Leaving My Archaeology Job To Hike the Appalachian Trail

Hello! My name is Alejandra May (she/her). This year I will be attempting a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. The plan is to head out from my current abode in Indiana to start the Approach Trail at Amicalola Falls State Park around mid-March. As my start date comes closer, I have to find ways to contain my excitement but also my nervousness. I’ll be taking a pause from my job starting at the beginning of March, but until then, two months feels like an eternity.

On an archaeological expedition in the Wyoming wilderness in 2021.

Let Me Introduce Myself

I currently reside near Indianapolis, Indiana, but I didn’t always live in the Midwest. I was born in the picturesque city of Queretaro in Mexico and spent most of my childhood growing up in the neighboring state of San Luis Potosi. After 6th grade, I moved to Indiana to try out school in the US, and as it turns out, I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Moving to the US was nothing like the movies had me expecting. Sure there was high school drama, but the part that stunned me the most about the US was its natural aspect. While there are hiking and other outdoor activities in Mexico, I’d never experienced anything like long-distance hiking trails. I had never even heard of backpacking until college. My first backpacking trip (now known as the “family trip from hell”) wasn’t until I was 21 years old, but that’s a story for another time.

My first family backpacking trip (me on the left, my younger sister on the right).

Needless to say, my mom got me hooked on backpacking, even though my first experience was the farthest from ideal. Despite some mishaps, I decided that living in the woods was the coolest thing ever, and I would dedicate my free time to exploring as much of the outdoors as I could. Since then, I’ve done several backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail, in Ohio, and I even thru-hiked the Knobstone Trail in Indiana (currently the longest trail in the state).

And as fate would have it, I ended up in a career where the outdoors would become my office!

Hold on, you’re leaving your archaeology job?

Yep! It might sound kind of silly to leave a job that sounds like a really cool gig, right? Also yes. However, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

For a little background, I attended Purdue University and majored in Anthropology (study of human culture) with a focus in Bioarchaeology (study of bones in an archaeological context). My dream job since high school was to become an archaeologist. During my time in college, I performed digs in South Africa, Malawi, Indiana, and Ohio. After college, I spent 30 days in the Wyoming wilderness executing a large-scale archaeological survey (this holds the record for the longest time I’ve gone without a proper shower). The following year I went to Peru to help jumpstart an archaeological project near the coast. In summary, my archaeological career started with a blast.

A fellow student and I (left) inspecting an artifact in the Peruvian sand dunes (Photo courtesy of Elisabetta Dixon).

After college, I was hired on as an Archaeological Field Technician. I was finally able to call myself an archaeologist; I had made it! One distinction here is that there are two major realms of archaeology. The first is academic archaeology, which is what you’re probably envisioning when I talk about a “dig.” The second is Cultural Resource Management (CRM), or contract archaeology. In short, this type of archaeology involves working for a company (not a university) to survey or mitigate cultural resources before a client builds on top of a plot of land. This is where my job falls. We basically try to protect archaeological sites from disappearing. Great, right?

Fast-forward to working a year in the profession… I love the fieldwork aspect, but over time, I’ve encountered other parts of the job that are just not for me. To clarify, I’m not leaving my job permanently. I do plan on returning to it after the trail. However, I know that I don’t want to spend the rest of my career in this kind of job. Enter: the Appalachian Trail. I strongly believe that my time on the trail will be beneficial in helping me sort out all (or most) of my thoughts and doubts about my career (and much more).

The Mystical “Green Tunnel”

I first encountered the Appalachian Trail on my backpacking trip from hell that I mentioned earlier. After spending some very miserable (yet also fun and memorable) time outdoors, we hitched out of the Smokies and got a hotel room. After getting a warm shower and some greasy food into our bellies, we felt ready to explore the outdoors again. So the next day, we drove to check out one of the shelters on the Appalachian Trail. I had never really heard of the AT until this trip. My mom told me that her uncle had hiked the trail in 1991, and she wanted to visit one of the shelters he had stayed at. We meandered down a very misty and velvety green trail. As we passed white blaze after white blaze, I became entranced by the beauty of the trail and something else I couldn’t quite put into words.

My first time on the AT, fascinated by the magic.

We encountered a group of four or five guys with scraggly beards who seemed to be there for the long haul. They took a pause at the shelter we were at, and my mom started up a conversation with them. They were thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, heading all the way to Maine. They had started in Georgia. I couldn’t believe it. How could someone walk that far on foot?

Needless to say, hiking long distances became an infatuation. I wanted to learn everything I could about hiking the Appalachian Trail. Down in my internet rabbit hole, I learned about the Triple Crown trails (which I plan to complete one day!), the National Scenic Trails in the US, and the whole culture around walking hundreds to thousands of miles. I loved the idea! I just wasn’t sure when I would be able to do it. Fast-forward to present day, where I’m now actively preparing to embark on my first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail! Can’t wait! I invite you to follow along on my journey through my Trek blog posts and through my adventure Instagram (@trails_and_travels_with_ale).

One smile (of many) on the Appalachian Trail.

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Comments 6

  • Thomas Brown : Jan 4th

    Nice article. Looking forward to following along. Hope she starts a utube page.

    • Alejandra May : Jan 8th

      Thank you! I’ve never really thought of starting a Youtube page, but now I might consider it! Definitely want to document my journey somehow besides blog posts.

  • Black eyed Susan : Jan 5th

    Will follow your Trek. All the best. You got this! Signed thru-hiker wanna be for 2028/2029.

    • Alejandra May : Jan 8th

      Thank you so much! Wishing you a successful future thru hike!!

  • Steve Hise : Jan 13th

    Fellow (native) Hoosier here planning to take on the AT in early 2024.

    Nice intro article; will follow you adventure…..looking forward to hearing about the first 248 miles when seem to be quite the challenge starting with the 8 mile hike to the southern terminus.

    May the force be with you.

    • Alejandra May : Jan 18th

      Hello! Thank you for the well wishes! Can’t wait to see what the trail holds in those first few hundred miles. I’m sure it’ll be one heck of a start to a great adventure. Good luck on planning for your thru hike next year!


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