All roads lead to…. a footpath?
In the beginning…
Growing up on a farm in south Georgia, “outdoorsy” meant riding around on tractors, sitting on the bank of a pond holding a fishing pole, or perhaps traipsing through the woods in camouflage and carrying a rifle over your back. What it absolutely did not mean was climbing anything resembling a mountain and the closest I came to backpacking was, again, traipsing through the woods carrying a rifle on my back and a pimento cheese sandwich in my pocket. Don’t get me wrong, I am tremendously thankful for my rural upbringing and it has shaped much of my personality; however, I was never really able to get into the “hunting and fishing” outdoor lifestyle.
When I was 12 years old, I decided I wanted to attend summer camp with the local 4-H club. We made the hot, muggy 6 hour drive on a school bus to Camp Wahsega in Dahlonega, GA. To this day I remember that week as one of the best of my life. I had never seen mountains until we arrived at camp on a hot Monday morning in June. There were not only mountains, but waterfalls! Who knew land could be anything but flat and covered in cotton plants? That week I experienced the outdoors in a way I never had before. One day we took a field trip to a hiking trail. Well, I had never been hiking before and didn’t really know what that meant. I also didn’t know until my whole camp group was standing on top of Springer Mountain that we were hiking a trail called the Appalachian Trail, and that it went all the way to Maine. I was awestruck. How could this dirt path I was standing on go all the way to Maine? That day, the AT seed was planted. I didn’t know it at the time, but hiking would become not just a hobby, but a passion of mine and would eventually lead me to where I am now: planning a thru-hike of the AT.
You do this for fun?
Nearly 10 years later, I went hiking for the second time in my life. I was completely unprepared (not enough water or food, wrong shoes, ill-fitting clothing) for the 14-mile trek I unknowingly embarked on with a friend and her family. After 7 grueling miles, with the final mile being almost completely vertical (read: sliding down on my arse grabbing trees as I passed to slow my descent) I was physically and mentally done… and we still had 7 miles to go to return to our vehicles.Oh, and that vertical mile? Let’s just say that hoisting 170lb up it was a lot less fun than sliding down it. Dehydrated, dizzy from lack of food, and barely conscious of the fact that I was, in fact, moving my feet, I trudged back to the car.
And I loved every single minute of it. Granted, I’d never been so happy to see a bottle of water and a ham sandwich, but that grueling trip fertilized the hiking seed that had been planted nearly 10 years before (see what I did with that cheesy farm-girl metaphor?).
The meat and potatoes.
Well, that was a fun story but what does that tell you about who I am now and why, exactly, I made the decision to thru-hike?
Well, 4 years after that initial, grueling day hike I found myself miserable, overweight, unhealthy, recently broken-up with, basically unemployed despite having a college degree, broke, and just in general not satisfied with where my life was headed or the expectations and limits I had placed upon myself. I got sucked into the “American Dream” of a white picket fence, a salary, and a lousy job with health benefits, and I was failing miserably according to the bizarre standards of happiness that I had placed upon myself.
I started driving the two hours to Franklin, NC nearly every weekend to spend time in the mountains, where I found peace and could momentarily forget about everything I didn’t like about my life (except the overweight part; hard to forget that when I’m about to pass out on any uphill stretch of trail). While wandering around on Standing Indian mountain on chilly day in March, it hit me. I would hike the AT. The whole thing. Georgia to Maine. It would be a second-graduation present to myself. It would motivate me to lose the weight that I desperately needed to shed to improve my health. It would give me time to reflect on my life, my decisions, and my future. I would make new friends. See places I never would otherwise see.
Most of all, I would do something that deep inside I knew I wanted to do when I was standing on top of Springer Mountain, looking north toward Katahdin, nearly 14 years ago. So, here I am, planning my 2015 thru-hike, and I cannot wait to see where this footpath takes me.
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