Into the Thick of It

Hey all, welcome! My name is Carly, known by some as Carl. I am thrilled to be among the ranks of those attempting a NOBO thru-hike of the AT this year. It’s been a real trip to even get to this point, but after all, what is a great thru-hiker without a badass origin story? So buckle-up buttercup it’s time to go for a ride!

Outdoor Origins

My love of the outdoors started at age eight, when I went on my first camping trip to Acadia National Park with my family. I loved listening to the pines rustling in the wind, catching crabs by the ocean,  and smelling the hot pine needles roasting in the Maine summer air. We went every summer until I left for college. When I was around 13, my mom and I decided to try our hand at backpacking. Although the first few trips were rough, to say the least, I was thrilled to transform into a sweaty and wild woodswoman even for just a day or two. 

The Coughlin's In Acadia, Circa 2008

The Coughlins In Acadia, Circa 2008

From Flatlander to Mountaineer

By the time I graduated high school and was headed to Clarkson University, I knew I needed to keep the wild woodswoman alive. Luckily, Clarkson is about a two-hour drive from the Adirondacks, so I was able to spend nearly every weekend backpacking, hiking, skiing, and everything in between. All of that was made possible by my University’s Outing Club, lovingly referred to as CUOC by its members. The best way to describe CUOC is a conglomerate of rad, weird, and wild people. Our “meetings” were super informal and mainly consisted of upperclassmen standing up and saying “I’m going to hike this weekend. I have three spots in my car, come along if you’d like to!” And I almost always did.

Due to this unique style of operation, I was able to meet amazing people who taught me the skills I needed to be successful and safe in the outdoors. With the backing of CUOC, I was able to accomplish things I never thought I could. This included everything from filtering my own water to completing a successful bushwhacking trip and eventually leading my own trips.  Over my 4.5 years at Clarkson, CUOC really became a home for me. I will always be grateful for the people I met and the adventures we went on. 

CUOC Trail Maintenance day 2018, Pit Vipers required!

To Graduation, and Beyond!

As I wrapped up my last semester at Clarkson, graduation loomed ahead in the fall of 2020. On top of the stress and anxiety most college seniors experience before entering the real world, I was severely burnt out from attending my last semester during a pandemic. Not to mention that despite trying my hand at various internships and other work experiences, I had no clue what I wanted to do after graduation. Upon reflection, it became clear that for the past 16 years of my life, all I had done was move through school at full speed, never stopping long enough to think about what I wanted for myself. 

With this realization, I decided to reflect on my time at school and what had truly made me happy. I thought about backpacking trips with my friends, bonfires on cold nights, and gazing at the Milky Way at two a.m. after fleeing from a black bear and her cub. I realized that the times I had truly felt at peace with myself were the times I had spent doing what I loved: exploring the outdoors. 

This new understanding reignited something that had been on my mind for years- the AT. Years ago on one of my backpacking trips with my mom, we met a section hiker who had been hiking with her dog on the AT in Maine. I remember thinking how cool that was and what it must feel like to accomplish something so monumental. Armed with this rekindled fascination I researched  what it would take to complete the AT myself. I thought, “I can do that, that sounds like a dream!” And thus, the planning began. 

I decided that I would leave to start my hike in March of 2021. I then had to fill a few odd months between graduation in November and my departure. I decided that the obvious time-filler was to become a snowmaker at my childhood ski hill, Sugarloaf Mountain (duh). I thought that snowmaking would be a hardcore and exciting thing to do before leaving for Georgia. Although I was right and snowmaking was every bit as fun as I hoped it would be, I unfortunately hurt myself on the job while maintaining some of the more difficult terrain. This resulted in a badly broken leg, months of recovery, and the devastating news that I would have to postpone my thru-hike. 

More Prepping and More Planning

I would never say that I am happy I broke my leg last winter, or that it was “a blessing in disguise,” because it wasn’t. It straight-up sucked. What I will say is that it gave me another year to plan and prepare for my trip whether I wanted it or not. Although in terms of gear, mail drops, and supplies, I was good to go, this injury gave me an unexpected opportunity to work on the mental side of preparation.

Once my leg was healed, I decided to stay in Maine and work in the off-season at Sugarloaf with the golf course maintenance crew. For those who don’t know me, I don’t golf. Nor do I know anything about golf. I mainly accepted the job as a reason to work outside all summer long and earn some extra pre-trail cash. It didn’t end up being that bad—I learned how to groom sand!

I will admit this period was a hard time for me. I was living alone and was working early hours six days a week which kept me isolated from friends. I had to learn how to be alone with myself, something I had never really done before (it gave me the ick). I believe that although not ideal, this period of time did provide me with the invaluable skills I may need to survive the mental aspects of the AT.

Me and my wonderful pup Trixie enjoying a sunset this summer.

At the end of the golf season, I decided to move back home to Boston and pursue a job in biotech, which is ironic considering that the thought of a “real job” is part of what drove me to the AT in the first place. I have spent the last several months working as a scientist at a gene therapy company. I was nervous to be back in the industry after almost a year-long break, but I have loved every minute of it. I was also pleasantly surprised I remembered how to use a pipette. 

And Here We Are

If you had told me last November I would be where I am now, I wouldn’t believe you. Broken leg? No way! I’m invincible. But here we are, only a few weeks away from standing on Springer Mountain. If the past year has taught me anything, it’s to go with the flow because things will all work out. I am hopeful that the next few months can top the chaos of the last year, and standing on Katahdin will make all of it oh so worth it. For my parting words I would like to introduce you to a phrase used frequently in CUOC: see ya later and don’t get dead! 

Don’t get dead,


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Comments 5

  • pearwood : Feb 9th

    Yay, Carly!
    Just remember that no one is invincible and keep moving forward.
    You can read my latest posts about getting my own limitations hammered into me.
    Go for it!

    • Carly Coughlin : Feb 13th

      Hi Steve!
      Thank you so much, very inspiring to read your posts. keep on trekking!

  • Bruce Hall : Feb 10th

    I am going on a 2-week hike this summer with a type 1 diabetic. She is concerned about how to keep her insulin chilled. How are you planning to manage that?

    • Carly Coughlin : Feb 13th

      Hey Bruce! Thanks for your question. This is what I have experienced and is not necessarily what will work for everyone. They should definitely discuss it with their doctor to see if they have any recommendations. I was told that insulin can be kept unrefrigerated for up to 28 days. I normally go through a vial in two weeks, so I normally just keep it in my pack because the vial will never be out of that time period. I have never had any problems with this, but again I am not a doctor. I know there are some diabetics who carry insulin pens or long acting insulin that will potentially be unrefrigerated longer, and I do believe they use some type of container to keep it chilled. My best advice: have them consult with their doctor to see what recommendations they can offer. Hope this helps!

  • Ron a. : Feb 14th

    Nice looking family ya got ! You bringing the pup? Anyhow ,hope to see ya on trail ,I’m starting the a.t. On march29th p.m. or 30th a.m.. we’re gonna kill it !!!!


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