Reasons I Shouldn’t Hike the Appalachian Trail (And Why I’m Doing it Anyway)

I’m going grey-ish. Yesterday, when I parted my hair to braid it, there were a few more glimmering, silver strands than I remember having. They’re pretty and distinguished looking in the sunlight, but since there are only a handful, they go mostly unnoticed.

I don’t mind the metallic additions to my mane, but they do remind me of something else I’m concerned about. I’m getting older. I’ll be turning 30 this year, and there is something about having another full decade under your belt that tunes you into that voice that’s whispering, what do you want out of life

I’m hiking the trail for several reasons, including the reason that I’d like to be able to challenge my body before age starts to become a bigger factor in my decision making

But before I list the reasons why I’m hiking the trail, I’m going to give you all the reasons why I shouldn’t hike the trail. It includes reasons given by other people, reasons given by my own fearful and anxious mind, and real reasons that I’ve taken into honest consideration.

And so with that, I present you…


Reasons Why I Shouldn’t Hike the Appalachian Trail


  1. I tore my ACL and had full reconstructive surgery a mere three months ago. I will be starting the trail with just six months of use with my non-factory ACL. As of right now, it’s still uncomfortable to go down stairs, I can’t go for a ten-minute run, and my injured leg is still atrophied.


  1. I’m late in the career game. I love my career as a brewer, but I’m gunning for a PhD in something along the lines of biochemistry. This is an additional eight years in academia after I finish the pre-requisites I need to go from an unrelated undergraduate degree to a science graduate degree. Hiking the trail means skipping a full year of classes. I’m putting myself another year behind when I’m already a 30-something changing careers.


  1. I’m broke. Unfortunately, torn ACL’s and a physically demanding job don’t go well together, and I’ve been out of work on disability for the last six months. Last week was my first week back to work at a less physically demanding job, and I have three months to go from $0 savings to $2k savings to get me from Georgia to Maine.


  1. I’ll have to leave my cats for six months. I’ve had a difficult time finding any local friends who can accept them as temporary house-guests and will have to fly them across the country to my parents’ house. I’m terrified of traveling with my cats, even in the airplane cabin with me. I’ll also be without them for half a year. They’re my babies.


  1. The hassle is a lot. Richard and I will be selling or donating most of our possessions and culling things down to the bare minimum. We’ll be spending six months not earning any money. The preparation for the trail while we’re both working as hard as possible is taxing, especially on a tight budget, with my ACL still holding me back, and me trying to get my anxiety to calm the f#ck down from the time it starts at dawn. But now I’m just complaining…


  1. (Enter all the other reasons people have told me it’s a bad, irrational, irresponsible decision.)


That being said, if you know me, you know that ain’t nothin’. ?

My physical therapist and my orthopedic surgeon are both confident in my knee’s ability to recover and complete the trail this year. My professor seems to think I might be able to skip a Masters degree and go straight to my doctorate, and he doesn’t bat an eye about me entering a STEM field when I’m ‘this late in the game.’ I’ve been that woman you see hustling behind the bar, pulling doubles for weeks on end with no days off, just to make money to do ‘A THING’. My cats will be happily drugged on the flight and ready to make new friends at my parents house, and ‘hassle’ is nothing to me when the reward is hiking the Appalachian Trail from start to finish.

It’d be more difficult to stare down that list if I didn’t have people who believed in me at my side, reminding me I’m capable of getting over all these obstacles. My medical professionals, my professors, my boyfriend—all their confidence in me keeps me afloat when my mind starts playing games with me. I’m incredibly lucky to have them on my side.

So, if all dat is the stick… what’s the carrot? What am I chasing after? Why am I hiking the trail?


Reasons I’m Hiking the Appalachian Trail


  1. The main reason I’m stuffing my life into a backpack to hike is that I want the experience of being out in nature for an extended amount of time, with only the souls I meet along the way for company. The highs, the lows, the unique moments that would never happen otherwise, the connections, the sunrises and sunsets, the moments that are untouched and seem surreal, the absence of the social, progressive world… I want me, the woods, and what I need to survive for six months. That experience is what drives me.


  1. I’m ready for a hard reset. The last few years of my life have been a whirlwind, and I wouldn’t trade any of it away, but I’m ready to make the next big career decision in my life and I want to do it with a clear head. As the drummer for Rush, Neil Peart, would say, I’m going to take my baby soul out for a ride to calm down, heal, and be reinvigorated. Being out in the wild has always done that for me.


  1. I’m a masochist and love challenging my body. I want to prove to those with knee problems or non-factory ACLs that completing a physical feat like this is possible.


  1. I’m an adventurist, and my past is nothing but a series of decisions I made when I became bored or stagnant. Whether it’s in the form of a new book, (another) career change, a new dish from the kitchen, a big move, or a long hike, I love to experience new things and see life from difference perspectives. I’m ready for this adventure!


There are many reasons I’m choosing to hike 2,190 miles this year, but those are the four that motivate me the most. All of the reasons I shouldn’t hike are nothing to me in comparison. I’ll gracefully put up with each naysayer. I’ll be grateful for every insane hour I put in behind the bar. And I’ll happily count every grey hair that sprouts along my hairline. Because there is a long trail waiting for me to take my baby soul for a ride, and there is nothing that can stop me from the chance to lull her into peace of mind.


“We travel on the road to adventure

on a desert highway straight to the heart of the sun

like lovers and heroes, and the restless part of everyone

we’re only at home when we’re on the run,

on the run…” Dreamline, Rush 1991

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Comments 4

  • Mike S : Feb 4th

    If you fly your cats, sedate them. We flew our cat from Hawaii to LA and it was never the same. He spent the last 5 years of his life under my daughter’s bed. I hardly ever saw him, until he was too sick to help.

    • Stephanie Messina : Feb 4th

      I was looking into it more this morning, and it looks like I’m going to have to find a friend in California to keep them. It’s too expensive to drive them, and I won’t be able to hold my cat through the security check point. She’s aggressive when nervous and is a 20lb machine…

  • Jas : Feb 28th

    I love it, and I find such inspiration from you to prepare for my own daunting journey. I love the rush quote.

  • steve : Feb 1st

    wow, this is so inspiring <3

    check out if anyone is working at american airlines


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