Shaking Down and Shutting Up

I lay in my tent, all cozy in my sleeping bag, scrolling through comments on the All Trails app about the next section of trail. Unzipping my tent this morning had revealed a cold, foggy, windy world that I feared would make the already difficult-to-follow trail even more treacherous. And the comment section was not making me feel any more comfortable. I was on my first solo shakedown hike (this past weekend actually) on trails I’d never been on before, and to that point in my trip, were easily among the more poorly marked/maintained trails I’ve encountered.

On day one I never got lost, but there were multiple moments where I had to backtrack a hundred feet or so and try a different possible trail. And now, on day two, a small part of me was very concerned about getting lost and possibly falling off the side of the mountain (there were lots of technical rock scrambles along the side of the mountain on this particular trail) as fog definitely does not make either of those any easier to avoid. That small part of me quickly became a loud proponent of going back the way I had come, sticking with the devil I knew, rather than continuing on my intended route and into the foggy unknown.

But there was no way I could let myself do that.

If I did, my confidence for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail next year would be shattered. Not non-existent, but significantly weakened by the memory of this lost battle. Each time I encountered a questionable decision that required guts, it would be a little easier to back down because I had done it before. And I refuse to let that little fissure of weakness worm its way inside me and grow into a canyon of doubt and fear. I owe it to ten-year-old Ann Marie who is finally getting to live her dream.

Ten-year-old Ann Marie (yes I am talking about myself in third person, deal with it) read a book from her local library called Halfway to the Sky by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, which followed the adventures of Dani as she ran away from home, her parents’ divorce, and her brother’s death to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Little Ann Marie (well, littler Ann Marie, as at 5’1” I am still probably considered little) immediately fell in the love with the concept of the Appalachian Trail. She had grown up backpacking for years with her family and absolutely loved it, so the idea of a massive trail where you get to backpack for months was literally love at first sight. And so the dream was born.

I am now 22-year-old Ann Marie, who’s finally old enough/graduated enough to tackle her life-long dream. I’ve spent the last several years saving up the money, and the last few months updating gear and going on shakedown hikes. In September of this year, my mom, sister, and I (with my dad for the first 30 miles) hiked the Foothills Trail which runs 77 miles from Oconee State Park to Table Rock State Park. While I had previously done sections of it and tons of other backpacking trips, this was the longest stretch of trail I had hiked in one go.

I learned a lot from this trip, especially about dealing with rain/wet gear when you’re out for days on end. I also gained a good deal of confidence, but I was with my family. And, I know this seems backward, but apparently, I have much more confidence when my decisions affect other people (whether it’s my family, friends, or a group of kids I’m leading on a camping trip from the summer camp I’ve worked at the last few years). I realized this while lying in my tent this past weekend, contemplating what to do. Because I was alone, the decision seemed to have so much more pressure, which again, seems backward, because my decision now only affects me rather than others that are trusting me. I can’t explain it, but there’s a lot of weird things about me that I can’t explain.

This is why I believe shakedown hikes are so incredibly important.

Especially solo ones when you’re planning a giant trek alone. Because while I learned a lot on the Foothills Trail, I mostly learned gear tips/tricks. Alone on this trail in the middle of Caeser’s Head State Park, I learned more about myself. I learned that I am a much faster hiker than I would’ve guessed (I’ve always known I was kinda speedy, but I’ve never hiked anything longer than, like, seven miles at a time by myself, so it was reassuring to see what pace I could maintain on a longer distance). I learned that I am every bit the capable hiker that I’ve built myself up to be in my mind (meaning that I’ve always thought I was a smart hiker that can follow difficult trails, but I finally got to test that and prove it true). And I learned that I have the confidence inside of me to accomplish my dreams, I just sometimes have to tell another part of me to shut up.

One thing that really helped me convince that annoyingly weak part of me that we had to keep going forward was looking over some lists I made a while ago. In reading Appalachian Trials by The Trek’s very own Zach Davis, I made some lists recommended by the author to help keep thru-hikers mentally motivated. These lists include “I am thru-hiking because…,” “When I successfully thru-hike I will…,” and “If I give up on my thru-hike I will…” I have these lists written out in my trail notebook, and highly recommend making your own versions if you’re embarking on a massive hike because reading through them was the final nudge I needed to trust myself and the skills I know I have.

I know this story may be lame because my life wasn’t in danger or anything. I’m not trying to say that I’m amazingly brave or special for continuing with my original plan. Honestly, typing this all out, I feel like I was being a little dramatic while lying in my tent that morning (okay, more than a little). But as 10-year-old Ann Marie was growing up, she read countless blogs from thru-hikers about their adventures on the AT and all the things they were learning, and her confidence grew in seeing that other people struggle too. And they still make it all the way to Katahdin (or Springer, or wherever).

So I’m pumped about the fact that I conquered this first solo shakedown, even though it wasn’t anything crazy spectacular (20.5 miles of moderately strenuous terrain in a little over 24 hours). And if anyone reading this is fearful of taking that first solo step onto a trail, I hope you know that just because there’s doubt in your mind, that doesn’t mean you are not capable. That you are not the strong hiker you think you are. You just might have to tell a part of you to shut up while you prove it.

“Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” —Henry Ford

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Comments 49

  • Avatar
    Rita Mathsen : Nov 20th

    Your story wasn’t lame! It was very well written and incredibly interesting. As a life long couch potato, I truly envy and admire folks who do daring trips in the woods. I’m terrified of snakes and am severely allergic to most all insect bites, so my hat is off to you! Keep blogging about your hikes!

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      Joe J Weber-Mummey : Nov 20th

      I thought it was super lame

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        SOLACE : Nov 20th

        Hats off to you for getting out there on your terms and learning for yourself… In the end. Thats what matters! See you on Trail in March! Best… SOLACE

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          Ann Marie White : Nov 20th

          Thanks SOLACE, trying to learn as much as I can before I get out there (though I know I can’t learn everything). We’ll see how it goes!

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            Peter B Kirk : Nov 28th

            Enjoyed your well written article and wish you the best on your AT adventure. Consider that behind any criticism of your writings you will likely find an overweight underachieving couch potato who thinks The Long Trail is just a beer or a path to his refrigerator. You go girl. You are on a good , healthy , wholesome and rewarding path of your own.

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              Ann Marie White : Dec 2nd

              Thank you for the encouragement Peter 🙂

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          Jean Taylor : Nov 27th

          Going walkabout. Ancient tradition. You are doing good.

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      Ann Marie White : Nov 20th

      Rita, thanks for the support! I’ve killed a lot of snakes in my time, more concerned about turning into a popsicle…but we’ll see how it goes!

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    Scot May : Nov 20th

    Well done on pushing through your inner doubts. That is a common battle on the trail for many of us. I convinced myself on a very chilly night that I was probably going to die of hypothermia and should pack up and leave so as not to die alone. There was no rationale reason that would happen, just alot of doubt. Glad I stayed for the vistas the next few days.

    I enjoyed the story and thanks for adding including the Foothills Trail in the story. I just added it to my list of future trips.

    The only flaw in the post was the orange tshirt and reference to Tigers. I bleed red. Go Wolfpack.

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      Chris : Nov 20th

      I think im in love.🌹

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      Ann Marie White : Nov 20th

      Scot, I absolutely loved the Foothills Trail, definitely recommend! It’s so beautiful–lots of mountain views, a few good waterfalls, a lot of miles around Lake Jocassee, literally everything you could want in a trail. And I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree about sports teams, I was born and raised a tiger 🙂

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    Jodi : Nov 20th

    Comments like, “deal with it” are a bit of a turn off, border line rude, when reading a feel good article. Maybe leave it out next time.

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      Andrew Lietzow : Nov 21st

      I actually liked the “deal with it” quip. Add some spice and a personal. She’s not going for a Pulitzer here, just conveying a personal experience and making it real.

      I recently hike 50.7miles of the AT with my brother, and enjoyed the story, Ann Marie. Good luck on your thru-hike!

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        Ann Marie White : Nov 23rd

        I apologize if I came off as a little rude to some, but I genuinely meant it lightheartedly. I like to write in a way that shows my personality so it doesn’t sound like a robot wrote this, but I suppose it doesn’t always translate well to some. Thanks for the support Andrew, and congrats on your 50 mile trip, I’m sure you have tons of great stories of your own!

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          Mike : Nov 29th

          Hike your own hike, blog your own blog. You’re not writing a thesis, continue keeping it real in your narrative and keep on waking? Best of luck!!

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            Ann Marie White : Dec 2nd

            Thanks Mike 🙂

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      Crissy : Nov 29th

      I agree. I think it’s supposed to be cute but it makes me cringe. I immediately disliked the writer and just kind of skimmed the rest. The weird back and forth about kid her reading blogs 12 years ago was awkward.

      Reply
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    KC from Maine : Nov 20th

    Go girl…you are a ROCK!

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      Ann Marie White : Nov 20th

      Thanks KC 🙂

      Reply
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    Lisa : Nov 20th

    Reading people’s adventures on any of America’s thru trails is always interesting to me , happy for you conquering that part of the trail , keep knocking off your to do list one thing at a time and one day you will be a old lady who will have had a very satisfying and interesting life ! Stay safe little sister

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      Ann Marie White : Nov 20th

      Thank you for the kind words Lisa! 🙂

      Reply
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    Wes Laudeman : Nov 20th

    Great post! Hope to see you out on trail! Im starting March 1st.

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      Ann Marie White : Nov 20th

      Wes, I’m starting later in March but it’s a long trail, maybe I’ll see you out there. Good luck to you!

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    Bob Sartini : Nov 20th

    I’m doing the Foothills Trail next Spring with my wife. We’re in our 70’s but still like doing modest trips. I’ve done the AT three times, as well as the PCT, etc. etc, etc. Every trail is worth it!

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      Ann Marie White : Nov 23rd

      Wow! Bob, with your hiking resume, you are an inspiration (and should have no trouble on the Foothills Trail). I hope to be like you and your wife when I grow up, and I hope you enjoy the Foothills Trail! It’s a beauty 🙂

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    Loner girl : Nov 21st

    Your self insight and maturity is incredible. The article was very well written and makes me want to join you for a mile or two…
    Please keep on doing what you obviously love to do. We all have one life to be lived and sounds like you already know not to waste any of it…Stay safe out there….and keep on forging ahead.. You got this!!!

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      Mindy FiscHawk : Nov 22nd

      From one secondary educator to another (you write like one)—get off her case. Anna Marie told a great story that kept me engaged all the way to the end. Looking forward to reading her posts in March 2021.
      FYI, Table Rock and Caesars Head State Parks are in the upstate of South Carolina. Anna Marie’s picture had the sign which read “South Carolina State Parks” at the bottom—clear as daylight. The Foothills Trail (approx 78 miles) runs adjacent to the AT in what geologists and geophysicists consider the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. This trail is often used by those who want to gauge a how they might do on the AT.
      Got your back Anna Marie. Best of luck. Keep posting for those of us who DO care about your adventure. Ignore the rest ‘cause “haters gonna hate”!!

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        Ann Marie White : Nov 23rd

        Thank you Mindy, your positivity and encouragement means a lot!

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      Ann Marie White : Nov 23rd

      Thanks for the support Loner Girl!

      Reply
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    James Bloodworth : Nov 21st

    Live your dream! As a teenage Boy Scout, I always dreamed about hiking the AT. Being a dad at 19 put a hold on that. Didn’t get to really start walking the AT till in my 40s. Have now section hiked 800 miles.
    I have a late born son who’s dream is to thru hike after high school. He’s got a good start. He was conceived on the AT and went on his first 6 day trip at age 4 months. (see some of his story on trailjournals.com under Appalachian Trail – 2015 – Capt Blood
    I say go for all you can while you can.
    AT 2021!

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      Ann Marie White : Nov 23rd

      It’s never too late to live a dream! Glad to hear you’re section hiking to make it happen, and good luck to your son! As someone who also grew up dreaming about it, I know how hard it can be to wait until you’re old enough, but he’ll be there before he knows it!

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    Sara : Nov 21st

    This is great! I’m 43 and spent YEARS saying I’d never backpack. But, over the past 3 years I’ve done several short trips with friends or my son, and have fallen in love with backpacking. I’m hoping for a several day solo trip this summer and hearing you overcome doubts helps a lot!

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      Ann Marie White : Nov 23rd

      You got this Sara! Proud of you for easing your way into it despite not wanting to at first, and hope your trip this summer is a success!

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    Beck : Nov 21st

    Loved it!! I’ve always referenced that “other part of me” as a little kid who’s on the verge of throwing a tantrum… 😂😂. Sometimes I tell her to shut up and sometimes deviously placate her so she think she’s happy even while I go about and do my own thing – Ha!

    Enjoyed your blog – good luck with your through hike next year!

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      Ann Marie White : Nov 23rd

      Haha yes! Glad to hear I’m not the only one 🙂 thanks for the support Beck!

      Reply
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    Simone : Nov 21st

    Little Ann Marie, you lost me. Or more accurately , I left your trail. I got off after Table Rock State Park because I don’t know where in the United States this park is. And I don’t feel like looking it up mid-post.
    I almost bailed after your snarky third person remark and the grammartically wonky plot outline of Halfway to the Sky. (Look up Mary Karr, sentence structure, and comma usage.)
    Whatever shakedown lesson you learned didn’t trickle down to me.
    Keep hiking, work on your writing, and read more memoirs.

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    Canyon_Hiker : Nov 21st

    I have a few different thoughts after reading your post:

    It is good that you are pursuing your dreams while young. I am 73, have scoliosis, degenerative arthritis in my lower spine, and surgeries done in both shoulders. So if I backpack I really pay for it, but I still enjoy lots of day hikes.

    You wrote that you were, “in my tent, all cozy in my sleeping bag”. Since you were safely camped you had another option: WAIT for better weather. Many years ago I read of a tragedy where a heavy snowstorm moved in after three hikers set up camp. Two of them felt pressured to get back because family and employers expected them. One remained in camp until the storm passed. When he hiked out he found his buddies dead – face down where they collapsed. Both had all of the necessary gear to survive in their packs still on their backs.

    I noticed that in one photo you are wearing a support on your right knee, but on your left knee in another photo (just curious).

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      Ann Marie White : Nov 23rd

      I definitely agree that sometimes the best option is to stay put and not let worries of getting to family or pressure of putting in miles entice you into dangerous conditions. But in this instance, I really feel that my fears about the weather were more due to my inexperience at trusting myself rather than truly dangerous weather. After I started hiking, there was not a single moment when I felt unsafe. Thank you for sharing that unfortunate story though, as it is a good reminder of what can happen and why it is so important to pay attention and make careful decisions.

      As for my knee brace, I have patellofemoral syndrome in both knees but more significantly in my right. I only wear the brace when I’m feeling pain or when I know the terrain will be exceptionally hard on my knees, and I typically wear it on my right because, as I mentioned, it is more affected. I don’t wear two braces because they rub together causing the velcro from one brace to attach to the other brace and pull itself off, and most of the time only one knee hurts at a time. Also, sidenote, this is not the brace I usually wear. I left my regular one at home and this was the closest thing Walgreens had right before embarking on my hike so I made do.

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    Rob : Nov 22nd

    I’ve been shaking down for 10 years. My first experience on the trail was an 80lb pack complete with a mandolin. My pack weight now is 7lbs summer, 13 lbs winter. I’m now married, 2.5 kids 2 almost full time jobs and white picket fence. It looks like I may have to wait until retirement to complete the A.T. (I’m totally not being negative, just a current reality). Get it done now while you have the time! You’re gonna wake up at 33 and go holy crap! It’s been 15 years since I graduated high school! Really enjoyed your article! Go get that dream!

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      Ann Marie White : Nov 23rd

      Wow, lots of respect for carrying a mandolin! My grandpa is an amazing mandolin player, so while I can’t imagine carrying one, I can understand for people with the gift/love of making music why it may be worth the weight. Although 80lbs is a lot! Even more respect for carrying that. 7 and 13lbs is super impressive! My pack weight is definitely heavier than that, but I’m happy with it (at least right now, we’ll see how it changes over the course of my hike). Definitely nothing wrong with living the married-with-kiddos life, maybe you can teach them to share your love of backpacking! And the AT is always out there waiting for you 🙂 Thank you for the support!

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    Erin : Nov 24th

    I’m new to backpacking but have found the greatest challenges are not weather, gear or terrain. They are in my own mind. And that is exactly why I find the backpacking experience so rewarding. Winning those battles with my own self doubt and fear is a gift I have given myself that I could not acquire under ordinary circumstances of life.

    It’s more difficult when you’re alone because it’s so much easier to psych yourself out. That voice of self doubt gets so loud when there’s no one else to talk to!

    Thanks for sharing, new hikers need to know that it’s so much more than having the right gear.

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    Roxane Rosalinda Marek : Nov 24th

    I like that you are including your inner child in your thoughts about hiking. I am sympathetic to the need to physically move away from sorrow as you talk about the loss of your brother and the divorce of your parents. Although I am not a hiker for sport , I have used my legs for transportation more than anyone I know. I have walked all over the towns I have lived……to work, to church, to school and just strolling around with my friends in high school. At sixty-nine, I now have frequently walked to and from the grocery store with a load of groceries in my hands and an injury being hit by a car walking to a grocery store from just being let off by the bus. It strengthens the heart and maintains a rhythm with the earth. I have also jogged for health round and round a local stadium and then walked back home about five miles. There’s a local small mountain where I live now that is a very popular hike. I hope to get to that somehow. Maybe I will find a group to share it with. The Sierra Club has groups that do hikes I think.
    The Appalachian Trail must be something to see. I don’t think I would ever do a wilderness type hike by myself. You are brave.

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    Lyla Harrod : Nov 25th

    Hey Ann Marie, so glad you’re inner 10-year old self is getting to live out your dream!! Best of luck!

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    Tim M : Nov 29th

    Not overly dramatic, Ann Marie, and not lame. It’s interesting and strangely wise to hear someone go on a “self shake down” (?) trip when they’ve already done some for their gear.

    Now that you mention it, I’ve only recently even thought to do some over nights alone. The two times I’ve almost done a friend has joined me at the last minute.

    Even though I’m confident in my gear, the most valuable asset I think you can have is company. So now that you mention it, would I actually enjoy days out on the trail alone? I’m not sure. It would definitely be different.

    While I’m only a weekend warrior and there’s less at stake, I guess my curiosity about some alone time on trail is even more piqued reading your thoughts. It’s very relatable, and even more so for one looking to go on a thru hike.

    Thanks for sharing this.

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      The Fam Damily : Dec 1st

      While I support your preparation for a Thru Hike of the AT, at the same time don’t stress too much about it. It honestly isn’t that tough. You get used to being uncomfortable. It’s simple. You get up, hike, eat, and sleep. Don’t make it more than that. Sometimes it’s blistering hot and sometimes it’s bitter cold. You will find that just sitting on a summit after a climb or crawling into your bag after a long day is all the comfort you need. Just go and do it and you will be amazed at your accomplishments every day on the trail. If you focus on that and not what lies ahead, you will crush it! We are currently thru hiking as a family. Yep, 2 kids and a dog. It’s really freaking cold now, but we are happy to be here. If you are lonely, find a friend. There are lots of lonely hikers. You will find that “the trail provides.” Again, don’t stress too much. Embrace the simplicity and little comforts and you will crush your hike.

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        Ann Marie White : Dec 2nd

        Wow that’s so cool that y’all are thru-hiking as a family! Thank you for the advice, it’s always great to hear from people that have actually done/are doing what I’m planning to do. It’s refreshing to hear someone say that a thru-hike doesn’t have to be complicated. Good luck to you and your family! I would love to hear more of your story, I’m sure the experience has been incredible.

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      Ann Marie White : Dec 2nd

      Hiking alone definitely isn’t for everyone, I have many friends who would go crazy with no one to talk to and share experiences with. I haven’t done any long stretches alone, so we’ll see how that goes, but so far I enjoy being by myself in the woods. Don’t get me wrong, I also love camping/hiking with friends/family too. I would encourage anyone to go out alone at least once, whether for a few hours or a few days, just to see what it’s like. Thanks for the kind words Tim!

      Reply
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    pearwood : Dec 22nd

    Keep dreaming, young lady. (At the age of seventy I think I can get away with saying that.)
    I’ve followed my share of dreams in my life. Some have blown up in my face; others have succeeded wonderfully. I’ve learned to deal with both, mostly sort of.
    The dream I’m working on now is thru-hiking the AT. We come at it from different vantage points, but that’s what makes the thru-hiking community interesting.
    Blessings on your way.
    Steve / pearwood

    Reply
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    pearwood : Dec 22nd

    “Appalachian Trials” is excellent. https://thetrek.co/appalachian-trail/why-are-you-thru-hiking-the-appalachian-trail/

    Reply

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