The Odds Are Against Me: Thru-Hiking While in Recovery
Four Years Ago
“I want to hike the Appalachian Trail,” I said with conviction through a haze of malnutrition. My dietitian sat across from me and immediately scrunched up her face, searching for a response.
“That’s a long way away,” she said as delicately as possible. My heart sunk for a moment; but the disappointment was soon replaced by a fierce determination only a stubborn redhead could muster. I would prove her wrong. So I made a promise to myself right then and there that no matter what shit came my way, I would one day get to go on my adventure of a lifetime. I would hike the Appalachian Trail.
A lot has changed since that day in my dietitian’s office. I’ve spent a large percentage of my time trying to recover from the eating disorder I’ve had since my adolescence. It surely has not been a cakewalk (pun totally intended). It’s been an absolute nightmare. From treatment centers, to multiple therapy sessions a week, to being insanely vulnerable in group therapy, to doing deep trauma work, to not engaging in maladaptive behaviors to cope, and everything in between, recovery is so hard! Throughout all of this, at the forefront of my mind sat the ultimate goal of hiking a long-distance trail through the most beautiful mountains in the world.
I grew up in eastern Kentucky, so the Appalachian Mountains were my backyard and endless playground. When I discovered a trail that ran from Georgia to Maine, the outdoor junkie in me began to burst at the seams. What an incredible journey that would be! So many spectacular views to experience and so much abundant wildlife to witness. The trees, the hills, the birds, the animals, the leaves, the streams, and the rocks. This is a hiker’s paradise.
Of course, this isn’t the only aspect of thru-hiking a long-distance trail. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine. With the beauty of nature comes the more uncomfortable side. Rain, snow, heat, storms, bugs, sweat, ticks, and mud. The elements can be a huge challenge to consider without even getting to the logistical barriers of committing to something as monumental as the AT. Buying gear, saving enough money, meal planning, packing resupply boxes, terminating the lease on my apartment, going on training hikes, taking a break from school, and straying from the stereotypical timeline of adulthood are all things that haunt me as I go to sleep at night.
Facing the Facts…
They say that out of thousands of hikers setting out to complete the Appalachian Trail each year, only one in four will make it to the end of their journey. With this information, the added pressure from possibly getting injured or sick, and setting the groundwork within the preliminary stages of a thru-hike; sure, the odds are against us. Despite this, I’m a firm believer that anything is possible. Even though I cringe because of how cheesy that sounds, I do wholeheartedly believe that people make what they want of their future.
Because eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and every 62 minutes someone dies as a result of their eating disorder, I realize that I very well could have been apart of that statistic. The odds are against me as I attempt something that could jeopardize my recovery. But that doesn’t mean I can’t try. That doesn’t mean I still can’t recover and that certainly doesn’t mean I still can’t thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.
…And Choosing to Risk It
Looking back, I understand why my dietitian said it would be a long time before I could set foot on the AT in a good frame of mind. She saw a girl with extremely poor body image who was too afraid to eat almost anything. At the end of the day, I can totally revert back to that way of living. But that’s not me anymore.
There are mountains to climb, white blazes to pass by, sights to see, air to breathe, and Katahdin to reach. There is more to life than counting calories and abstaining from chocolate cake or working a nine-to-five job. We all deserve to do what makes us happy and go on that adventure of a lifetime. For me, it’s hiking the Appalachian Trail and by golly, I’m going to do it even if the odds are against me.
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