The Pre-Trail Journey

Three years ago I caught the thru-hiker bug, and my dream to walk the trail from Georgia to Maine began. It started during a conversation about long distance hiking trails, which then turned into my own curiosity about the AT. I’ve grown up in the Shenandoah Valley and surprisingly enough, it wasn’t until college that I became aware of this whole walking over 2,100 miles thing. Days following I started seeing the AT symbol everywhere, and it was something I couldn’t ignore. I started to ask myself, “Should I do this? … Could I do this?” It was as a lingering thought that was always in the back of my mind- something far off in the future that I would eventually do.

I decided to talk with my mom about it, and as the go-getter she is, she told me, “Don’t wait to do something like this, the best time is now.” Three years later, here she is kicking herself for that with my departure getting closer, but she was right. I’m in a huge transitional point in my life with no ties or daunting responsibilities like the ones I’ll be facing further down the road. So what happened between then and now? Here’s a look into how the pre-trail process went for me.

Stage 1: Excitement

The moment I made the commitment to myself that I would thru-hike once I graduated, I was overwhelmed with excitement. It felt really, really good to know that I had a long-term goal to accomplish; not to mention, a plan for after college too. I was filled with wonder of what it would be like, people I would meet, and the impacts it would have on me as a person. At this point it was still pretty far off down the road and I was working through a lot with classes, friends, relationships, and other extracurriculars. Throughout it all, hiking remained as my go-to escape from stress, and this dream kept me focused.

Stage 2: Interest and Inquiry

I started reading A Walk for Sunshine, written by Jeff Alt sharing stories from his 1998 thru-hike to raise money for his younger brother with cerebral palsy. Jeff’s story was the one that truly inspired me and kept me eager to learn for the months to come. I found reading his story much more enjoyable and authentic than sifting through the countless online forums; as well as, being a great foundation of information to build from.

Another book I spent a lot of time reading through was Women & Thru-Hiking on the Appalachian Trail, by Beverly “Maine Rose” Hugo. This book was an amazing resource for me, and it goes into detail on practical advice from many women long distance hikers. I found myself underlining so many snippets from the text, and later going back to write down all of the valuable advice. Women are faced with many obstacles in society and recognition is the first step to overcome them. I found comfort when reading this book, and it was really powerful to hear from hundreds of strong-willed, accomplished women on a topic that excites me to the core. I highly recommend this book for other females, whether you know a girl hiking the trail or you are yourself.

The best online resource that I found were Dixie’s YouTube videos. She thru-hiked in 2015, and she is such an inspiration. She also completed a PCT thru-hike this past year in 2017! What a rockstar. “Homemade Wanderlust” is the title of her YouTube channel, where you can find her immensely helpful and informative videos. They vary from on the trail updates to off the trail discussion topics about food, gear, transportation and so much more. S/O to you Dixie! Thanks for all you do.  

Stage 3: Reality and Realization

Before I knew it, I was well into 2017 and I found out I could graduate at the end of the year. That meant I was about a year out from getting onto the trail. Crazy realization and it lit a fire under my butt. My dream became a reality overnight, and it was time to get to work. At this point, I had opened up to a lot of friends and family about my plans for the hike, and it was all beginning to really sink in. I took a Wilderness First Aid course, I got outside as much as possible, and I researched every day. Any chance I saw to learn more while preparing myself, I took it. I reached out to thru-hikers, followed current hikers, and shared my knowledge with friends and family. Becoming fully immersed in this process was a fun experience in itself.

Stage 5: Gear

It was time for me to start purchasing some big gear items. I worked at an equipment rental center on-campus, so I was able to rent out gear for free before this point. Finally, I was ready to get my own! I made a draft gear list for myself, and I started with the big cost items first to get them out of the way (tent, sleep system, shoes, etc.). I’d focus on one to three items each week and make the purchase, then wait until my next paycheck to order more. It felt like Christmas every other week with all of the packages constantly arriving. Testing each item and making returns as necessary was easier this way too. A pack may be considered a big cost item; however, I bought mine later in the process. By doing so, I was able to properly fit my size and design needs.

Stage 6: Stage Fright

It’s 2018 and I leave for Georgia in the middle of February. Emotions are high to say the least. I can’t help but ask myself, “what if I’m not prepared?” “what if I did something wrong?” etc. It’s constant and it’s hard to shake, but I’ve started to embrace the nerves and the fears. It’s completely alright to not have it all figured out right now, because that’s what makes it an adventure. I have, however, found it beneficial to talk it out and to avoid letting these feelings fester. Ignoring them only makes it harder, and it’s completely natural to feel this way before a big lifestyle change. Friends and family may be feeling the same way too, so talking to them is mutually beneficial. My nightly routine lately has been taking melatonin and reading Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis. What a saint for writing that book!! I really am grateful for the peace of mind that it’s brought me. Logistically, I’ve been going through my gear, planning essential mail drops, and making a draft itinerary for dates, locations, and mileage.

No matter what, I’m super excited to see how this all pans out and the moments I’m going to be faced with each day. I hope you stay around to see it!

Thanks for reading & happy trails,


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