Is This Happening? Yes!
With under a week to go before I start out from Georgia, I thought I should introduce myself.
Hi, my name is Valery!
I am a young twenty-something that is planning to hike northbound on the Appalachian Trail starting in mid-April. Since completing my Bachelor’s degree last spring, I have been doing seasonal work. I spent the summer working boating at a summer camp, the fall teaching outdoor education, and the winter teaching ski lessons. I love adventuring, especially micro-adventures, to add excitement to the everyday. In the fall, I am set to start working towards a Master’s in Human Nutrition. No better way to see Human Nutrition in action than on the trail!
My NoBo journey begins soon and it still kinda feels like a dream. I have researched and prepared over the past several years to make this dream a reality. I have read the books, scoured the forums, and followed the hikers in an effort to mentally prepare for what is to come. However, I readily admit I have never done a long-distance hike before. Sure, I summitted Katahdin one time when I was 17. I love to camp and hike. I grew up in Maine, home of steep and direct trails and false summits. Still, the thought of spending night after night on trail, waking up each morning to walk, scramble, and hike is difficult to wrap my head around.
I find myself seeking comfort in the facts as I make my final preparations to hit the trail.
First, I have read the books, articles, and forums. I have listened to the podcasts. I have watched the videos. I have done the research.
Over the past year, I have read over 10 books on the AT, the PCT, and the CDT. I have immersed myself in the knowledge of those who have done this before me. As the saying goes, “Don’t try to re-invent the wheel.” While I am sure that I will encounter hurdles that I haven’t encountered in media, I am confident that I know enough that I can be safe and improvise as needed.
Second, I have spent a lot of time outdoors.
Reading all the literature I can get my hands on is good, but there is still the matter of practical experience. My parents had me helping set up tents since I was six and directing the show when I was ten. I can read a map and am familiar with orienting myself in the outdoors. I understand safety precautions for different weather conditions and how to provide first aid. While I lack experience with longer backpacking trips and thru-hiking, I am familiar with many of the components. The unknown still makes me nervous but I am not new to living and working in the outdoors.
Third, I am in relatively good shape.
While I can confidently say that I am not in the best aerobic shape of my life, I do live an active life. I spent the summer moving and paddling canoes and kayaks, the fall hiking at high altitudes, and this winter skiing a lot. There is something to be said about having a 40lb five-year-old go limp and skiing down with them between your legs. Plus, I have been carrying my “little” sister around and my backpack weighs about a third of her weight when fully loaded. It’s not the same as hiking mountains with my pack but it makes me feel better.
Fourth, I have an amazing community to support me.
For the most part, my family, friends, and coworkers have been incredibly supportive of this adventure. My mother has been my biggest cheerleader, continuously pushing me to take steps towards making this happen over the past year. My coworkers from last summer are so excited, and knowing that they support me is huge, as I know I will miss them and our campers as the summer progresses. I also know that there are a ton of amazing people on and around the trail that will support me on this journey as well, whether that be with conversation, encouragement, or simply shared misery on the rough days.
Finally, I have done a lot of mental work to prepare for this.
I will freely admit that anxiety and I are old friends. Without going into too many details, anxiety has weighed on me for many years. In college, I started to dismantle negative coping mechanisms and learned to start working with my anxiety in a productive way. There are still good days and bad days, but managing highs and lows is definitely something that I have worked on. On trail, I expect to have wonderful, uplifting days and rough, demoralizing days. I don’t have any concrete strategies I plan to use on the rough days but rather a host of coping mechanisms and, as some good friends would say, resiliency.
While I can’t say that I am fully prepared for anything the trail might throw my way, I can say that I am ready to get out there and start hiking. I am excited and nervous and still in disbelief that this is going to be my life for the next four to six months. With less than a week to go before I fly to Georgia, I just need to resist the urge to add more things to my pack. And yes, Grandma, I have broken in my hiking boots, I promise!
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