There is No “Why” to Hiking the Appalachian Trail


I woke up this morning staring down a 2500-mile-long-gun, say that number again and slow. After five years of planning, prepping, and dreaming, the beginning steps are only one day out. I am terrified. I am excited. I am dumbfounded. How did I get here?


The start of this crazy adventure starts how most do, at the bottom of a night in with only bits of our minds swirling about. Chris, my high school friend and longtime hiking partner, and I had one of our usual platonic, by no means friendly, competitions of who could do it better. We eventually landed on the idea of a fantastic competition of endurance of the body, mind, and spirit—the Appalachian Trail. 


Immediately, the fervor transitioned into determination. Within a month, we found ourselves collecting rainwater off the side of a country general store only six miles into the Pinhoti Trail (this was due to a non-functioning water filter with no backup to speak of). Another couple of years and a handful of trips later, the trials morphed from life-threatening to run-of-the-mill trek issues: blistered feet, bruised shin bones, and the looming question of what the hell convinced me to walk this far out into the woods?!

Chris and I once we got our boots under us. Hike number three (seven days, 80 miles, hot Alabama summer).


Initially, it was to prove something to myselfI can finish what I start. Then, it morphed into a way to get away from the upvote, downvote, run yourself into the ground society, be it at work or school, to prove to others and ultimately yourself that you have worth. I wanted the time to define my own worth. I was then presented with the sudden death of my father. The answer again changed- to find healing, to make myself whole so that I can aid myself and others. 

My late father and I standing on the shore of the Niagara River. His surprised face is complemented by my devious one- I goosed him. XD


Simply, I don’t know. Yet, I find that from time to time the answer presents parts of itself. The how I got here and the why I hike are linked, but in which way has not been revealed. Perhaps over this 2,500-mile journey, the link will become more apparent. All that I know now is this: the adventure of a lifetime started out as a drunken pipedream.

But, after five years, the dream survived and became an opportunity because a space for it was created. Space was created by myself through an obsessive determination to see it become reality. Space was created by loving and hardworking parents, who, either willingly or through guilt-trips, give me a safety net should I fail. Space was created by a support network made of lifelong friends, lost loves, and caring strangers. Now it’s time for me to fill that space with a 50lb-backpack, over five million steps, and possibly a “why” to hike the AT.

Visiting my parents before heading off on the Appalachian Trail.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 4

  • Sharon Camp : Jan 28th

    Good luck Charlie. I look forward to following you on your AT adventure. Hiking the AT has been a dream of mine for the past 40 years. I hope to do a 200 mile stretch this year. It will give me a small taste of what’s ahead for you. Remember it’s a hike, not a race. Take the time to enjoy every moment. Hike on!

  • Laina : Jan 28th

    You and I both know it’s not about luck just like it’s not about why. I always answered why questions with why not. The luck business I answer with a quote, “The harder I work the luckier I get.”

  • pearwood : Jan 28th

    I’m sitting in in my brother’s house in Fayetteville, Georgia. He is driving me to the trailhead on Tuesday. So, I am actually going to do this. What??

    I have done enough of this sort of thing to know that I really don’t know what I’m getting myself into.

    The cold I can deal with. The mind game, I think so.

    Steve / pearwood

  • JoAnne Williams : Feb 7th

    Good morning love!!! Excited for you & oh so proud!!! i love you !!! Aunt JoJo


What Do You Think?