The Meaning Behind My Burning Desire To Thru-Hike

Feeling exposed but here it goes… my first blog post. Two months from today I start my NOBO AT thru-hike. Last night it hit me that I was closer to the date of my thru-hike than the date I decided to commit to a thru-hike. It felt like just yesterday when I started telling friends, family, and coworkers about my “crazy plan” back in October. Needless to say, I started feeling all kinds of emotions as this life event was becoming more and more real and fast approaching in the horizon. Lying in bed looking up at the ceiling, my mind was racing as I concentrated on trying to make myself not stress out (you know that never works). Admitting defeat after building up so much unnecessary energy, I finally dozed off. Today, I thought it would be productive to write about it and remind myself of (and share with you all) the meaning behind my madness.

Why I’m Hiking

I think my need to hike the AT falls into two categories: my burning desire to chase after a dream I’ve had since my teens, and the emotional journey and discovery that come along with a thru-hike.

Let’s Start With No. 1

Enter 11-year-old Meredith from flat Florida who gets sent away to a magical summer camp in the heart of the North Carolina mountains. It’s safe to say that I fell in love with the outdoors that summer. Fast forward a few years later and 15-year-old Meredith is off on her first two-week-long AT backpacking trip. I carried a heavy pack, didn’t shower, journaled every day, relieved myself in the woods, did the whole shebang, but two weeks later, it ended. I met a few thru-hikers on that trip and was so intrigued and inspired. Six months instead of two weeks of this? I could do that, sign me up! And so the obsession began. When going on college visits, I would ask how far the campus was from the AT. I specifically remember that being a point that came up when deciding on a school. I ended up at Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!) which is right next to McAfee Knob, the most photographed spot on the AT. Go figure. Two years ago, I freaking drew a sharpie tattoo of the AT symbol on my foot and said that will be my reward and reminder once I hiked the entire trail. I’m sure you get it by now. There have been several decisions and experiences in my life that have made this the dream goal of mine.

On To No. 2

I am craving some alone time with nature (more like six months worth) to discover more about myself. I think there’s something so beautiful in taking time to explore what drives you, what you value, and how happiness is defined for you. What other experience gives you the opportunity to observe your real life from a distance?

Additionally, I need to learn not to give up on something, whether it be a job or a relationship, when the honeymoon stage ends. Committing to the trail and sticking it through those Virginia Blues will help me reflect on the reasons why this is so important to me and why I need to keep going. I want to spread this learning experience to all aspects of my life.

I have always seen myself as being independent, but I’ve never truly tested those limits. I want to prove to myself that I am the self-reliant, confident badass I know I can be. Lastly, I’ve always called the AT home and I want to explore the whole damn thing.


Why I’m Hiking Now

We set our own boundaries in life, but also have the power to tear them down. I felt insane for wanting to thru-hike. It never seemed possible. How would I make this work with my job? With my friends? With my lease? With my budget? The list could go on forever. There will always be a reason to not do something, and usually even more reasons to not do something incredible. This past year, I’ve been challenging the meaning of happiness, and my preconceived definition does not suffice anymore. I mistakenly used to think money and stability would be a good start to living a fulfilling life. Don’t get me wrong, these things are still needed in some portion but I’m willing to push the limits.

I refuse to live my life avoiding obstacles. I will live deliberately and make the obstacles work around my life instead. If there’s something I’m passion about, I’m going for it. I will figure out the how later. I have stopped making excuses and have committed to a 2018 solo thru-hike. So here I am still trying to figure out the logistics behind leaving my job and my apartment, but know that I am leaving in March no matter what. I feel challenged, uneasy, anxious but so much happier than I was before. Allowing vulnerability into my life has opened my eyes to a greater meaning in life. It’s amazing to see that the emotional benefits of a thru-hike have already affected me and I haven’t even started.

It’s now less than two months until I leave to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, so follow along, comment below, send me audiobook and podcast recs, share your wisdom, meet me on the trail, call me insane, because this adventure is just getting started.

What Quote Has Recently Inspired Me?

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” – Henry David Thoreau

What Book Am I Reading?

“Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone” by Brené Brown

What Podcast Am I Listening To?

Paul’s Boots by the Dirtbag Diaries

What’s On My Playlist?

  1. “One Day They’ll Know” (ODESZA Remix) – Pretty Lights
  2. “Dust Bowl Dance” – Mumford & Sons
  3. “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promises” – The Avett Brothers
  4. “40 Day Dream” – Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros
  5. “Starlight” – Jai Wolf

I’ll be updating this playlist with songs I listen to on training hikes and once I’m on the trail.


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Comments 6

  • Avatar
    David "Fizzle" Duchesne : Jan 22nd

    Hi Meredith!
    I will be starting my NOBO on 3/15, I enjoyed your story and perhaps will see you on the trail!
    Happy trails!

    • Avatar
      Meredith Johnson : Jan 22nd

      Hey David! It’s great to hear from you and I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Do you have a blog I could follow? I leave on March 18th so I hope we run into each other. Happy Hiking 🙂

  • Avatar
    Sarah Legg : Jan 22nd

    You’re awesome!! Good luck out there!

    • Avatar
      Meredith Johnson : Jan 22nd

      Thanks, Sarah! I’m so excited for this trip. Are you planning a thru-hike too?

  • Avatar
    Taylor Tubbs : Jan 23rd


    • Avatar
      Meredith Johnson : Jan 24th

      Thanks, stranger 😉


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