Question: Why am I hiking the Appalachian Trail?

Hello, friends!
Recently, I have had many people ask the question, “Why are you going to hike the Appalachian Trail?”This question is usually followed by the mention of a couple of subjects:
1. The fact that I just graduated and that I should be looking for a real job.
2. Can you actually finish it?
3. It is hard.

I am aware of all of these things! Woohoo!

This is why I’m hiking.

First and foremost I grew up immersed in the outdoors and natural environment. My father is a DNR officer with the state of Georgia, so I’ve been following him around the woods since I could walk. I live in North Georgia, around the area where the Appalachian Trail begins.  Quickly, my heroes became people like park rangers, game-wardens, Davy Crockett, Steve Irwin, and eventually… Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. I recall being starry-eyed at the people I would see with their thumbs up in the air, trying to make it into town to refuel.As I grew older, I developed a serious illness called itchy feet. Oh yes, I longed for adventure and excitement. I fantasized about the great unknown, images filled my head with the beauty of the outdoors. However, there was one problem.

I was fat.

I was overweight and out of shape. My body couldn’t easily keep up with my peers. There I was, couldn’t climb, hike, swim, kayak, or even walk as fast as them. For a long time, I was sad. There were no fat hikers. I saw no heavier set boaters. Outdoor companies rarely, if ever, had my size. Luckily, that didn’t keep my feet from itching. I needed to be outside. I found mediocre plus size gear and began to hike, hike, hike. Around a year after that decision, I had dropped about 80 lbs. My friend worked at a raft outpost, and I applied for the raft guide position. I didn’t get it, so the river manager sent me to the zip-line manager, Amy.

Amy gave me a chance and put me on her team. I had the time of my life as a zip-line guide, but I wanted more. Since my foot was in the door, I could apply as a white water rafting guide! The next summer I guided rafts down the Chattooga river. Soon after, there was controversy about my weight and the fact that I had a difficult time getting into my raft, even though I had found a way to adapt using a rope system. The next year I returned, the river manager took me off the river. I was heart-broken and painfully devastated. However, Amy took me back on her team as a zip-line guide.

Was I even made for the outdoors?

I was invited on a Grand Canyon rafting trip, last year. I was done with white water, but my mind had changed when I experienced the amazing Colorado River. It was incredible and I loved it, even when I woke up with sand in my eyes every morning. During that trip, we were doing a hike up to a place called The Granaries. A fellow boater reached the top before I did, looked down at me as I was hiking up, and said, “Ashley will never make it up here in a thousand years.”
About ten minutes later I was standing beside him, unaware of the accusation he had made. Later in the trip, he told me what he had assumed about me and apologized for it.

There is a drive in me.

I eventually got back on the river and began guiding again. I had been set back, but I wasn’t defeated, I kept going. It’s been that way for me, a plus size woman in the outdoor community, for sometime now. One of my favorite feelings is proving a doubtful person, wrong. It has been a long thought-out dream of mine to do this. I have met so many people who tell me, “Now is the time, soon life comes at ya.” And they’re right. College, marriage, kids, house, car, life, it all comes at you so quickly. It’s tough, but I decided I won’t let anyone else judge me and get in my way of fulfilling my dreams. Yes, I’m still overweight, but I’m in-shape and I will get to the top of Katahdin. If I do not do this now, I might not get another chance. So, I’m going to take it.

 

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Comments 35

  • Christa : Jan 7th

    Ashley – I admire you. My story is similar to your only I am much older. Would you like company on the trail?

    Reply
    • Ashley Manning : Jan 7th

      I have a partner I’m hiking with, actually! The way I see it, the more the merrier!

      Reply
      • Vanessa : Jan 10th

        You can do this! I plan to hike and I get the same negative feed back cause I’m over weight. I hope to meet you on the trail Ashley! God speed.

        Reply
  • James Scott : Jan 7th

    I lost 100 pounds hiking on the Appalachian Trail, and I can tell you that you absolutely can do it! Be careful when starting out and don’t get discouraged if you initially can’t keep up with other hikers, but you will find yourself in simply most rewarding experience of your life! Cheering you on!

    Reply
  • Deb : Jan 7th

    Set your own pace, drink in what nature has to offer, and Good bless your hike.

    Reply
  • Bill : Jan 7th

    Go for it!

    Reply
  • Bill : Jan 8th

    Go slow and you will see and experience more than the speedsters.

    Reply
  • Angelina Petrozza : Jan 8th

    Ashley, you got this! Focus on small manageable goals and go at your own pace. Start slow and let your body adapt! I’m planning on thruhiking the AT with my boyfriend next early March. I had witnessed the same issues with hiking clothes.I will just wear large men sizes. That’s fine, it’s not the image but the experience I yearn for. Looking forward about following your journey!

    Reply
  • Willow : Jan 8th

    Will you have video or blog or a facebook to follow?

    You got this!!

    Reply
  • Mickey B : Jan 8th

    Wow what a powerfull story. Having COPD and fat has slowed me down for sure. You have resparked me to try just walking locally and go from their. Would live to follow you on your hike. Safe travels.

    Reply
  • Beth : Jan 8th

    Looking forward to following your journey! Hike your own hike!

    Reply
  • Six Steps : Jan 8th

    I wish I could do what you are doing. Go for it.

    Reply
  • JASH : Jan 8th

    Hike on ????

    Reply
  • Warrior AT2019 : Jan 8th

    I’m overweight and out of shape but absolutely BELONG in the outdoors! Thru-hiking the AT next year. Can’t wait to follow your journey. I’m proud of you already for overcoming the biggest obstacle-yourself. You got this!!

    Reply
  • Heather : Jan 8th

    Ashley, you are my hero! I am in the same boat (with my weight & finding gear & don’t get me started on finding hiking pants that fit ??‍♀️), but I’m also considerably older. I’m planning my official thru hike for after my youngest graduates high school. In the meantime, I will begin section hiking this summer. I am so excited to follow your story!! I hope you’ll be vlogging/blogging as you go. You go girl!

    Reply
  • Susann : Jan 8th

    Go Ashley! I am so excited for you and to hear about your journey. Keep blogging. ? I plan to hike a portion of the trail in 2019. Happy trails!

    Reply
  • Curtis Cotton : Jan 8th

    Ashley, with your determination, I believe you will reach Katahdin and be so proud of yourself! You are definitely an inspiration! I wanna see more of your adventure! Where can I see your blog, ot vlogs, or posts on your adventure other than on the Trek?

    Reply
  • Pam : Jan 9th

    You can do it! I started the trail in 2017 overweight and out of shape. The first weeks are tough, but it does get easier. My shoes were men’s, along with my sleep clothes. Be comfortable! Best wishes for your amazing journey ahead.

    Reply
  • Cindy : Jan 9th

    Thank you for writing this. You inspire me! I am overweight and have health complications. But I decided I’m not letting it stop me. I start my NOBO Feb 19, 2018. Look forward to seeing you out there.

    Reply
  • Jerry Touchstone : Jan 9th

    Hike your own hike and you can do it. Take your time a see all that you can see, soak it in and enjoy. Good luck, be safe and I’ll be praying for you. You can do this.

    Reply
  • Christen Farmer : Jan 11th

    Thanks for this article. Myself and my 4 kids are doing a NOBO thru hike starting Mar 1. I weigh in at btw 260 and 270 lbs. Thankfully, I havent received much negativity to my face but Ive seen some of the looks when I tell people what I am planning. Hope we run into you out there!!!

    Reply
  • Ann Helms : Jan 11th

    I have followed your adventures thru your Mom & Dad … I personally think you will make it all the way … you are a can do person … My Dad always told me … never let anyone tell you … your not capable of doing something … he was told he would never be able to work with accounting … which gave him the I’ll show you attitude … you see he had to quit school in 10th grade to help his family … I am proud to say he went on to manage accounts for Martin Mareitta Aero Space ? Co and handled millions of dollar accounts … so your and your family’s belief in you will make all the difference … Proud of you and will be cheering and praying you on … looking forward to following your adventure … You Go Girl !!!

    Reply
  • Lindy : Jan 11th

    You can do this. Keep the drive in you and let no one stop you.

    Reply
  • Adam D : Jan 12th

    Good story Ashley. Good for you, chase your dreams. HYOH and don’t let the others discourage you, which sounds like you know how to do already. I am attempting an AT thru hike this year as well. Your story is definitely encouraging and motivating. Best os wishes to you out there! Maybe bump into you!

    -Adam

    Reply
  • Llama : Jan 12th

    Do you plan to vlog or blog about your journey on the AT? I’d love to follow your story! You are an inspiration!

    Reply
  • Scott : Jan 12th

    Kudos! My wife will be out there with you, and you’re the kind of person I hope she meets on her journey.

    Reply
  • Ian : Jan 12th

    You can do it Ashley! You’ve always had the drive to do whatever you set your mind to. Send me a postcard from Katahdin!

    Reply
  • Julee : Jan 12th

    You are SUCH an inspiration! I look forward to following your journey this year. You’ve got this!

    Reply
  • Pony : Jan 14th

    I’m very glad to hear you are going to attempt the AT.

    Just one thing: It’s Katahdin, not Katadyn. We thru-hikers are a picky lot.

    Good luck, and never quit on a bad day!

    Reply
  • Annie : Jan 15th

    Yay Ashley!! You’re a great writer and you have the soul of an eagle!!

    Reply
  • Elizabeth Petrik : Jan 25th

    I am turning 50 next week… Always wanted to thru hike the AT, but am finally starting on a section (at least!) this March. I am so excited for you and proud. You can do it!!
    Hope to read your trail journey one day!

    Reply
  • Samantha (slamminsami) : Jan 28th

    I love that you are doing this and doing it now ! I have 8 years till I can do this! When my youngest has graduated high school and starting her life, I have been dreaming of this, I will be in my mid 40’s by then but atill feel young enough to do this! I recently completed an advanced hike this past fall it was really rugged, I wore the wrong shoes didn’t have enough extra electrolytes with me and to top it off I sprained my ankle with 3 more miles to finish. But I finished and I was so proud of myself, I too am over size 12, and when I reached the end of the trail I felt so accomplished and proud of myself, I can not wait to feel that feeling x5000000! Now my goals until that time will to be beating my time and finding harder and longer hikes to experience with my husband! Good luck! And Happy Trails!

    Ps do you have a blog or instagram account that you will be documenting your adventure on? I would love to follow

    Reply
  • Thais : Jan 30th

    As a heavier paddler myself, I had taken those stares and questioning looks to heart and figured I could never be a really serious kayaker. However, this summer I completed the first map of the NFCT in New York, complete with portages. My new mantra is “talk to me after you kayaked and hiked 50 miles in the wilderness with your gear.” Enjoy your hike! Amazing!

    Reply
  • Susan : Feb 9th

    HI Ashley
    Your article was honest and inspiring! I thru hiked the AT in 2000 as a heavier woman ( around size 18 ) in my mid 30s and your attitude is gonna be positively instrumental in taking you straight up Katadin!!! Slow and steady wins the race and the trail will form your body into a strong capable hiker!!!! Sounds like you have super foundation of knowledge and a heart of compassion. Just consider the AT a series of day hikes linked together—-you can do it!!!!

    Reply
  • Linda : Feb 9th

    Ashley, you can do this. You have an awesome spirit and drive and have an army of people cheering you on.

    Reply

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