I’m Hiking the Appalachian Trail Next Year! (For Real This Time.)
When I first heard about the Appalachian Trail in high school, I thought it was absurd. Who the hell would walk from Georgia to Maine, sleeping outside every day? I was impressed by the athletic and mental feat it required, but it seemed way out of reach for someone like me, who had only ever camped in a backyard before.
A few years later, one of my friends from my hometown hiked the Appalachian Trail in college during one of her summer breaks. Her thru-hike showed me that maybe I could do something like that too.
After graduating from college, I left for my first solo vacation to Portland, Oregon, having no idea that this one trip would so deeply change my outlook and life goals. I stayed with a family friend whom I’d never met and immediately found in her a role model for a life of adventure and curiosity. She took me on my first backpacking trip at Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain, with an amazing view of Mt. Hood.
I knew nothing about gear, what to wear, what to expect, nor any of the skills I needed, like even how to poop in the woods. Yet somehow, I loved every second of it: carrying a giant pack, taking in all of the views, sleeping in a tent, drinking coffee with a view of Mt. Hood, and eating post-hike pizza that tasted even more delicious than normal.
A couple of days after the overnight, I met up with the hometown friend who hiked the AT. We picked up some snacks and drove to Cascade Locks to do some trail magic for someone she knew from the AT, who was now hiking the PCT. I was enchanted by this woman who was only 19 and on her second thru-hike, someone hiking SOBO to eventually meet up with his NOBO partner, and another NOBO hiker named “future grandpa,” who got his trail name from saying that he would hike the PCT again with his future grandchild(ren), among the other hikers I met that day. It was so fun to chat with them and hear about their experiences, as someone who felt like a newbie in the hiking world. After this trip, I became obsessed with long-distance hiking.
Cue the Obsession
My whole life plan became about saving up the money and having the time to do a thru-hike. After graduation, I taught English abroad for a year, then moved to North Carolina with the plan to work for two years to save up money, buy gear, and then hike.
The following is a very shortened recap of what happened next: I met a guy, moved to Charleston, SC, and, fortunately, that relationship didn’t work out. So I moved to Boston and got a job at my alma mater.
When the two-year plan was up (after four years had passed by), a global pandemic hit, and I kept my job. Somewhere in the middle of that mess, I graduated with my Master’s degree in Environmental Science. I subsequently moved home to Connecticut when the pandemic kept my job remote to continue to save even more to fund my hike.
In March of 2021, I quit my full-time job and optimistically started to prepare for my AT thru-hike. All of my gear was ready from years of preparation, I had gone on shakedown trips, and I had even booked my night at the lodge and picked a start date on the ATC website.
As the date got closer, I decided that without a vaccine and with the ATC still recommending hikers to postpone their hikes, I didn’t feel comfortable going. I found a hiking partner on one of the AT Facebook Groups and almost left from Connecticut with him hiking SOBO, but it wasn’t what I had imagined for the past six years. Looking back now, I was not mentally prepared and I’m glad I didn’t start this year.
After realizing that 2021 was not my year, again, I moved out of the country for an internship at an environmental peacebuilding NGO for a few months.
Counting Down the Days
While I wait around for 2022, the year I hike the Appalachian Trail, I’m keeping myself busy in Boston with an internship, a few courses, and a multitude of extracurricular projects.
I don’t care if my arm falls off, I’ll be at Springer Mountain in March starting my NOBO thru-hike. This may be one of the longest prologues, but I’m ready for my AT story to begin.
I’ll leave you with an anecdote that helped me understand the mindset I’d need if I wanted to be a successful thru-hiker: A day hiker is going on a short hike on the AT and runs into a few thru-hikers. After asking many questions about their preparation and their day-to-day activities, he finally asks, in a concerned tone, “But what happens when it rains?” The thru-hikers responded simply with “we get wet,” shrugged, and waved to the man as they continued their hike.
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