The Making Of An Aspiring AT Thru-Hiker
For starters, I have never been one to take big risks. I would describe myself as someone who has an adventurous spirit but lives cautiously. Most of my life I have been the girl who follows the rules and does what is expected. I dream big but usually stick with what I know inside my safe, cozy, comfort zone.
How It Began
I was born and raised in a small town in Indiana (cue the John Mellencamp music). I have lived in this same town my entire life with the exception of the four years I was away at college. Even then, I was only a few hours from home. Like many millennials, I moved back in with my parents after graduation and stayed well after I obtained my graduate degree from a local college. I eventually moved out of my parents’ house and into an apartment of my own, but not much else has changed. My graduate internship turned into my now job where I have been employed for the past seven years. I have a great life – supportive family, good friends, career of interest – all the things that make up a solid, stable foundation for life. But there is a part of me that feels like I am running in place… even though it’s good, I am not actually going anywhere.
So Why Hiking?
Both of my parents are avid backpackers and have been tackling sections of the Appalachian Trail piece by piece. They took me on my first backpacking trip in the Smoky Mountains in 2013. It was tough. It was dirty. I was exhausted yet I was enchanted! Returning home from that trip I started to read, research, and devour as much as I could about the Appalachian Trail.
In 2014, I hiked the triple crown of Virginia (Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs) with my dad. I was nearly star-struck when I stopped for lunch at a shelter only to find one of the many hikers I was following via Instagram at the same location. The encounter was a reality check for me – behind the screen and postcard-perfect posts was a real person crushing miles and conquering mountains day after day. This person was doing the thing I considered nothing more than a fantasy bucket-list item.
Shortly after that trip I created a 30 by 30 bucket list (cringeworthy and cliche, I know). Predictably, one of the items was hike the Appalachian Trail. I once shared this list with someone I was casually dating and was surprised by his response. I was told I was naive and irresponsible to even consider hiking solo as a woman. He later used this as a reason to stop seeing one another because he “wouldn’t just wait around for six months.” Fast-forward a year to when I am having a conversation with a close friend. Knowing my timid nature, my friend asked what is something I have always wanted to do but was too scared to try. Again, I shared the dream of thru-hiking the AT. This time I was met with a much different response. Instead of condemning me or giving me reasons it was unattainable, I was met with excitement and questions about what it would take to check this off my bucket list. Kind of like the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes on Christmas day, that spark inside of me to see more and do more grew a little brighter. I started to imagine that it was possible and hiking the AT could be more than an unfulfilled item on a list of dreams.
For years, I was content reading blogs, books, and following the journeys of others. Living vicariously through their adventure was enough… until one day when I realized it was not. With much enthusiasm, a healthy dose of anxiety, and pure determination, I declared my intentions to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2018.
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