Transitioning from hiker to thru-hiker
I remember when I first heard of a thru hiker on the Appalachian Trail last year. I listened in disbelief that people would actually want to stay outside in the elements for 4-5 months at a time. Sure, I loved a great overnight backpacking trip, but thru hiking sounded a bit intense to me. Wouldn’t nature start to get repetitive? Boring? What does one even do each day to entertain oneself? Does one really have that many things to think about or say? I think one of the first things I googled was how to prevent boredom on the trail….
Fast forward a year
Here I am, quitting my job and planning on being a NOBO hiker this coming spring. So what changed? After reading countless blogs and books, I decided that thru hiking was exactly what I needed to hit the reset button on life and become more of the person I would like to be. Through other people’s personal accounts on the trail, I became intrigued by the thought of hiking in the wilderness and being a part of the hiking community that came with it. I also started to get more into backpacking this past year. It embraces my whole life philosophy of making do with less, enjoying the everyday beauty in nature, and spending time in the present. Nothing can beat the feeling of carrying everything you need- it makes you understand how simplistic life can be if we let it. Also, there is nothing like spending the night in nature and waking up in the beauty of a sunrise and the chirping of birds outside your “door”.
Baby steps along the way
I have been in a bit of a rut in life for the past two years. I have always dreamed of traveling and spending more time in nature, but most people regard that as reckless behavior. So, I went to college, worked, went to grad school, and worked some more. Now that I have a bit more financial stability and a decent resume built, I have decided to take a “sabbatical” and fulfill my dream of downsizing all my belongings and going wherever the wind blows without any commitments. I originally planned to travel abroad for a year, but the more I read about thru hiking and the AT, I decided that I needed to include it into my plans.
So, I must be a hardcore backpacker, right?
When did I start backpacking? The first trip I ever took was on the Inca Trail in Peru and I would highly recommend this trail to anyone. It is an amazing 4 day, 3 night journey that ends with incredible views of the sun slowly rising over Machu Picchu.
This trip was the perfect introduction to backpacking since it was an organized tour and we stayed in a group. It was nice being able to figure out basic necessities with others!
So, that was my first trip, back in 2008. It wasn’t until I moved to Columbus, Ohio and joined an outdoors group in meetup that I found a great group to explore the great outdoors together. The funny thing is, it took three tries to successfully complete my next overnight backpacking trip to Zaleski State Forest. How, you might ask? How could someone fail so miserably?? Well….
The first attempt was in 2012 with a group of about ten people. Although we went in May, it was so hot and humid, we were miserable. We had hiked to the second campsite and were a mere three miles from our car. It was only 2pm, so a friend and I laid down on our sleeping pads, took an hour nap, and then hiked out to our cars to enjoy a/c and a reprieve from all the mosquitoes that were eating us alive. (Not a good start to backpacking!)
I was sad that I didn’t spend the night at Zaleski and still wanted to give backpacking another whirl. I bought a cheap backpack, borrowed lots of equipment from a friend, and organized an overnight trip back to Zaleski. I had a group of around 10 people, packed diligently for the trip the night before and woke up at 7am. And it was raining. Not just raining, but was a downpour.
I checked my phone to check all the texts that I must have received from my friends to see that they bailed from the trip. To my surprise, there weren’t any. Not a single one. Slightly confused, I checked my email account. And then the Meetup website. Nowhere did I find one update that my friends no longer planned on meeting at our carpool location. Not sure that I wanted to go through with the trip, I called my one friend.
“Hey Mike! What are you up to?”
“Just getting ready to leave for our trip!”
Pause. “Did you see the weather outside?”
“Yeah, but it should blow over. We will be fine. See you soon!”
I tried again to find someone who would bail with me. I called two others going on the trip and they were all ready to go as well! Reluctantly, I finished packing and drove to the carpooling location.
Once we were all at the carpooling location, we had another hour delay debating whether we should drive the hour to Zaleski since it was still raining. We finally decided to drive there and check it out in person. (At this point, two of our group members went rogue and went back to Columbus instead of the trail head entrance where we were all meeting.)
Thankfully, it was a beautiful day at the trail head and we had a wonderful morning hike.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, remember the emergency exit route from the loop trail? That is right about when it started to pour again. Our group ran for cover under a rock outcrop. We ate, played card games, told stories, and tried to wait out the rain.
After an hour and a half, it finally stopped raining. Since it was already late in the afternoon and we weren’t sure if we would make it to the next designated camp site by nightfall, we decided to pack our bags and head home. #fail
Third attempt, for the win!
It wasn’t until this year that I managed to successfully complete my second overnight backpacking trip. With great resolve, we decided to complete the Zaleski loop and I am happy to report that it was a success!
We were blessed with great weather and an awesome group of people. There were many laughs, many attempts to start a fire, and a sense of satisfaction at completing our first successful backpacking trip. Although we had hiked many times together over the past three years, it was a new element to actually carrying our camping supplies and required a great deal more of effort and forethought.
Since then, I have also backpacked to Dolly Sods, WV for a two night trip into the wilderness and also a two night trip on the Laurel Highlands Trail in Ohiopyle, PA. Both were incredible experiences that showed me my love for backpacking. I learned to filter water, bear bag, and what supplies I actually need on the trail. I also learned how to find the perfect spot to tent and how to stay warm when the temperatures drop. I know that I am far from an experienced backpacker, but I am an excellent hiker with a desire to ante up my backpacking game on the trail. Through these experiences, I have learned about the intricacies about backpacking and feel the call of the AT to not only refine by backpacking skills, but also to help define who I am and what I am capable of.
By hiking the Appalachian Trail, I plan to challenge myself in ways that I may not fully comprehend at the moment, but I know that in the end, it will help shape me to be more of the person I want to be. Overall, I am looking forward to spending time in nature, challenging myself in new ways, and meeting other nature-lovers along the way.
So that is (part of) my story on how I got here and why I plan on joining the thru-hiker class of 2016. I look forward to sharing my adventures with you and hope that you enjoy the tales to come!
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We have plans to camp in Canada next year. Just doing some shopping and getting geared up at the moment! Just looking for some new boots, but I recently bought a Patagonia jacket from Naked Ape and went on a mini hike with my cousin. The heat was sensational.
Great read, thank you.