Transitioning to a New Life

Who am I?

Hello all! I am Amara, I’m 26 years old, I am an aspiring illustrator and content creator, an Airman, recent motorcycle rider. I am not an experienced backpacker, but I plan to change that. I’m fortunate enough to be able to hike as part of the Semester-A-Trail program at Emory & Henry college next spring, using the opportunity to create and express artistically what my experiences will be.

What is thru-hiking?

To thru hike is to tackle the task of hiking a long-distance hike all in a relatively short period of time. 2,200 miles of one long, arduous, beautiful path.

When I learned of it, I was on my way to basic training with the Air Force. Let me tell you.. The idea of doing a thru hike is infectious. Through years of training and working (I have been enlisted for 5 years, 11 months, trained as a linguist and retrained into information technology) in the back of my mind has been the Appalachian Trail. The existence of thru hiking has astonished me since I learned of it. Just walk. Keep walking…..and keep walking.

It seems simple, and yet it’s so much more than that. It’s about the community the trail provides, the experience of living out of a tent for six months, and the magic of stepping outside of a “normal life”. It captivated me, as it does to countless people.

I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Something about thru hiking itches at your psyche. This is something I have found is in common with many people who intend to thru hike. I’ve read many blogs and watched videos of such a variety of people who have attempted or completed this experience.

The Appalachian Trail feels like a much more achievable goal after comparing it to different thru hikes. This might be because some of it is near my state of South Carolina. The forested setting is more comfortable and familiar to me than the wide-open expanses of the harsh deserts or plains.

The point is I decided the Appalachian Trail was something I could do. I started with picking a point, getting a plan together, and setting the date. I’m more than excited about the change it will bring to my life, the people I will meet, and the experiences I will have. I remind myself that people with all different backgrounds and lifestyles will be doing this alongside me. This includes with families both on the trail and off it, people with disabilities, or more years than most, or with dogs or partners or “tramilies”. People just looking for a new purpose and a cathartic challenge, waiting for the opportunity to face the world (and oneself) alone.

What are some concerns?

  1. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. I’ve spent a long time fantasizing about how my hike could go, and how the other vloggers experiences could influence my own. When I began planning the logistics of the hike the sheer scope of the endeavor made me shrink down to the size of an ant. I felt intimidated and alone.
  2. The planning, time, dedication, pain, and effort this will require will be immense and life-changing.
  3. The cold, the bugs, the boredom of repetitive food options, the effect of the pandemic and the potential loneliness of thru-hiking as a solo female.
  4. The year ahead of my thru hike took a lot of people’s plans and threw them on the ground. If things don’t go the way I plan there will still be alternatives for moving forward. There is not one correct way to do this thing. Many hikers on the Facebook pages share their experiences, plans, mishaps, and encouragements.
  5. Is this something I can achieve as someone who has never backpacked? If something happens that stops me from completing this all in one shot will I feel defeated? Would that make it any less of an achievement?

I took the time to let a lot of the fear melt away by accepting that not having everything set in stone is more flexible and realistic. 2020 is a testament to people’s resilience and adaptive nature.

No matter the fears, it’s the steps forward that make the difference.

The steps forward:

Following months of research and decision making, I’m going to be hiking through the Emory & Henry Semester-A-Trail program. This recently caught widespread attention due to an article by Higher Ed so I am feeling fortunate enough to be accepted into this 2021 cohort. I am so grateful for the opportunity it gives the small group of us, and to have the support of my family and friends as one great fallback for when I start to have bad days.

I have no background in long-distance hiking. This makes being taught and mentored through this experience with a small group of ambitious backpackers essential. We will be provided gear and insight from experienced past thru hikers, as well as short hikes and trips to prepare us and having access to temporary lodging when needed. For now, I’m spending time hiking and jogging around the Colorado Pikes Peak region to prepare and get ideas of all the gear I will start out with.

Here we go!

This hike is what I have been mentally preparing for a long time. The change of leaving the Air Force after six years will be huge and altering, but my time with the structure and militant lifestyle has been very real and educational. I want to take what I have learned from that now that my opportunity for thru hiking is here. I’m excited and grateful to be able to share this experience with you as it comes and hope you enjoy coming along!


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Comments 17

  • Aunt Lizzie : Dec 7th

    We’re so excited foe you sweet niece and loved reading the part of your journey has gotten you to this chapter. Love you!

    • Amara Gardner : Dec 9th

      Thanks Lizzie, it’s just the beginning ?

  • Conchita Boggs : Dec 8th

    Congratulations on your decision and best of luck on the trails. My granddaughters and I will look forward to cheering you on what will be an awesome adventure.

    • Amara Gardner : Dec 8th

      Thank you! That means so much 🙂

  • Holly : Dec 8th

    The article you wrote on your upcoming adventurism, was encouraging and inspiring! Very delighted for you, can’t wait to read of your experiences along the trail.
    God Bless

    • Amara Gardner : Dec 8th

      Thanks so much, I really appreciate that!

  • pearwood : Dec 8th

    Go for it, Amara, says this old Army UH1-H jockey (Fort Richardson, Alaska, 1070s).

    My plan currently(!) is to start NOBO on June 1. Plan C. Yeah. Also blogging.


    • Amara Gardner : Dec 8th

      Hi Pearwood, I actually saw your blog yesterday, thanks for commenting! And thanks for your service 🙂

  • Tom Brown : Dec 8th

    Best wishes for a great hiking experience!??. Will you have a utube page like many other hikers?

    • Amara Gardner : Dec 9th

      Thank you for the well wishes! I plan to have a YouTube page linked on this Trek author page after my third post and I do plan to make videos!

  • Bruce : Dec 8th

    Hey Amara! We’re pretty much in the same boat and this is very inspiring to read. I’m 28 and a former infantryman in the US Army. I also have zero backpacking experience and the amount of research and logistics is alarming. I’m looking to thru hike the AT in 2022 so I have a year of practice and learning to do. I’d also like to eventually the triple crown!! Best of luck! I’ll be learning from you so share lots with us 🙂

    • Amara Gardner : Dec 9th

      It’s totally intimidating once you realize you’re within a year of doing it and actually start picking up gear and going out, like going up on a rollercoaster! I’m excited for you, I’m going to be sure to share what I can ?

  • Chris Armstrong : Dec 10th

    Thank you for your service. Best of luck out there. Maybe we will cross paths as I am starting in March 2021 when my terminal leave begins.

    • Amara Gardner : Dec 10th

      Good luck to you as well, hope to see you out there!

  • Chelsey : Dec 10th

    So excited to hear more about your journey!!!

  • Wes Laudeman : Dec 12th

    Great post! Hope to see you out on trail!

  • G'pa and G'ma G. : Feb 12th

    Amara, We are excited for you and know this will be a really great adventure for you! We will be praying God’s protection over you! G’pa & G’ma G.


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