56 years old and probably on the glide path to the grave. After 30 years of heavy drinking, I managed to begin the process of getting my life together. I suppose there are many like me. My story is too long to tell here.

    I remember the AT from my youth and young adulthood. I am working on building my stamina so I can begin some day hikes. By next year, I want to take some longer trips.

    Best wishes! I hope to see you out there.

    • Ricky : Mar 11th

      Thank you for the kind words and shedding some light on your story. We all have our own path we follow and each day is a chance to be the best you can be! Best of luck on your journey, if you see me out there please say hello!

  • Greybeard of the OGOWA : Mar 11th

    Ricky – congratulations your decision to section-hike your way from Georgia to Maine!!! I did it as a “SASH” (short-ass section hiker) – from 2002-2017 – a chunk each year. Unlike thru-hikers, we section-hikers take time to look up and enjoy things and be spontaneous when we hear of chocolate chip cookies trail magic a mile off the trail – and enjoy every day on the trail whether it was drop-dead gorgeous, hailing, or snowing . . . . I met many thru-hikers who just wanted it to be over . . . . me, I wanted it to never end!

    And Ricky – from your initial post you have already done the toughest portion of the trail: New Hampshire . . . .

    Enjoy your adventure!

    • Ricky : Mar 11th

      Thank you for the support! I definitely enjoy section hiking, especially in The Whites during a good weather window! I love living where I do, I look out my window and stare at Mount Washington every single day!

  • Rob : Mar 11th

    Started LASHing in 2020. Three week stints. About a hundred miles a week. Passed the halfway point last year. Usually start the day after Father’s Day. Picking back up in Duncannon. May attempt closer to four hundred miles this year. We’ll see. Very doable!

    • Ricky : Mar 12th

      Very cool! This is almost exactly what I’m doing but 4 weeks instead of 3. I’m hoping to make it to Damascus this year.

  • Paul : Mar 12th

    My story is similar. Retired from the army in 2015 and went back to work for the army as a civilian. I took up section hiking two years ago starting with Newfound Gap SOBO to Fontana Dam. Last year did Springer to Tennessee border. Looking to possibly do what you are with the LASH here in the next year or so. Good luck and enjoy!

    • Ricky : Mar 13th

      Very cool Paul, thank you for your service! I really enjoy section hiking but I hate leaving the woods and returning to the real world. I’m hopeful that LASHing will help bridge the gap for now.

  • Dee : Mar 22nd

    So excited to hear there are so many LASH out there. Your post has motivated me that it can be done despite only doing it yearly. I am section hiking for three weeks in Sept NOBO for the very first time. Good luck, although if you hike in the Whites, the rest of this trail won’t give you much trouble. And who knows, one year our paths might cross.

  • William Marques : Mar 23rd

    good luck and enjoy the experience; nothing wrong with section / segment hiking, take it easy. For me hiking is more about the experience among nature. Not everyone can 5-6 months to thru-hike the whole trail at one hike. Until recently I thought thru-hiking was the only way but learned about section hiking.
    Again, Good Luck


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