Starting The Trail Feels Like The Hardest Part

   The American Dream! Your very own house with lots of land, family and two dogs. Thats what you’re supposed to want right? Not me, I threw it all away to hike two thousand miles.

Growing Pains

I spent a long time resenting my past, wishing that the way I grew up could have been different. Maybe if I said the right sequence of words or if I walked left instead of right my outcome would be different today. Dwelling on the past never got me any further than therapy, so I try to romanticize the past. It is in fact, why I am here today.

Probably from watching too many eighties romantic comedies, I truly believed High school was going to be the best four years of my life.

In reality it seems like a bad dream with steady lows and highs sprinkled in with heartbreaks, acne, and peers who seemed like they already knew exactly what they wanted.

What did I want? Freshman year I wanted to stay madly in love with a boy who didn’t love anything but his own reflection, sophomore year I existed out of pure spite with teen angst. Junior year I hiked a mountain for the first time, that felt outrageously good.

Senior year 2018 rolled around and my classmates were sending out college essays, joining the military and preparing themselves for the real world. It lead me to think “well I’m too poor for college, maybe the air force would be a nice option?” Truthfully I was just trying to get through my senior English class.

The Appalachian Trail Exists

I sat at my desk writing a prompt when I overheard my classmate talking to my favorite teacher Melody. He was talking about how his older brother and friend were hiking the Appalachian Trail. I remember thinking to myself “holy shit people actually hike that thing??” I’ve grown up in Maine my entire life. I’ve hiked mountains which pass through the trail and have driven by my fair share of AT crossing signs, but I never thought much about doing the hike.

I  jumped on Instagram where pictures showed these two guys freezing cold with smirks on their faces seemingly happy. I felt excited and intrigued I thought to myself, “wow that’s insane!”. I followed their joint page on Instagram and went back to my report but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. Could I hike the trail? How long would it take me? Were my legs capable of doing that? 

The following Friday night I was having dinner at my family friends house when I proudly exclaimed “Hey guys, I’m going to hike the AT!” no one knew what I was talking about and they stared at me blankly. I paused then said “guys the Appalachian trail! it’s a trail that runs from ME to GA.” I wasn’t expecting anything but my family was of course skeptical. They asked lots of questions I didn’t have the answers to yet. “What will you eat? Where will you go to the bathroom? How long will that take?” My mom specifically wasn’t thrilled with the idea of it. She told me “ugh Summer you’re going to give me heart attack.”

I continued looking through Instagram watching updates of the trail progression between the two through hikers. Researching anything I could, not knowing what questions I should be asking or where to start. My local public library had a handful of books that mentioned the trail so I checked out as many books as I could.

You Have To Save Money

I graduated high school with no plans. Just young, dumb, and very broke. During that summer I was painting my moms apartment when my neighbor who I went on the occasional hike with asked “hey do you want a job?” I was nineteen and had no other plans so I said “sure why not.”


A cabin lodge at my local lakeside park was my new job. It was simple, I signed kids up for summer sports and sold ice cream. It was fun and I had money in my pockets for the first time. 

Summer ended just as quickly as it started and my seasonal job was over, a friend of mine recommended I work for the local plastic mill. I was willing to try anything I was without a vehicle and really wanted to save money for the trail. 

The mill was twelve hour shifts with deafening machinery. Sometimes I would try to bring up the AT with co-workers, but nothing turned their heads beyond menthols and local drama. I was exhausted after four nauseating months I grabbed my coat, and walked the three miles home. I was done inhaling plastic fumes forever.

I applied for a job at an assisted living facility that specialized in dementia care. I worked there for three long soul taking years. I sat in my office staring at the four foot Appalachian trail poster I had framed in my office. I was beyond sad and wasn’t sure what I was doing, I knew I wanted to hike the trail or go on a road trip, just anything to get out of this feeling of being stuck so I thought “why not now? “

Asking around to see if anyone wanted to go on a road trip my a friend who lived near by agreed. I drove forever until I found myself passing through New York City, Tennessee, Texas, New Mexico and finally Arizona. I drove until I couldn’t, I listened to loud music and I ate what I wanted.

It’s Never Too Late To Make Changes

 Visiting every cool place I could think of  before driving home I sat at the south rim of the grand canyon at sunset. I knew I had to make changes when I got back home, but I didn’t know where to start.

I came home and before I knew it I was back at work. Numerous call outs led to me staying until three AM on a Saturday. I sat across the table from my coworker, I stared down at the table as he documented and I said “I think on Monday I’m going to quit, or get fired.”

That Monday my boss came to my office and fired me. I had been working seventy hours a week and I was slipping up at work. I knew it was inevitable. I packed up my office got in my jeep and I screamed. It felt way too good, I cried and then I went home and took a much needed nap.

I was scared about not having money. Somewhere along the way I fell into the American dream. I had marriage at my fingertips a stable job, house and land with a couple dogs at twenty two, but not happiness. I needed to change the course of my life. 

I made the jump and moved an hour away sharing a tiny apartment with a stranger. I got hired for botanical landscaping job which felt like winning the lottery because I got to be outside all day. 

After not being able to afford my previous apartment I moved to Sullivan and got hired at a granite quarry. The first thing I told my new employers was that I was hiking the Appalachian trail in the spring.

Forcing an official start date I went ahead and booked a rental car to drive down south. Something that has felt impossible is now just months away, after five years of countless false beginnings trying to save money just to end up at square one again and again. I’m hiking NOBO March 2023.

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Comments 9

  • Chris : Jan 6th

    Sounds like you’ve lived a lifetime in your 23 years, and now you deserve the adventure you’ve been dreaming of. You got this!

    • Summer Tilton : Jan 9th

      Thank you for the support!

  • Suzi : Jan 6th

    I’ll be following you!!! Also starting in March. I think the experience will be life changing for you and for me!

    • Summer Tilton : Jan 9th

      That’s awesome! Maybe we will meet each other somewhere along the hike 🙂 Good luck on your 2023 hike!

  • Ian : Jan 6th

    Good on you! My path at your age was almost exactly the same. But I never had the balls to make the big move. I had planned on riding my bike the west coast from Canada where I live down to Baja Mexico, but instead went to a college that I had no interest in Studying. Things we do to keep our parents happy. Fast forward a few years, May 11 I will set off northbound on the PCT. My way of celebrating my 50th birthday. Good on you for figuring this out earlier than I did! But there’s no better day to get started then right now. Happy travels!

    • Summer Tilton : Jan 9th

      It makes me so happy that your doing PCT! Better now then never and happy early birthday! I hope 50 is your best most rewarding year yet 🙂

  • Bob : Jan 14th

    Looking forward to to following your progress. I’m planning a section hike in Maine this September

  • Deena Voorhees : Jan 28th

    Do it while you can. Good luck.

  • RM : Jan 30th

    I love your narrative and your name, Summer, my favorite season of the year.

    I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) at age 57 from Georgia to Maine in 2016. Maine was my favorite of the 14 states the AT traverses.

    It took me 148 days of hiking plus 14 days off (or “zeros” as they’re known on the trail). I started March 16 and finished August 24, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and the day U.S. President Barrack Obama designated Katahdin in Maine as Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Maybe some day, I hope, it becomes a national park.

    Let me leave you with some quotes of encouragement as you prepare to embark on your AT adventure/journey/thru-hike of a lifetime.

    This one is from Gadget and Slack, 2001 thru-hikers:

    “For anyone else who decides to follow the AT … enjoy where you are walking, enjoy the people you are with, and appreciate the fact that you are actually living what some may only dream about.”

    Here’s one from Dorothy Laker (1922-2007), a hiker from Florida who, in 1957, became the second woman in history to complete the entire Appalachian Trail:

    “Take enough time to enjoy yourself. The chances are you won’t be making a second trip, and what you miss the first time you’ll miss forever.”

    Good luck, Summer!


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