Earlier this week, for the first time since deciding I was going to attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail 10 months ago, someone told me flat out that I would not be able to do it. Now, I’ve run into people who were skeptical, people who have told me hiking the AT isn’t resume-worthy, people who couldn’t reconcile the reality and probability and logistics of it all. But up until a couple days ago, no one had told me directly, to my face, that I would not be able to do this.

But to be honest, hearing that for the first time wasn’t as surprising as I expected it would be.

It wasn’t unfamiliar, because it’s what I’ve been telling myself through fret and worry for the last few weeks.

This. Is. Impossible.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been drowning in the logistics of planning, mostly financial, and I was really getting exhausted under the weight of the fact that, in roughly four months, it’s time to walk. Taking a six month hiatus from life to walk 2,000+ miles less than a year after having back surgery to correct an injury that was an inch from paralyzing me doesn’t seem super feasible most days. I look at medical bills and student loans and my savings account, and it’s laughable. I look in the mirror and see what five years of fighting that disc herniation did to my once athletic build, I consider walking 2,000+ miles, and I shake my head and scoff at myself. I remember I can’t feel my right leg from nerve damage and remember that I’ve had a headache since July, and when I add everything all together, I’m just a little baffled at my own audacity.

There’s nothing logical about this, to be honest.

It’s common, when faced with a seemingly impossible task, to be given advice to turn the anger from doubting voices into fuel to prove them wrong or whatever, but these words from my friend didn’t irritate me or frustrate me. I didn’t feel resentment toward him, but instead (and after a couple of days, tbh), I experienced gratitude. What his words did was bring me back—back to the first time I considered hiking the AT, the first time I got lost in daydreaming and late night research. Those words brought me back to visions of walking with people, sitting with people, in the silence only found in nature and in community shared, in these places where we find each other and ourselves and purpose beyond predisposed, unsolicited expectations. I remembered how ACMNP connected Alli and Sydney and I over the course of 15 months, and how God laced our individual dreams together to collectively do something bigger than ourselves, with the blessing and support of an organization that has stolen our hearts. I’m remembering the dream and the reclaiming that I imagine my time on the Appalachian Trail will do.

There are a million little doubting voices in my head and in my heart about this hike, but as I sat in a Panera Bread today watching a documentary about the AT, resisting tears, I remembered the words of a friend from so many years ago: God doesn’t make you hungry without having prepared a feast. I think getting choked up reminded me that I’m hungry. Finding courage to write this blog reminds me that I’m hungry. Choosing to take a deep breath and trust that I didn’t make this dream up reminds me that my hunger will be satisfied, both through the hike and the people I share it with. Preparation is scary and logistics are daunting—

But there’s a feast to be had.



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Comments 11

  • Paul Kina : Nov 15th


    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog. Your frankness was refreshing. I’m an ex-Michigander and that caught my eye too. I’m looking forward to reading more.

    I’m a section hiker from Atlanta and got the bug to hike the AT quite awhile ago. Last year I decided to get started, completing about 250 miles so far. Even though my daughter doesn’t hike (yet), she came with me this spring and we did a little trail magic cookout here in GA. She got a good look at a piece of the hiker experience-pain & tears, laughter and new friendships already forged. My experience so far has been that it’s the people who make the Trail what it is, the community that you spoke of.

    Re: the naysayers – “Illegitimi Non Carborundum”. You seem to have the courage to pursue a dream.

    Hike your own hike.

    Paul Kina
    Atlanta, GA

    p.s. Feel free to email if you need local (Atlanta to Springer) information.

    • Shelby Cook : Nov 23rd

      Thanks, Paul! Super cool that you’ve gotten to share the AT with your daughter–I’m hoping my dad will come out and hike with me for a bit this summer! I’ll let you know if we need any local info as March approaches!

  • Alli : Nov 15th

    Beautiful. I am so excited to hike this trail with you sister. God has so much in store for us (& Sydney).

    • Shelby Cook : Nov 23rd

      I’m pumped that I get to share this with you, lady! We get to share a dream come true–how cool is that?!

  • Stephen Williams : Nov 16th

    Hey there! Great post. My advice: Sit with your discomfort. Sit with your fears of being illogical. Sit with the fear that thru hiking the AT is a poor choice. Consider that thru hiking the trail may not bring you any of the things you are wishing and praying for. All of these things and more may be true, and by sitting with your fears you will learn how you really feel. You may realize your fears are legitimate and that this is not the right time for a thru hike.

    Or you may realize that just because you’ve chosen a path that does not coincide with society’s collective wisdom and consensus reality doesn’t make it bad or wrong. No matter what choice you make, you will learn about yourself… And that is always valuable. Good luck! Perhaps we’ll meet on the trail next year. ?

    • Shelby Cook : Nov 23rd

      Thanks, Stephen! Definitely hear you about sitting with fear… it can be a great teacher if we let it be! Also, great advice on not letting the AT (and/or any “success” derived by hiking it) be the ultimate truth-teller. Always something to learn!

  • Ken Batron : Nov 16th

    Good luck. I’m 800+ miles in. Plan enough $ and time. The rest will take care of itself. Really. Send a few mail drops. Best is to have someone at home mail it to where you specify on the trail while you are on the trail. Key to this is few (FEW) mail drops. Roll with it, the trail will help.

    • Shelby Cook : Nov 23rd

      Great advice, Ken! Trying to collect enough pennies… 😉 Good luck with the rest of your hike!

  • Angie : Nov 16th

    well for someone to say you can’t is ridiculous…many people HAVE and why not you? people with all kinds of challenges and disabilities have done it! Of course you can… yes it’s alot of planning and work and I would love to do it too one day. You will have more fond memories from this than anything else supposedly more resume worthy. We only get one life and I regret doing so much of what was expected of me instead of things like this. Go for it, you will have more support out there than you do at home probably and that will help alot!

    • Shelby Cook : Nov 23rd

      Thanks, Angie! Appreciate the support!

  • Scott Herndon : Nov 16th

    Breathe deep and relax and don’t let people, circumstances, or logistics stress you out to much.
    The number 1 key to success is how much heart you have to do the walk and only you can judge that no one else.People will project their own limitations fears and doubts on to you they believe its something they could never do so they naturally believe no one else could either. When it comes to gear and logistics learn what you can make the best choices you can for you but don’t over think or over stress it, It may make the hike a little easier or comfortable and yes a little safer but it won’t be the deciding factor in your success It comes from what’s inside you not what you strap on your back. Gear companies and gear junkies will tell you that if you don’t have ABC brand tent sleep pad or stove then you will die on the trail lol, thats their job to sell their product and make you believe its necessary for your success but its not. If you quiz 30 of them you will get 30 different responses as to whats the best. If you look at the stats for successful hikes available on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy since 2008 the success rates have stayed between 25% and 30%. If all these advances in gear with ultra lightweight, moisture wicking, super duper techno advanced products were so game changing the numbers would change but they don’t. If you look at the stats from the 70’s thru 2000 before all these great products came on the market the success rate was drum roll please actually about the same between 25-30%. Hiking the AT is excellent resume and interview material if you present it right. You state that you learned perseverance that too keep going because the best views are after the hardest climbs. You state you learned not to quit on a bad day. That its just as far and hard to go backwards as it is to press on and go forward. You learned confidence can be a self starter and are responsible. There are dozens of other lessons and examples you can come up with that companies want in employees. Plus its a great ice breaker story to tell at an interview and something memorable to set you apart from the 100 other people they will interview that week. When it comes to financial impact I always remember some great advice I got, time is the one thing you can never get back, lost money can be remade, even lost loves rekindled, but time once lost is gone. Don’t trade money for experiences that may not come again. Make honest responsible choices but don’t over stress yourself thinking of all the things that might go wrong think of all the wonderful experiences you will have. Winston Churchill once said of people who live lives of doubt and worry that they reminded him of an old man who on his death bed stated he had a lot of troubles in his life MOST OF WHICH NEVER Actually happened. At The end of the day Hiking whether short trails or long is simply doing what we’ve been doing since we were about 2 yrs old: putting one foot in front of the other and repeating til we get where we are going. I will be thru hiking the AT in April of 2017 wishing you the best of luck and success for your journey, stay strong believe in yourself and may you have fair weather, good companions, and peaceful trails til your journey brings you home again.


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