Prepping for a Sober Thru-hike in 2021

Hiking Sober

I know that I am not unique in that I am a sober hiker.Β  My sobriety does not make me unique, but my story does. I have heard that there is a lot of partying, drinking, and drugging on the trail. This could be a source of apprehension for newly sober friends. I have over 14 years of continuous sobriety (and will celebrate my 15th year on the trail in May), and there are other hikers who have more or less time than me. I hope to be a source of info, support, and humor to any and all of them. I also am excited to learn so much more than I can teach.

Hi, my name is Darlene McGarrity and I am an alcoholic. I am also a Pennsylvania native that will be attempting her first NoBo thru-hike in 2021. I bought my train ticket in November and even started a countdown on my computer. I purchased all my gear (mostly through REI), have a lighterpack link,Β and even started a Spotify playlist.

I have been hiking on and off for a number of years, but last year I was up at the Port Clinton railroad (for like, the fifth time in my life) and when I looked across those train tracks and saw that sign by the trail, a feeling came over me that I think only a fellow hiker could understand.

There it was:

The Appalachian Trail. Straight up the hill on the other side of the tracks. And don’t we all feel that way? Sort of different and out of place, from the other side of the tracks. It stood there in its earthen silence to anyone else, but I could hear it calling me.

Following the bliss

In 2006 I had lost everything. I was practically homeless living in someone’s basement with nothing to show for my life. Little by little and one day at a time, I rebuilt my life. I maintained continuous sobriety, got my motorcycle license, graduated from college, and remarried. But my deep connection to nature was always beating below the surface of my accomplished shell. It wasn’t until that day in Port Clinton that I made the connection and knew what the universe was trying to tell me. I needed to hike the AT.

The Universe had a plan

I am more spiritual than religious so when I quit my job in 2019 for what I thought was my dream job, I was convinced my new career path (a career in addiction recovery) was exactly what I needed because everything fell together so perfectly. But, in February of 2020, I got fired from my dream job. Then Covid happened. Then I graduated from Bucks with a Marketing Certificate. Then I helped my husband with his business. And then, I got my severance pay. And then I saved some and used the rest to buy gear and start hiking. And then, and then, and then…

March 13, 2021

I board the train to Georgia on the afternoon of March 12, 2021, and I have no idea what is going to happen when I get there the next day. I have all my gear, I have been hiking two to three times a week for six months, and I have passion. Other than that, I am clueless with a pink cloud of optimism just like that day I walked into my first AA meeting. I didn’t quit being sober, and I don’t plan on throwing my boots up on a tree. Godspeed and I’ll see you on the trail.

Thanks for letting me share.

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Comments 43

  • pearwood : Dec 8th

    Wow. Hang in there, Darlene. You are no stranger to long-term mental struggles. That bodes well for the trail.

    I was targeting March 1, 2021 but I think (Plan C) that’s getting pushed back to June 1.

    Blessings,
    Steve

    Reply
    • Darlene M : Dec 8th

      Hi Steve! Thank you so much! Best of luck to you in your adventures. πŸ™‚

      Reply
      • pearwood : Dec 8th

        I just realized you don’t have a feature image set for this post. It makes a big difference in how your post shows up on the Trek home page. The image you have in the body of the post would work just fine. Look at the right side of the WordPress edit page down toward the bottom.
        Steve

        Reply
      • pearwood : Dec 9th

        Much better now with the featured image. πŸ™‚

        Reply
        • Darlene M : Dec 9th

          Thank you! πŸ™‚

          Reply
      • Doug Knox : Dec 10th

        You should be fine. I thru hiked NoBo in 2017. By the time I hit Harper’s Ferry the party crowd was pretty much off trail.

        Reply
        • Darlene M : Dec 11th

          Thanks, Doug! Good to know.

          Reply
          • Aaron K Reaux : Dec 13th

            Hi, my name is Aaron R. I also have around 13yrs sober, not sure about the date.. i have been backpacking my entire life but in March i will be starting my north bound hike of the AT, my first thru hike also.. i have bought all new gear for this adventure.. mostly ordered from cottage companies.. if you would like to talk or anything, then feel free to contact me.. i have a ton of knowledge to share.. anyway, congratulations on your decision to thru hike the AT.. STAY CLEAN

            Reply
    • The Bear Man : Dec 10th

      Congrats on the new sobriety, first & foremost! I can’t say I agree completely with the premise that people are on the trail “drinking, partying, & drugging” though. Maybe on a more populated trail like the “A.T.”, but not on a trail like the Colorado Trail! Even as a Colorado resident in a state with legal recreational marijuana, I didn’t take a bunch of weed with me on the off-chance that people wanted to “get down and par-tay!! πŸ˜‚ And other people must’ve had the same idea, because you hardly ever seen anyone with even weed (much less anything harder of a drug), sitting up “partying” all night in between 12-16 hour hike days kicking your butt on miles of inclines & declines! All the while, still building those “Trail Legs”! 😁

      So, I guess what I’m saying is that I believe this is a very legitimate issue to be discussed. I just think it’s unfair to other Thru-Hikers, Photographers, & Video Journalists, & Adventurers who are out there setting literal record times, or are out there working in nature, or just finding a new spiritual experience in the must of a most uncertain pandemic. It points at “trails” as being lumped into one general sum, but as anyone who has traveled multiple trails in multiple States can tell you, each trail is as diverse as its “hikers”! And each category of “hiker” varies as do much of their behaviors in the backcountry or highcountry. Then, experience plays roll. So there are a lot of aspects to trail hiking than just some group of day hikers or segment hikers, out partying with their buddies, “having a good time for a few days in the woods with the boys!”

      I hope you take this constructively critical and not as derogatory.

      “The Bear Man”
      http://www.facebook.com/BearManMountaineering
      @BearManMountaineering

      Reply
      • Darlene M : Dec 12th

        Thanks for your input, Bearman. Much appreciated.

        Reply
  • Tom Brown : Dec 8th

    Best wishes for a great hiking experience! As a retired armchair hiker each year I follow several hikers on the AT and PCT. Will you also have a utube page? Keep posting πŸ‘πŸ‘c

    Reply
  • Jhon Yermo : Dec 9th

    Great article. All the VERY BEST. I know I will be following your “high adventure”. But the adventure is what will be high. Not you, nor me.
    Thanks so much for posting.

    Reply
    • Darlene M : Dec 11th

      Thank you so much!

      Reply
  • Carter Adams : Dec 9th

    Really good article. I have lived in Appalachia all of my teen years. It is beautiful, and I know you will enjoy your journey.
    I have taught Celebrate Recovery for eight years in a church and for several years in jail and prison. Spent 40 plus years
    in prison ministry. All because God gave me the courage to quit drinking. That happened 46 years ago. I have written
    a book, The Bottom of the Barrell. Haven’t published it yet, but I have it online. If you or someone you know wants to
    have an online copy, I’d be glad to share–no charge. Blessings on your journey.
    Carter Adams.

    Reply
    • Darlene M : Dec 9th

      Hi Carter,
      Wow! Congrats on your accomplishment one day at a time. I would love to read your book. Also, thank you for being a beacon of hope for those that are still sick and suffering and want help. Thank you so much for your blessings. Grateful for you.

      Reply
  • Shannon : Dec 9th

    I love and appreciate your candor, wisdom, and honesty! You are such an inspiration and motivation to us all. Your sentiment “The Appalachian Trail. Straight up the hill on the other side of the tracks. And don’t we all feel that way? Sort of different and out of place, from the other side of the tracks. It stood there in its earthen silence to anyone else, but I could hear it calling me.” REALLY resonated with me. I absolutely agree that at all thru-hikers feel that way, out of place in this world but a sense of peace and belonging on the AT. It’s a beautiful thing and hard to explain unless you’ve been on the trail. I’m really looking forward to following your journey and know you will find what you’re searching for and make it to Katahdin! You are meant to be out there and I commend you for following your destiny and intuition. Best of luck and I look forward to seeing your journey unfold! I will be section hiking different parts this spring so I hope to see you on the trail!

    Reply
    • Shannon : Dec 9th

      And congratulations on your 14 years (and counting) of sobriety, that’s truly something to be proud of, I know the road is not easy so I commend you! Your commitment, persistence, and determination will serve you well on the trail and will guide you through any adversity you encounter.

      Reply
  • Josh "Gadget '17 " : Dec 9th

    I started my sobriety on March 17th 2017 the first step on the Appalachian trail and my first step to changing my life. If I can kick a 20 year meth habit by walking in the woods for 6 months anyone can do it

    Reply
    • Darlene M : Dec 9th

      Hey Gadget… way to go! Sobriety is such an amazing gift and I am happy you get to experience it. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, strength, and hope!

      Reply
  • Ssondeecat : Dec 10th

    I hope this will be everything you’ve dreamed of. The very best wishes.

    Reply
    • Darlene M : Dec 12th

      Thank you so much… me too! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  • Jared Coggins : Dec 10th

    I never really comment on these things, but I enjoyed this short piece so much I felt compelled to. As a clean & sober individual who also loves to hike, I really connected it. I’ve been chipping away at the trail over the past couple years 100miles at a time. Currently I’ve got from the hudson river to Hanover nh.

    I really appreciate this line, “I got fired from my dream job.” that’s the kind of honesty and candor I rarely find outside of the rooms, and it gave me a chuckle πŸ™‚

    I’ve also have definitely experienced that exact same feeling of being out of place on the other side of the tracks (specifically looking across the tracks just before the trail going up the hill heading sobΓ³ from dalton mass)

    I’m excited for you on your through hike and have the sense that it will bring you a deep satisfaction and meaning as it does for all of us. Thanks for taking the time to write this article! it brightened my day. wishing you the best!

    Reply
    • Darlene M : Dec 12th

      Jared, way to go on your commitment to sobriety and to the trail. Thank you so much for commenting!

      Reply
  • Bruce Schmeck : Dec 10th

    Congratulations on your continued sobriety. Life and the trail are very similar in that you have to reach bottom in order to climb to the top. Lots of ups and downs! Are you local to the Port Clinton area? When you get back to my neck of the woods I’d be glad to offer some support (aka trail magic), if needed. I spend a good bit of time in that area since I live about 1/2 hour away from there. Good luck and Godspeed on your journey.

    Reply
    • Darlene M : Dec 12th

      Hey Bruce… I am not local to Port Clinton, but find myself in and through there often… I am from Quakertown… I will be blogging & YouTubing about my AT journey – and Port Clinton will be one of my places to highlight as I love it so much.
      Thanks and hope to see you.

      Reply
  • Clay Hurst : Dec 10th

    What a great story!! You and your story will bless many people!! Prayers and blessings on your thru-hike. I hope to be able to do a Thru-Hike on the AT one day!🀠

    Reply
    • Darlene M : Dec 12th

      Hi Clay! Thank you so much. πŸ™‚ And I hope you will be able to as well.

      Reply
  • Kay C : Dec 10th

    You can add “Brave” to the list of words you may want to use to discribe yourself. I look forward to reading all about your journey. Good luck and happy ttrails

    Reply
    • Darlene M : Dec 13th

      Thank you, Kay! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  • Carter : Dec 11th

    Very inspiring article. Really excited to see that you are going to hike the trail. I think after overcoming your addiction and setbacks in life this should be a walk in the park. However I do believe you made a typo in your article. I think you mean March 12, 2021. You have it listed as 2020.

    Have a great hike, be safe and most of all have fun.

    Reply
    • Darlene M : Dec 12th

      Carter, thank you! I have since corrected the typo. Good looking out! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  • Brian (madman) Schmitt : Dec 12th

    Darlene remember this is your hike not someone else’s, even though you haven’t started the trail you’ve already taken the 1st steps. There are many things you will struggle with while you hike loss of normal life,friends, and work. Yes there will be struggles and temptation, but the likely hood is you travel around the same people throughout your hike and the people you will find yourself gravitating towards are positive attitude individuals, if someone is doing something you dont like just excuse yourself and say you are tired and go to bed. Remember you are taking this hike for you and no one else. PS i plan to hike the AT in 2026 will be the 25th anniversary of my hike.

    Reply
    • Darlene M : Dec 13th

      Hey Madman, great advice. Super grateful for your wise words. Good luck in 2026! And happy anniversary as well.

      Reply
  • Randall Smith : Dec 13th

    Hi Darlene,
    I have plans to start NOBO on the A.T, March 26, 2021.
    Very much hope to see you on trail.
    In recovery, and this hike has been inspired by soo many other’s, and now including you too.
    Been homeless, widowed, recovering from life threating injury( got hit by a car, broken neck in 2 places).
    This hike is what I’ve been looking for, and I am soo anxious to get out there.
    Just registered with the A.T, as a go..
    “Wingertops”, here, there is a story to that name also. Blessings, here I come GA………from AZ…

    Reply
    • Darlene M : Dec 13th

      Hey Wingertops, can’t wait to meet you. Best of luck on your journey and I am looking forward to hearing more of your story!

      Reply
  • Jack Cooper : Dec 13th

    Great story, great article. Thanks Darlene!
    And all the best on your upcoming adventure.

    Reply
    • Darlene M : Dec 13th

      Thank you, Jack. Much appreciated.

      Reply
  • Dwight Edward Tichenor : Dec 14th

    Well done, Darlene. Sobriety is such a gift – I struggled for years with “social drinking” which I used to disguise my problem drinking. But since March 3, 2005, I have had zero alcohol and, although my life did not magically change, it changed in so many other ways. Mornings became a time to greet the day, evenings were quieter, driving did not become a lottery as to whether I would be popped for a DUI.

    Very, very happy for you. And, as we used to say back in the day, keep on keeping on.

    Reply
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  • Hazel(nut) : Mar 9th

    Best wishes on your journey! When you’re close to Front Royal message me with ETA and I’ll give you a ride to town and feed you.

    Reply

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