Now That I’ve Said It, I’ve Got to Go and Do It
Two years ago, during my penultimate year at university, I decided I wanted to take a gap year to go traveling after graduating. I knew I wanted to do “something” rather than just “travel for the sake of it,” but beyond that I was stuck. Then I foolishly googled something like “nice hikes abroad,” which led me to discovering the AT. Two hours later and I was still glued to the screen; I had learned the definition of terms such as thru-hike, NOBO, and trail magic, and had mentally signed myself up. In short, I was hooked.
Two years later, the AT still has me under its spell and I’m now just two months away from taking my first steps on it.
For my first blog post I’d like to introduce myself, my plans, and my reasons for taking on this challenge.
So, Who Am I?
I’m Lucy and I’m going to attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (NOBO) starting in late March 2019. (I’m still not used to saying that out loud.) I come from a teeny little town in the middle of England and have recently completed a master’s degree in chemistry. I have a graduate job starting in October so will have six months to walk as far north as I can. I’ve never been on an extended backpacking trip before, I’ve never been to America, and I still don’t have a full set of gear. What could possibly go wrong??
And What Does That Actually Mean?
Coming from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean means that not many people I know have heard of the AT (I never had before that fateful Google search). Here’s a quick summary of the most common questions I’m getting asked to bring all the English folk up to speed:
What Is the Appalachian Trail?
The Appalachian Trail (AT) is the one of the longest, continuously marked footpaths on earth. It stretches from Georgia (that’s in the South) all the way up to Maine (waaaay up north), passing through 14 of the US states. It is approximately 2,181.2 miles long (that’s 2.5 times the length of the UK).
What Is a Thru-Hike?
Thru-hiking is walking the length of the trail in its entirety within one year. Most people do it in one continuous block of about five to six months, carrying everything they need on their back. This is what I’m going to attempt to do.
When You Say “Carry Everything They Need on Their Back?”
Yep, I mean it. And I’ve bought a big rucksack to prove it. In this pack I’ll carry a tent, stove, water filter, food, toilet paper, and everything else I’ll need to survive while living in the forest. Obviously, I won’t be carrying six months worth of food (or toilet paper); whenever possible I’ll visit towns to resupply.
Are You Going Alone?
Well, would you want to spend six months trudging across America with me? Turns out no one else did either.
Actually, I deliberately didn’t ask anyone to join me. It’s not that I don’t have friends who I’d love to spend every day for six months with. It’s that I wouldn’t want to jeopardize a valuable friendship. (That can be translated as: I’m stubborn and like to do things my own way.)
This doesn’t mean I’ll be alone. There will be plenty of people to make friends with out there (or so the internet informs me) and this is part of my reason for starting with the main bulk of hikers in March.
I guess the only remaining thing to do is to explain why I’m doing this. What could possibly make me want to walk for six months with a quarter of my body weight strapped to my back?
To be honest, I don’t know.
More accurately, I don’t know how to put it in one sentence. So here are some of my reasons:
The scenery. Nothing motivates me to walk up something steep more than the possibility of a good view at the top. The AT crosses some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in America so the chances of at least a few spectacular views is high.
I like pain. Not really. But there is something satisfying about putting your body through hell and living to tell the tale.
I’ll get to see places that your average Brit abroad will never pass through. Most of the towns the trail passes through are small and off the beaten tourist track. What better way to really see a country? It also passes near a small little town called NYC.
To push myself to my limit. A commonly cited statistic is that only one quarter of those who begin a thru-hike actually complete it. I have no idea how accurate this statistic is but the message is clear: it’s tough. It’s highly likely that I won’t ever make it to Maine. Either way, I’ll have pushed myself further than I ever have before and faced challenges that I can’t even imagine as I sit writing this.
It’s now or never. It’s not quite as dramatic as that but I may not always be as free as I am now to go off and explore the world. I’m a single 22-year-old with no dependents and no financial commitments. But that won’t last for ever. Although I hope there will always be space in my life for adventure, once I start my grad scheme in October who knows how long it’ll be before I can take an extended trip anywhere.
It sounded like fun. Although inexperienced in the backpacking and lightweight camping side of it I do love hiking. I was raised on walking holidays in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. I recently spent almost a year living in the French Alps. Being surrounded by mountains has just reinforced my love of outdoor adventure.
The people. By starting out alone I’ll be able to get to know as many people as I want to. Each of those people will have their own story and their own set of reasons and I honestly can’t wait to hear them all!
And lastly, Why not?
For ages I didn’t tell people about my plans. If I didn’t tell anyone then no one would know if I didn’t go through with it, right?
But now I’ve told people.
Now I’ve got to go and do it!
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