From Kenya to Katahdin – Moving back to the US for a thru-hike of the AT

Life update time, y’all. Last week my wife and I moved back to the US from Nairobi, Kenya. One month from today we will be starting out on a five to six month long flip-flop thru-hike of the AT – we kick off from Harpers Ferry, WV on June 11th. We hope to finish just a few days before Thanksgiving.

I’m beyond pumped to get this show on the road, but I also know that this is seriously gonna be a challenge. No question I’ll have many tough days, and I’ll probably think about quitting at least a handful of times. Six months is a LONG time to live out of a backpack. If I’m not crystal clear on the reasons I’m doing this I might grab at that temptation during a low, and just call it a day. Who knows how I’ll react after months of walking and basically no showers?!

So… As a way of introducing myself and an attempt to enlist all The Trek reader as helpers in keeping me on the trail, I’ve taken a stab at clarifying my answers to, “Why am I doing this?” My hope is this public declaration, and my desire to avoid the public shame of telling all of you that I quit, will keep me on the trail through to the end.

Here goes.

So why AM I doing this?

To re-center and refuel

The last few years have drained me. Aside from recently getting married to someone who I like enough to attempt a six month hike with (!) … it’s fair to say that I’ve gotten a little burnt out. I have lived in four different places over my last four years of work. And the nonprofit sector is wearing on me. Straight outta college I joined the peace corps, loved it, focused on poverty work and exploring the world to get a lay of the land. And I haven’t really come up for air all that much. Lots of flights, packing and un-packing, learning how to be most useful to people, getting frustrated by how crucial the fundraising game is for NGOs, and honestly realizing the many warts of the sector – it’s gotten to me. I don’t have the same fire I did when I was starting out. So, for me, the AT is a way to clear the cobwebs, make sense of what I’ve been doing for the past decade, and get my energy, confidence, and internal compass back to a place where I can really contribute with that original fire. As short as an hour long jog often times will help me mentally process a lot. Walking 15 miles a day through the woods for six months sounds like a perfect way to do that, on a much crazy larger and deeper scale. Who knows where I’ll land in terms of next steps, and I’m sure I’ll be physically tired when I finish, but I also know that mentally and emotionally this will be a major refuel.

Because we can

My wife and I are in our mid 30’s, we are both looking forward to settling down (or at least slowing) and starting a family sometime soon. We’ve moved a lot and hope that our next home won’t be as temporary. And we just moved back to the US from Kenya. Jobless, life in boxes, with enough savings to pull it off – now seems like the time for this. I’ve had an AT poster hanging on my wall for as long as I can remember; ever since summer camps as a kid in New England where I grew up. I wanna dive into that map before my joints disintegrate from old age. And I honestly just think my priorities will change once family comes into the picture. Now’s the time, while I’m still selfish and adventurous, and while my wife actually is into the idea! The timing is just right.

To let nature do its thing

Who doesn’t wanna just get out there and camp? Rise and fall with the sun. Live in the opposite of the daily reality of cars, traffic, computers, and email. Lose track of the time and even the day – and move around at a natural pace. Just get back to the basics and let nature do its thing – let nature heal and provide inspiration and amazement. I have a strong hunch that what I need in my life right now is a B-12 shot of nature straight to the jugular. I’m truly looking forward to swapping out actual bathing in exchange for six months of forest bathing.

To do it together

My wife and I have been friends for years, but we are newlyweds – about 1.5 years of married life in the bank. With our move to Kenya I was excited about how it would massively launch us forward in terms of our marriage story and common journey. Its like cross-training, but for our relationship. We’ve had to use all kinds of new muscles, gotten to know each other even more deeply, and learned how to work better as a team. The AT will be like that last session of planks at the end of a workout, with Kenya being the real bulk of the workout. It’ll be tough, and we’ll be forced to confront our own individual limits as well as our limits as a team. That’s exciting to me because it’s yet another way to weave our story together and develop a deeper shared history and likely shared perspectives. We are going to need each other. On the trail and after. Let’s get after it!

To connect with the AT kinda people

I honestly can’t wait to meet all kinds of trail people. I have heard about the various kinds of people that hike the AT, and they all seem incredibly honest and genuine. Vets dealing with PTSD. Older folks fulfilling a lifelong dream. Mid-career professionals owning up to a life that’s not fully satisfying them. Young, idealistic, adventure seekers who have no idea what to do with themselves. There is an honesty that seems to permeate the AT community. It turns out that the subset of society who self-selects for an AT thru-hike is a group of truly genuine folks. The ones doing it for the Facebook profile get filtered out pretty quickly – only 25% make it all the way (check out other cool AT stats here). I have a feeling there’ll be some great campfire chats and I’m really looking forward to meeting this raw and authentic group of people.

And the real reason: I know I’ll look back on this and smirk

As I’ve gotten a little older and (slightly) wiser I’ve learned to listen to my gut. And I’ve realized I’m somewhat of a provocateur; new ideas, challenging norms, doing somewhat ridiculous stuff. That makes me happy; makes me smile. I light up when I see it, and I like to do it. When I think about the prospect of hiking the AT, and the ability to look back on it in old age, I just know it’ll put a smirk on my face. It’ll be another ridiculous set of stories to tell. It’s just one of those things that’s only for the crazies, the dreamers, the boundary pushers and the doers. Whether my wife and I successfully thru-hike or we get sidelined with injuries in the first 100 miles, I know that attempting to walk 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine will be something I’ll be able to talk about with pride and hilarity for years to come. My gut’s telling me that’ll be well worth it.

Thems the facts! Keep your eyes peeled for future posts about my adventure as I have it.

-Rob

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Comments 5

  • Jenn : May 11th

    So excited to follow y’all’s journey!

    Reply
  • Bethany : May 11th

    I am so excited you are living your dream! Congrats on making it through one trial and being wise enough to not back down from the next! -BKP

    Reply
  • Joel : May 12th

    I love it man! I will be sending you both the best wandering energy I got. I look forward to reading about your adventure thru the AT.

    Reply
  • Beth Cullinan : May 16th

    Best of luck you too!! Looking forward to learning and hearing more of your journey!!

    Reply
  • Chioma Ume : May 21st

    Best news! What an adventure you’ve signed up for, very jealous – have an AMAZING time!!!

    Reply

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