On deciding to spend half a year walking in the woods

So I should start with a quick introduction. My name is Emily, I’m 25 and I currently live in the suburbs of Chicago with my boyfriend Dan, our pup Oliver, and our cat Macy. Dan & Ollie will be hiking with me (Macy declined). I currently work in a hospital, and I’m getting my Master’s in Healthcare Administration online at Colorado State. And I like the woods.

This is us in some Costa Rican woods


In was some point in November or December 2015 when I first brought up to Dan thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. We both wanted to leave suburban Illinois and our jobs behind, but the idea of moving somewhere else and immediately starting to work again filled me with a serious existential dread. By Christmas both our wish lists were filled with hiking and camping items, and I had a spreadsheet compiled listing our gear, daily mileage , costs, and everything we needed to accomplish in the next 1.5 years of pre-trail life. And then the waiting began.

Now we’re seven months away from our planned start date of April 2017 . We’re meeting with a realtor next week about selling our house . Dan’s already training someone to take over his job. We’re selling off all of our things. We’re taking our pup Oliver hiking and camping as much as we can. We’ve got some pre-trail travelling planned. And we’re still waiting.


Dog is afraid of loose fences

Oliver is afraid of loose fences

But he loves camping



So, the main question is why? Why would we decide to go from home-owning, job-holding, shower-taking adults to homeless, jobless, thru-hikers? For me, I don’t really have a substantial why. It’s just always something I’ve wanted to do. I grew up close to the AT in New Jersey, and I’ve wanted to hike the whole thing for as long as I can remember. There was just something about the idea of being able to see 2,000+ miles of the country from the trail that went practically through my backyard that had me interested. I was asked “why?” a lot when I moved from Washington, DC, where I had spent 5+ years, to Chicago in 2013. I didn’t have a real reason then either. It was just an inexplicable feeling that at that time, it was the thing I should be doing. And that move was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

So why am I thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail?

It just feels like the thing I should be doing.


Me hiking ~1993


Boardwalk on the AT near my house in NJ


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Comments 10

  • DrGreenThumb : Sep 1st

    Just a heads up, dogs tend to break down quicker than humans on the trail and they can make town stops more, umm, difficult. You might want to plan to have a backup spot for the dog if he decides he wants off trail.

    • Emily : Sep 1st

      Thanks for the advice! In my next post I’ll write in more detail about the decision to take our dog/how that will likely affect our hike but I’ve read just about every possible article about the pros & cons that’s out there. One of the main reasons we are flip flopping is so we can send him off trail if he isn’t into it-we’ve got lots of back up plans for him!

  • Kristen : Sep 2nd

    Here’s a great video on hiking the AT with your dog, if you haven’t already watched it! I’m planning a 2017 NOBO thru-hike started at the end of Feb so maybe we’ll cross paths some day on the trail!


  • Jeff Bullock : Sep 2nd

    Good luck on your journey! I’ll be heading NOBO on March 13 staring from the approach trail, already walking 2K+miles what’s another 8.8 hike before Springer. I don’t know much bout dogs hiking but some hostels may not allow dogs. That should be fun though! Maybe we’re cross paths! Our hikes can’t come quick enough. Also registering for your thru hike starts in October, gives discounts at outfitters places along the way, a momentum badge and other items. It’s not madatory, the badge is pretty cool lol.

  • Rick : Sep 5th

    Is that bridge in NJ over a particular area or within a a park? It looks really cool and I plan to start hiking the trail in sections and curious where that bridge is at (though I know there are many awesome landmarks on and near the whole trail).

    • John : Sep 6th

      NJ resident here – that’s the suspension bridge in the middle of the Pochuck Boardwalk in NJ. It’s on the section of the AT between Route 517 and Route 94 in Vernon, NJ.

      My question to Emily is what happens to Macy during the hike.

      • Emily : Sep 6th

        Macy will be living with my parents or grandparents. She’s happy anywhere that someone is willing to pet her & feed her, so she won’t even notice I’m gone.

  • Donald : Sep 5th

    That is too much .. I myself am giving up my apartment . Im already on the trail with my girlfriend . We are going to move into the mountains this winter after we do three months out here . Next year i will do it alone aNd have mary aka deathzone snding me packages so i do not have to carry more the three days of food . I will go ultralight . I see people doing sections with their dogs and talk with them about it and you might want to study more about taking your dog with you if you plan on finishing the trail in the time that you want to . There is alot more to the trail then just hiking up it and smiling . You will be going through alot of emotions out here . Thirty percent drop out in the first forty miles …. Neals gap … The others drop out at dicks creek and the rest at fontana . You sound like you have the heart for it so go with it … It is about heart and dedication and the will to push on . It will make you stronger physically and mentally… Peace my friend … Oh yeah dude doing the approach also … Be ready to get your ass kicked … Peace kids …. Grateful is passing out in wesser shelter listening to the songs of the night …. Laterzzz now

  • Forrest : Sep 6th

    Let me know on dog, I’m taking my boxer on 2017 SOBO.

  • Heather Bakker : Sep 9th

    The best of luck! I’m from Lake County IL and grew up by Chicago so hi neighbor. I’m planning a flip flop AT thru-hike starting sometime between mid Feb and early March 2017, weather depending. I’m bringing my two little dogs which is going to be a real logistical challenge hence the flip flopping to make things easier for them. I also have multiple backup plans if it looks like they’re not enjoying trail life once we’re out there. Here’s to hoping we all enjoy ourselves and make great memories.


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