I’m thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2017: A Reasoning
I’m thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Whew. Let’s just all pause for a second and take that in. What, you’ve already taken it in? Well it’s going to take me a couple of seconds longer.
It’s been months since deciding that this was a real thing that was actually happening, and every once in awhile I have to stop and think, holy crap this is actually happening. But happening it is. So let’s talk about why.
Let’s go back to 12 year old Becky, hearing about the Appalachian Trail for the first time. Reading about it, more specifically. She has yet to figure out how to groom her unibrow, a look followers of my instagram can revel in starting in March 2017. She is probably reading with all of the upstairs blankets stacked on top of her so her brothers won’t bother her. It’s California in the summer and she’s dying of heatstroke, but it was uninterrupted reading, which is 12 year old Becky’s only real ambition in life. It’s a book called Halfway to the Sky, and it’s a pretty angsty affair: teenager runs away from divorced parents to hike the Appalachian Trail. Spoiler alert: She doesn’t make it. It does not make 12 year old Becky want to hike the Appalachian Trail.
But it did put the trail somewhere in the back of her head and it would pop to the forefront every so often, whenever the trail was brought up or mentioned. She thought it made her an expert on the trail. Spoiler alert: it did not.
13 years passed from the moment I first read about the Appalachian Trail to me deciding that I was going to hike the Appalachian Trail. I’m not sure what happened in those 13 years that made me go from not wanting to hike the trail to wanting to hike the trail. I’m sure it’s a smorgasbord of a lot of things. I realized that camping and hiking was not something I needed my parents for. I got into running. I did weekend long relay runs, trail runs, and straight up running races. I realized that I may never be the fastest or the best at training (because trust me, I am neither), but I had a good mix of stubbornness and masochism that allowed me to finish the things I set out to do. I went from being a bit of wimp to someone that hasn’t had a full set of toenails in over a year. I read a lot more books that put a lot of fantastical ideas about adventure in my head. Sometime in the last couple of years, the Appalachian Trail went into the part of my brain reserved for things I’d kinda like to do some day.
When I turned 25 last February, I went through that quarter life crisis everyone talks about. Crisis does sound a little over-dramatic for what it was, which was really just lifting my head after 25 years of moving along and realizing I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going. I really enjoy my job and I’m good at it, but it’s not what I want for the rest of my life. It was a college job that became my full time job that became that-job-I’ll-do-until-I-figure-out-what-I-actually-want-to-do. Turns out there is no lifetime ambition fairy godmother that comes down from the sky, waves her magic wand, and gives you life’s purpose. If there is I’m still waiting for mine, and I was starting to feel like I was doing a whole lot of waiting around.
Remember that part of my brain that holds all the stuff I’d kinda like to do someday? In another part of my brain, that part that holds all my deepest, darkest fears, sits this little nagging idea that I may never get to do any of them. That’ll I’ll never make time, or something will happen so I can’t, or I’ll just chicken out altogether. That little nagging idea went into overdrive when I turned 25.
So comes the turning point in this story. I can’t remember when the thought crossed my mind the first time. It seems like a thought I may have had while riding the bus, or taking a shower, or lifeguarding a really slow day at work (I’m a focused lifeguard, I swear). Wherever it first came to be, I remember thinking it was a drastic thought. Maybe I should hike the Appalachian Trail. I’m not an impulsive person. I remember thinking I should let it simmer for a bit. And simmer it did.
I googled all the things. I read blogs. I watched endless youtube videos, frequently again and again. I planned logistics. When would I quit my job? When would I move out of my apartment? When would I leave? Northbound or southbound? People would talk to me as I glazed over and thought:. Virginia has the most mileage. Harpers Ferry is the mental halfway point. There are a lot of rocks in Maine. The Whites have terrible weather. There are ponies in the Grayson Highlands. I thought about the trail endlessly. But all my plans and schemes still revolved around maybe.
I carried it around as just a thought for awhile. I didn’t want to tell anyone, afraid that if I backed out everyone would just go, “That Becky, such a quitter.” I let it simmer even longer. I was actually sitting on the lifeguard chair at work, on a Friday afternoon shift in August when I first thought, I am going to hike the Appalachian Trail. Again, really diligent lifeguard, I swear it.
The first people I told were Jeff and Joe, my older and younger brother, respectively. They have the advantage of having years of practice telling me when they think I’m doing something stupid. They did not exercise that talent.
Friends were next, and I was showered with support and excitement all around. They joined me for weekend backpacking trips, day hikes, or just listened patiently while I discussed merits of different socks, which is a really interesting point of conversation for me and only me at the moment.
I told my parents somewhat nervously afterwards. My father was horrified. He immediately went into how-can-i-talk-her-out-of-this-mode. My mother was excited. She immediately went into how-can-I-do-all-the-things-for-her mode. Dad has since come a long ways round, and has been incredibly supportive in that, I’m not excited about this but you are and I love you kind of way. Mom has since acquired more knowledge on how to thru-hike anything than I have and is planning to hike her own section of the trail with me. She’s already started training. They’re both pretty awesome and I’m lucky to have them.
The idea has gotten more real with every person I‘ve told, but I still find the enormity of it all hits me every two weeks or so. I think I’ve gotten my head wrapped around the idea, and then an hour I’m standing in line at REI holding a titanium spork and trying to hold it together at the idea of it being my only utensil for 6 months.
I take after my mother in that I’m a planner. I don’t like doing things unless they are fully realized in my mind and I know exactly how they are going to start and end up. The best part of any vacation is planning it. I love schedules and to do lists. I like feeling in control. I approached the Appalachian Trail the way I would’ve approached everything else. I listed, I researched, I scheduled.
Last weekend, my mom and I went on a backpacking trip. It was just a quick weekend trip, to test out and get a feel for some of my new gear. As the weekend came closer, the forecast called for rain, and a lot of it. It rarely rains in California, and I relished the chance to test out some of my rain gear. It turns out enthusiasm about camping in the rain isn’t really weatherproof.
Everything worked the way it’s supposed to. My rain clothes kept me dry. My tent only leaked a little. I didn’t mind my oatmeal’s garnish of rain water. I was pleased with how my gear had worked, the miles my mom and I had accomplished, and how we’d handled the rain. All that was left was a quick, less than 3 mile walk to the car.
As we walked, I became convinced this was not the same way we had walked in at the beginning of the trip. I pulled out my map, confirmed my theory, but by the time I went to show my mom, the map was sopping and disintegrating. The section I was pointing to sagged until it separated from the rest of the map and fell on the trail I was sure we were lost on. It would’ve been ridiculously funny if my feet weren’t so wet.
It was fine. The trail we were on spat us out less than a half mile from our car. We were in the car 15 minutes later with the heater on, comparing how dry our baselayers had stayed under our rain jackets.
The more I’ve researched, the more I’ve realized I can’t research every hurdle the trail throws at me. The more I’ve prepared, the more I’ve realized I’m not going to the trail prepared. The more I’ve planned, the more I’ve realized my plans are going to hold up a week at the most. There’s always going to be moments where I realize I really should have gotten a waterproof map. Sometimes it will take more walking, but fine is always where I’ll end up.
I’d like to be the kind of person that trusts myself to be fine. I’d like to be the kind of person tough enough to spend six months walking ~2180 miles. I’d like to be the kind of person that goes on an adventure. I’d like to be the kind of person that doesn’t think, next year.
So I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail.
This blog is mostly so my grandma knows I’m alive, but you’re welcome to follow along as well.
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I will be anxiously awaiting your trials and stories! Love your sense of humor, you will need it!!!
My wife and I will be section hiking in 2017, hope to meet you out there!
Go for it Becky! I am so excited for you. I will be following along (online of course)!
In my minds eye I can imagine traversing these huge distances, having setbacks and struggling on to the finish.
I will follow your progress with interest.
All the best,
I’m planning spring 2018 thru hike at the at trail.?good luck to you.
I’m hiking the trail as well in 2017. I will start in April and somewhere along the way, in May, I will turn 68.
Starting 3/1/17:SOBO Flip Flop at HF WVA. Turning 66. Cya!
[email protected], as a mom and supply chain manager of a 26 year old that completed the trail this year diet variety is key, and surprise treats are important. Be prepared for the occasional raid of a hostel mail box by a bear, and know that when you return to civilization you will not be the same person, but you will be better because of the trail. Also remember that the hike is always more expensive than you budgeted for. It is worth the journey!
Becky, as a mom and supply chain manager of a 26 year old that completed the trail this year diet variety is key, and surprise treats are important. Be prepared for the occasional raid of a hostel mail box by a bear, and know that when you return to civilization you will not be the same person, but you will be better because of the trail. Also remember that the hike is always more expensive than you budgeted for. It is worth the journey!
Becky, I can’t even tell you how much I relate to this post. You’re basically me. Haha! As I read it I was like, wait, did I write this? I too haf my quarter life crisis and will be setting out for my thru-hike this March. Some days I’m so pumped and then I have those days where I stop and think, this is really happening? I’m choosing to live outside and hike for 6 months again? (I was on a trail crew in 2011) Why? And I don’t really have a real answer, but I’m doing it and I’m super excited about it. Hope to run into you on the trail! 🙂
HOLY MOTHER OF GOD!! Pretend for a minute that I am your celestial Ambition Fairy. More than even finishing the A.T. – you need to write a BOOK about your experiences! I can honestly swear that I have NEVER enjoyed reading about the trail MORE. I love your humor and your phrases such as “the trail spit us out!” Your writing is BRILLIANT and I am old enough to know. I hope that you will write NOW! Write about your PREPARATION because I see a real need for that. Zachary wrote about mental preparation and I think his book is THE BEST A.T. BOOK. PERIOD. You are an amazing, amazing writer and I hope you will start working on your book, NOW!! Best of luck!!
“I googled all the things… I thought about the trail endlessly.” This entire post sums up everything I have been experiencing and thinking for the last 6 months. I live vicariously through AT bloggers and thru-hiker’s IG accounts. I’ve fully covered the contemplation and planning phase with the intent to put it all into action in April 2018. Looking forward to following your adventure between now and then.
Hi, Becky. Suzi and I just signed up for updates on your exciting adventure! We also enjoyed reading your blogs and, in particular, about what has motivated you to take the trek. Very poignant – especially the connection to Great Grandma Booroojian. I remember her well, sharing the duplex with your grandparents on Channing Way. Best of luck to you – we will be cheering you on from SLO!