Name, Quest, Favorite Color, etc.

Hello there! My name is Heidi, and I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail (my favorite color is currently green, btw). I grew up in Ohio and am a senior at Duke University, where I study Computer Science and English. After graduating, I’ll be working as a software engineer in New York City. My fun fact is that once, I ate a dozen donuts in four minutes.

Phew, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into the more exciting stuff! Like, why am I choosing to hike over 2,000 miles and live out of a backpack for a third of a year? There are many reasons, not least of which being I love being outside and moving my body—especially when donuts and other sweet treats are involved! But, English major that I am, I’ve grouped the more nebulous goals of mine into three overarching categories. Here goes:

1. To gain perspective

For the past four years, who I am has been a function of my academic and professional activities—if you couldn’t tell from my introduction, some version of which I’ve repeated approximately one million times since starting college. This is something my peers and I like to joke about yet not put any effort toward changing. While I love what I do for work, I want to be able to decouple that part of my life from my personhood and not be grasping at straws to explain the parts that are left.

I grew up in a pretty rural area. My town was actually a village; you had to drive for 30 minutes to get anywhere interesting, and most people pretty much stayed where they were after graduating high school. There was a lot of groupthink, and not in a manner that aligned with my beliefs. So, I decided to go far away to college, where things would be better.

And I did—and they were. While at Duke, I’ve met a diverse range of peers, taken interesting classes, studied abroad in Spain and England, pursued research and internships, participated in extracurriculars, and gotten a full-time job in NYC—you get the drift. I’ve done everything right by the standards of my current community, and I’m proud of my upward mobility.

Classic senior snapshot on top of the Duke Chapel

That’s great and all, but I’ve also been living in a bubble for four years. My perceptions of everything from the financial to the professional to the social have been warped to fit the underlying ideals of my campus. When I go home and talk to the people around whom I grew up, I realize how thoroughly my mindset has changed since going away to college. I want to reflect on that, to challenge what I’ve been taught is a worthy use of my time by doing something markedly “unproductive.” I want to pop the bubble, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than hiking for four months.

2. To properly exercise my freedom

I “graduated” high school in 2020. And by graduated, I mean I walked across the stage alone and had a video recorded of my speech and went home and sat around until August. Then I moved into my dorm room and went to class on Zoom for a year and wore a mask outside and took all my meals to go. I never had closure between high school and college, and, honestly, I haven’t had a real break of longer than a few weeks for about five years.

I need to do something just for myself.

After the pandemic, I got into running again. I’d run around the cross-country trail at my college a couple of times a week until my best friend pushed me toward long-distance running, and I joined our club team. I’ve done three marathons and two ultras in the past year and a half. I used to hate running, and even now, I would never go on a treadmill, but I realized that the joy of the sport is being outside, seeing new places, bathing in nature, and looking at familiar places from a different perspective—and that all that makes any physical discomfort more than worth it.

My college’s lovely cross-country trail

Thru-hiking the AT has become an unignorable dream of mine, and I know I must attempt it while I have the chance. My father struggled with various health issues for most of my life, passing away from cancer during my junior year of college. He was a biologist who lived and breathed nature, and it seemed a cruel punishment that, for the later part of his life, he was largely unable to enjoy it. While he’d probably find my wish to do the AT a little extreme, his early passing has made me more aware of how I choose to spend my time. I am fortunate enough to have the time, the money, and the physical ability to attempt my thru-hike, and I owe it to myself to go for it while I can.

3. To control my destiny

There’s no better feeling than using my own two feet to conquer a new distance, explore a trail, or push myself to go faster. I’ve always liked hiking; I now just do it on a larger scale. Last summer, I lived in San Francisco for work. My friend and I drove down to Pinnacles National Park one weekend with only a vague plan in mind and ended up doing almost twenty miles with only a couple of drawstring backpacks, a handful of snacks swiped from our bougie tech offices, and the AllTrails app. We felt young and on top of the world. We later repeated the endeavor with a little more planning to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon, and my vague, YouTube- and *Wild-*fueled notion of doing the AT post-grad solidified into a burning desire.

Pinnacles National Park rocks!

The best way I can describe it is that nothing brings me more of a sense of freedom than the ability to be able to go anywhere I like using my own body and mind. As a Midwesterner, I have no problem with driving long distances; this, too, I enjoy. It’s not as good as hiking and running, though (swimming—we’re working on that one). But, when I’m in control of my means of transit, whether by foot or machine, I feel unstoppable. The ability to fuel my desire to explore by conquering my physical limits and pushing how far I can go is what excites me.

Final Thoughts

The Appalachian Trail is there; thus, I must attempt to complete it. Right now, there’s nothing I want more.

I look forward to using these blogs as a way of cataloging my adventure, both for friends and family to keep up to date and for random strangers to use as a source of hope, as I have in the past with other people’s blogs or vlogs in whose places I have wished to be. I start my hike in mid-May and intend to blog roughly weekly while on the trail, but I will be posting about my preparation before that. Wish me luck!

Me hiking at Hanging Rock State Park

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Comments 2

  • Doublepack : Apr 9th

    Great write up outlining your goals for the trail! Best of luck during your flip-flop

    • Heidi Smith : Apr 16th

      Thanks, Doublepack!


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