Three Makes Musketeers
“Before you start some work always ask yourself three questions – why am I doing it, what might the results be, and will I be successful. Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these, go ahead.” – Chanakya
“See, I blame myself. We took you to the Smokies when you were just a baby. You turned one there so now the mountains are in your blood.” I think that was the moment my dad realized that all this Appalachian Trail thru-hike business was maybe more than he had thought in the beginning. He isn’t a particularly deep man but when he hits the nail on the head he really whacks it hard.
I started to tell friends & family of my intention to thru-hike last year around October. At first it was mostly stony, confused glances that I got in return. In the case of my husband, I got silence & a very stern “NO!” I really hadn’t meant to blurt out my intentions of hiking the AT while on a date, perusing the meat case in Wal-Mart. I had meant for it to come out more eloquent than “So, i think I want to hike the Appalachian Trail in a year and a half. No, I REALLY want to HIKE the whole thing.” Apologies for the fact that I lack tact in the very sense of the word. I’m sorry about lingering on it inside my own head for so long that if I told you personally it probably shot out like a bolt of lightning and spewed forth as word vomit.
Facebook was different. It was much less personal but no less terrifying. I am a stay at home mom of a 7 year old that goes on field trips and makes goody bags, I am a wife with a house to clean & a husband to greet at the door, I am the daughter that grew up in the woods of Alabama at the same address for all of her life before moving with her little family to the lot next door. I had no business wandering off into the woods & leaving so many behind, yet here I was announcing that those were my exact intentions & I was going to do it alone, despite being a woman in this big, dangerous world.
You could say maybe the mountains really did seep into my blood. I spent many years vacationing with my parents in the Great Smoky Mountains, wandering trails and looking for deer. But I will tell you when I knew I was going to become a thru-hiker and didn’t even realize myself. It was on a small trip to hike some of the Pinhoti with my husband and my sister. We were weighed down by the worst gear money could buy & we also nearly washed away from my wise choices of picking a camping spot down a fifteen foot embankment, right next to a rushing river on a rainy night. Should i elaborate on that and also tell you it was mere feet from a set of train tracks? Do as I say, not as I do. Do not camp near trains. Back to that trip and the moment I knew. It was a fleeting moment, traipsing through the woods and blurting out “How cool would it be to hike, like, The Appalachain Trail or something?” My mind knew before my spirit knew.
A good deal of time has passed since that trip. Many things have changed since I first started mapping out my journey. I had planned to go it alone and then I found myself a partner in one of the most obvious places that I had completely overlooked. I grew up with a girl named Jacqui. Went to daycare together, then the same private school, and then as life got in the way we drifted apart. Being several states apart helped the process. We’d occasionally meet up, do a bit of catching up, and part ways again. No love lost between us, just life and the daily grind. The original plan was for her to do a section with me when I was nearer Kentucky, where she lives,and we would catch up, and she would go back home. There were no doubts that if anyone could jump right it in it would be her. She does OCR & Spartan races just for the challenge and the fun. On my way home from hiking the Approach Trail and some of the Smokies backcountry she messaged me. “I’ve had a change of jobs. I think instead of hiking a section with you, I may be able to schedule some time off for about a month.” My response had always been “I’d love to share my adventure with you!” The more we talked about gear, about scheduling a single month off for her, about finding a way to get her safely back home, somewhere the conversation changed. It became more serious and I recognized exactly what was happening in her because it had once happened in me, too. My question for her became “Why not Maine?” Her answer. “Why not? I’ll just wing it!”
Far from actually winging it, we spent the summer hunched over our keyboards searching for sponsors to some very good luck. I have a family back home to think about & Jacqui is single, supporting herself. We knew to make this happen we had to have a good financial plan in place far before we ever stepped foot on the trail. We both read (or in my case re-read) Awol’s book & shared our thoughts, what we liked, what we’d do differently, how in terms of feeling we felt Awol was lacking. Yes, it’s hard to make it through a day in the rain, but only because of discomfort & knowing you could be safely tucked away at home in bed. Every other message became about HOW we were going to make it to Maine, despite a million obvious and not-so-obvious obstacles. Zach Davis’ Appalachian Trials played a huge part in opening up the conversation about HOW we may react to challenges far and wide.
One obstacle that immediately jumped out at me was Jacqui’s need to bring along her dog, Panda. If i said yes, Panda could join us, I would be drastically changing my plans and the vision I originally had of my thru-hike. If I said no, well, i’d feel like an ass & I really do like dogs. Panda is an Alaskan Malamute/Australian Shepherd mix so no doubt she could handle the days of walking and will probably highly enjoy being outside and active. Knowing how much I was going to miss my own pets, a tiny, anxiety-ridden chihuahua topping that list, & that none were capable of the day-to-day hiking lifestyle, I said yes. (I mean, one of my pets IS a yellow slider. Could you see us hiking with HER?) I was going to have to learn to go with the flow and this was just the first “test”. Now I feel like taking Panda along was the plan from the start & couldn’t imagine planning our trip any other way. Panda has become part of the team as much as either of us have.
One thing I knew from the beginning was that if I was doing this I was going to document and record as much as I possibly could. I wanted pictures, journals, records. Some type of physical proof long after the journey. That’s how I came to be where I am now & why you are reading this. A large part of me hopes that if just one person is inspired by me in this life my job is done. It is only the beginning of our story, the first tentative steps toward a goal we have both become obsessively focused on and spent far too many hours discussing and disecting, planning and praying. Why not Maine? Because we have to go through thirteen other states to get there first and we will do it with a healthy dose of sarcasm, smartassery, tenacity, and just a dash of winging it.
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