From the AT to the MST: Pre-Trek Musings

I’ve slept in my bed for the last time, I’ve finished the goodbye parade, the seams of my pack are bursting, and my drop boxes are ready to be shipped, but I can’t keep from wondering if my mind and body are ready for another long thru-hike. Although this year’s trek along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) is half as long and sure to be loads different than last year’s AT pilgrimage, I’m feeling anxious to know what’s to come.

For me the AT was primarily a solitary journey I used for introspection and personal evaluation, but despite my attempts to turn away from too much trail chatter I walked away proclaiming my “faith in humanity” had been restored by the kindness I received along my trek. Early on in my thru-hike a seasoned hiker told me, “Take photos of the people. You’ll always be able to return to the beautiful places you see, but the people won’t still be there.” I appreciated the sentiment in the moment and even thought I heeded to the advice, but when I look back at the thousands of photos of my thru-hike I’m surprised by the underrepresentation of smiles. Failing to snap photos of the people I met along the way or taking time to jot down the stories they told remains a sore spot for me.

Upon completing the AT one of the questions on repeat was if I would attempt one of the other long trails—primarily the PCT and CDT. My reply wavered between a simple no to maybe some time far away in the future. I simply couldn’t envision my mind or body being ready for another long trek after 157 days on the AT. Plus, I knew firsthand that the reality of thru-hiking isn’t always all sunshine and rainbows. No, the truth is that there were more thunderstorms and soggy mornings than I care to count.

Within six weeks of completing my thru I moved from an Atlanta suburb to Asheville, NC. My soul missed the mountains, my eyes simply needed to see mountains every day even if only from a distance, and Asheville was my college home, my home away from home, so the move made sense. Once I landed here the wondering question shifted from if I was considering the PCT to if I would thru-hike the MST. My initial answer was a hard no considering that of the roughly 1,200 miles of the MST, 500 of them traipse along pavement through the Piedmont region of the state. Plus, another long walk felt outside of my present wheelhouse.

Somehow, though, as the days slowly turned to weeks that shifted into months since I was bona fide hiker trash my shoulders began aching to feel the weight of a pack, my knees started feeling wobbly and uncertain beneath me and then, seemingly out of nowhere, I started to wonder about my new home state. I thought about the cultural and geographical diversity of North Carolina. I am familiar with the richness of coastal Carolina having lived on Cape Hatteras for six months in my mid-20s, but I began contemplating what it would be like to walk with the waves. Then I wondered what it might be like to be a flatlander, a farmer, a city-dweller living in the Piedmont with equal distance from the mountains and sea.

Once the mental wheels started churning it didn’t take me long to commit to the MST, but I’ve promised myself to do this trek differently. Instead of an inward quest, I want to turn my attention to the people of North Carolina, to immerse myself in the culture, history, and geography. The Latin term “esse quam videri” is North Carolina’s state motto. It means to be rather than to seem. It feels like a fitting mantra to take on for this new trek in order to learn how to just be and not worry about the perception of others. If you are an NC dweller come find me on the trail. I want to meet you and hear your stories and share some miles!

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Comments 1

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    Dorothy & toto : Apr 20th

    Just finished a sobo 2018 hike in February and missed the freedom. did part of the mst segment 4 last week Just a suggestion but loved our stop in Mortimer at Betsy’s general store. Bruce owns the place and there are campsites and booze and nicest people! Stop there and enjoy!

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