My “Why” List

A rite of passage for any prospective thru hiker is answering their three-pronged “question of purpose”: why am I hiking the Appalachian Trail, what will I gain from the experience, and what will I lose from giving up along the way? These questions, devised by Zach Davis (author of Appalachian Trials), help hikers navigate the mental and physical challenges that send so many hopefuls home short of their triumphant finish. When I’m feeling especially discouraged along my journey, I’ll refer to my trusty list to keep on keepin’ on. Here it is:

I am thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail because…

  • I long for more fulfillment in my life and friendships.
  • The conventional trajectory of life (college, career, marriage, family) does not excite me.
  • I want to seek gratification through nature and people, not social media or technology.
  • I want to depend more on God and less on the material promises of this world.
  • I want to meet kindred spirits who share in my affinity for the great outdoors.
  • This experience will give me the sense of adventure I’m looking for.
  • Growth happens when I am uncomfortable.

When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail I will…

  • Feel worthy of good things, good friends, and a good future.
  • Have more confidence in my ability to sustain my survival and happiness with minimal resources.
  • Have an unshakeable faith.
  • Have lifelong friends and invaluable memories.
  • Understand that fulfillment comes through lived experiences, community, and friendship—not the fleeting gratifications of virtual connectivity.
  • Have a completely renewed life perspective and set of priorities.
  • Have ineffable joy. 
  • The desire to continue searching and learning about people, places, history, and humans’ relationship with the natural world.

If I give up on the Appalachian Trail I will… 

  • Be both broke and sad.
  • Miss out on an opportunity to prove my physical and mental strength.
  • Feel incompetent.
  • Miss out on enriching experiences and relationships.
  • Return to the same environment that has inhibited my personal and spiritual growth.

The closer I get to my start date, the more I understand that attitude shapes one’s trail experience. I feel so privileged to begin this journey and have faith this list will keep me accountable on the most challenging days.



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Comments 4

  • Wolf of the Wind and Wood : Mar 25th

    I’ve been thinking about doing a through hike and the thing that stops me is the fact I need a job to pay the bills. In some ways figuring out how to do a hike without a paying job is a job in itself.
    Ive been trying to figure out why I want to do one. The reasons I come up with are that, some of the times I have been happiest in life are waking up in the morning to see the sunrise as I look out over a cliff. A love of the outdoors of course. And, there is a place I get to only on the the trail especially traversing areas I have never seen before. Being absent technology, being one with nature… its becoming rarer and rarer. That place where only we and the surrounding outdoors and wildlife are and no one else is around… thats reality. Thats the real world not the artificial one we have built around us to make us more comfortable. Listening to the frogs, birds, cicadas, wind and rain. Thats home in my mind. I just do not get as often to visit anymore.

    • Lgilliland : Mar 26th

      We am so happy for you as you embark on this exciting adventure! Just know, your family in California are cheering you on and we wish you all the best. You’ve got this!! All our love. ❤️??

  • pearwood : Mar 25th

    Go for it, Lexa!
    Blessings on your way,
    Steve / pearwood

  • Giraffe : Mar 25th

    *pedantic I know, but you might like to know… it’s *Rite of passage, as in religious rites- helps make sense of the expression*

    I love your reasons to hike! My only thoughts are that, sometimes things are too hard. Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valour. I don’t agree that you will feel those things if you don’t make your thru-hike, and you should not feel those things. You can always turn back, and you will still have learned and gained from it. Don’t be so hard on yourself!
    All the very best of luck, I hope you smash it, and remember, if you don’t, you are not failing. You have not failed.


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