My Hiker Gratitude List
I’ve always been a very independent person. If I didn’t know better, I’d guess that my first words were “I can do it myself!” So when I decided to tackle a 2018 thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail, I had no idea how much I would rely on the gifts of others to make it possible.
Now I’m four months out from my start date, well into the planning process. I’ve come to see not only how important the people I know and love are to my success, but also how much the trail community contributes to the thru-hiking experience.
I’ve grown a lot as an aspiring thru-hiker in the past six months and I have a long way to go (2190 miles and counting) before I reach my goal. I’ll be the one hiking, step-by-step, but this is one adventure that wouldn’t be possible for me without help, support and encouragement from others – many of whom I’ll never meet.
Knowing that I can’t do it all by myself, I made a list of all the things I’m thankful for as I prepare for my trip. This is my Thru-Hiker Gratitude List:
I’m thankful for my gear and the companies that make it. Like many hikers, I started with the big names you find at REI – all good quality but hardly ultralight. I dug deeper and quickly discovered another whole world of intrepid adventurers who get out on the trail, see a need, then go home to create a solution that other hikers can use.
Companies like Gossamer Gear, Lawson Outdoor Equipment, and Antigravity Gear (to name a few) give us endless options so that we can each find the gear that works best for us. I’m still fine-tuning my gear list, and I am incredibly thankful for the wealth of choices that I have.
My hiking groups are awesome, from the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club (GATC) to the AT Women’s Group and 2018 thru-hiker class groups on Facebook. It is such a gift to have people who share a passion for the outdoors, especially hiking and backpacking. I have met some wonderful friends through these groups and I would not have had the courage or confidence to undertake a thru-hike without them.
Knowing I can ask crazy questions in a drama-free zone on Facebook and get answers in minutes from people who’ve been there is priceless. Anything is fair game, from “What do you do when you’re losing your first toenail?” to “Help, I’m scared to sleep alone in the woods!” There’s no judgment, just helpful answers and ideas.
I never really thought about the elves that keep the trail in good shape until I discovered the GATC and 30 other trail maintaining clubs affiliated with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). Members of these groups preserve the trail for the thousands of hikers that use it for day hikes, section hikes and thru-hikes every year.
Passionate volunteer trail maintainers get out there in all kinds of weather to care for the trail, providing a clear path, clean privies and luxuries like bear cables or boxes at shelters. Keeping up with the wear and tear on 2000+ miles of trail and 250 shelters is a lot of work!
I was surprised to encounter my first trail magic—a simple jug of fresh water— on an early fall hike from Neel to Unicoi. That doesn’t sound like much, but I sure appreciated it just then! I expect I’ll encounter plenty of trail magic as I hike the Appalachian Trail next year and it’s a gift I’ll won’t take for granted.
The kind folks who know what hikers need and make it mysteriously appear when you need it most are a special breed. It’s even better when these Trail Angels are there in person to greet you with a smile, a hug, and words of encouragement.
I haven’t met one on the trail, but I did have the privilege of backpacking with a two-time Trail Runner on my trip to Siler Bald. Bill was a wealth of knowledge, patiently answering all the random questions that popped into my head that weekend (and I had plenty).
He also educated me on the vital role of Trail Runners (hired by the ATC during peak hiker season) and their volunteer counterparts, Trail Ambassadors, in shaping the Appalachian Trail experience. I’ll look forward to seeing next year’s team on my thru-hike.
It’s amazing to me how many people are willing to freely share their knowledge on YouTube. Watching channels like Darwin on the Trail and Follow Bigfoot has helped me with my gear list, Flat Broke Outside offers excellent, pragmatic advice, and I’ve seen what it’s really like to hike through the eyes of Daisy at Home Wanderlust, Brave at Happy Hikers, and Jen and Greg on their Appalachian Trail Tales.
Their chronicles inspired me to document my own planning and I’m exceptionally grateful to everyone who reads my posts here and watches me on Joyful Rambler.
I am fortunate to live in the US, not far from the Appalachian Trail. I’m close enough to train on the trail and it’s easy to forget that not everyone is so lucky. (If I still lived in Florida, I’d be hiking on flat, sandy soil.)
It’s exciting to think about all the people I’ll meet as they come together on the magical Appalachian Trail. They’ll represent all walks of life and countries as far away as Australia. We’ll have different perspectives on life, faith, and politics—really all kinds of things. It will be an epic and diverse group, and I know that no matter how different we are, we’ll find common ground on the trail. That’s pretty cool.
This list wouldn’t be complete without mention of my family…
My husband and daughters don’t love to backpack, but they do understand and indulge my need to get outside. They’re incredibly supportive and I couldn’t even think of a thru-hike without them behind me.
My parents are happy and healthy, still worrying about me even though I’m over 50. I adore them for it. Their faith in me is unwavering. They believe in me even when I doubt myself. Thanks, Mom and Dad!
My brother and sister inspire me with their love of the outdoors. When I was hunkered down indoors, being a mom and working my butt off in the corporate world, they were going out to do what I wished I could. They are wonderful role models and if I’m lucky, they’ll join me for some of my thru-hike.
That’s my list. What’s on yours?
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