I Don’t Know About You, but I’m Feeling 22… Hundred
If you’ve been in your 20s, in college, or generally interacted with twentysomethings over the past eight years, I’d venture to say you’ve heard this song—used heavily in conjunction with, well, 22nd birthdays. (cue Taylor Swift. You know it’s catchy.)
I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling twenty-two
Everything will be alright, if you keep me next to you
You don’t know about me, but I bet you want to
Everything will be alright, if we just keep dancing like we’re twenty-two, twenty-two
22: The Magic Number
Now that that’s stuck in your head (you’re welcome), let’s get to it. For someone, like many thru-hikers, who is trying their best to depart from the norm, I’m counterintuitively embracing this cliché tune this year. The numbers 2 and 22 seem to be a recurring theme. It’s 2020. I’ll celebrate my 22nd birthday on the same day as my first full month on-trail (planning to hike 22 miles that day, if my body cooperates). And finally, I’m going to thru-hike the entire 2,200* miles of the Appalachian Trail.
*Rounding up to include the Approach Trail.
22-Part Introduction (It’s Painless, I Promise)
So, in the spirit of T. Swift (or Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, if that’s more your vibe), here’s 22 things introducing myself and my upcoming AT thru-hike. Consider this an introduction-FAQ-preparation recap all in one.
1. A really long walk
I am setting out on a northbound (NOBO) thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in March. I’ll hike from the Southern Terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia, to summit on Mount Katahdin, Maine.
2. Going solo
I’m proudly hiking as a solo female. Disclaimer: “solo” is a misleading term—over 4,000 hikers attempt the AT every year, with approximately 75% of those hiking northbound. You can see the number of hikers registered with the ATC for 2020 here. (Plug for fellow thru-hikers to register your hike!) There will rarely, if ever, be a day where I’m alone on-trail.
3. Go Gamecocks
I wrote my college senior thesis (this past December) as a novice’s guide to preparing for the AT. It’s laughable, compared to what I know even two months later, but I stand by the idea that everyone has to start somewhere, and the amount of information on the internet is inundating.
4. Backpacking experience
When I was 15, I backpacked a 50-mile section of the AT near the NC/TN border, including Unaka Mountain and Beauty Spot. This trip sealed the deal in my resolve to thru-hike.
5. Special shout-out to
Maura, my best friend from camp, partner in crime on that backpacking trip, and 2017 thru-hiker. She’s a badass, she’s answered all my dumb questions, and she’s one of the coolest people I know.
6. Major gear upgrades
Until a few months ago, my trusty pack was a metal, external frame hand-me-down. I wrapped my sleeping bag in a trash bag, strapped it to the outside of my pack, and set off on short backpacking trips, oblivious to pack weight and why my knees would be so swollen after two days.
7. The big three
- Pack – Granite Gear Crown2 60L, on sale from REI.
- Tent – Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2, unboxed/new from a Facebook gear page at what I consider a steal.
- Sleep – REI Magma 15, Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Air Pad, and Thermolite Reactor Extreme Sleeping Bag Liner (all bought with coupons/on sale, of course.)
8. The cold always bothered me, anyway
I am a giant wimp about cold weather, so I’ll confess that one of my early fears for the trail is staying warm and staying motivated when I’m cold. (Hence a full sleeping bag instead of a quilt, plus a liner, etc. etc. I guess it’s true you carry your fears with you.)
9. Already excited for…
Piping hot town coffee. Instant coffee is only a Band-Aid on a morning bullet wound.
10. Even more excited for…
My dad joining me on-trail for a few sections. Growing up, he took my siblings anme I hiking and camping around Virginia, never failing to point out a white blaze. He introduced the dream of a thru-hike to me, and I have him to thank for raising me to love the AT.
11. Let’s get physical
Any semblance of “training” is severely bracketed by a 9-5 job, but I’ve been steady on the stair climber (coming for ya, Amicalola Falls), and am practicing yoga daily in the month leading up to my thru-hike.
12. Camping is a strong term
I’ve been spending nights in the backyard to test my shelter/sleep system. So far, so good! (Aside from the fact that I’m slow as heck setting everything up.) The coldest overnight temp has been 25 degrees.
13. Don’t ask me about my base weight…
If you want an exact answer. I’m pack weight conscious, but I’m definitely not an ounce counter. Mostly because I don’t own a scale that precise, and didn’t want to buy one.
14. You can ask me about…
My morning playlist. It’s notoriously upbeat and knocks you over the head with positivity. As a summer camp counselor, I played it every morning to wake up my campers. They hated it at the beginning of the session and without fail, loved it by the end. I have it ready and downloaded for when I need a burst of motivation on-trail.
15. *Studies abroad once*
I spent the spring semester of 2019 in Hong Kong. The hiking there was INCREDIBLE. Quick night hikes took me to incredible skyline views, while even a single day’s hike would journey to beachside villages along the Pacific. And can’t forget about the urban hiking that could connect temples, British colonial architecture, and local food within a day.
16. Shameless plug
17. Bill Bryson didn’t thru-hike
Yes, I’ve read A Walk in the Woods. This article perfectly articulates my feelings toward the author.
18. What else am I supposed to read then?!
So glad you asked. On Trails by Robert Moor and Walking with Spring by Earl Shaffer are two of my favorite books about AT history and the meaning of trails.
19. My why
Robert Moor already wrote it more eloquently than I could try to imitate, so…
“Unlike many people, I had no clear impetus for going on a long hike, no inciting incident. I wasn’t grieving a death or recovering from drug addiction. I wasn’t fleeing anything. I had never been to war. I wasn’t depressed. My thru-hike was not an attempt to find myself, find peace, or find God.
Perhaps, as they say, I simply needed some time to clear my head; perhaps I knew this might be my last chance. Both were mostly true, as clichés often are. I also wanted to find out what it would be like to spend months on end in the wilderness, to live in a prolonged state of freedom. But more than that, I think I wanted to answer a challenge that had loomed over me since childhood. When I was small and frail, hiking the whole trail seemed a herculean task. As I grew, its impossibility became precisely its appeal.” – On Trails p.9
20. Fun fact!
The ATC compares the Appalachian Trail to the “elevation gain and loss equivalent to hiking Mt. Everest from sea level and back 16 times.”
21. About that picture
My brother and I met Taylor Swift on her Fearless tour in 2009. Did I peak in 2009? Maybe.
22. The end
Congrats on making it to the end of this list! In full acknowledgment that only one in four people who attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail make it to the end, I feel incredibly privileged and excited to even set out on this adventure.
My next update may be once I’m already on-trail! Until then,
~trail name TBD
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