Under Two Months Out: How Did We Get To This Point?
It is February 1st, and I am just under two months away from departing for the adventure of a lifetime. What I am referring to, of course, is a thru-hike of the entire 2,193 mile long Appalachian Trail. On March 28th, I will summit Springer Mountain where my Northbound thru-hike will officially be underway. The goal is to hike the trail in it’s entirety- every single mile from Springer Mountain, Georgia all the way to the summit of Mt. Katahdin, Maine. I have no strict timeline I have to follow for my hike, but I think the 4-5 month range is a realistic time frame for me to complete the trail. I anxiously await my start date while I continue to stack that bank account and prepare, physically and mentally, for the journey from my home in Oneonta, New York. Going on a 4-5 month long backpacking trip might sound a bit extreme to many of you, and are probably wondering what made me decide to attempt a thru-hike.
How did we get to this point?
A couple weeks ago, I finished my last two courses of my college career and will graduate from SUNY Oneonta with a degree in Media Studies. The past couple years have been some of the busiest of my life; balancing college courses, part-time jobs, internships, and a social life took up the majority of my time. Even though college was a tremendous experience filled with life-long memories, I am ready for the next chapter of my life. With my degree requirements finally complete, and my current video editing internship contract set to expire this month, I find myself with this perfect window of opportunity to finally pull the trigger on a long-time dream of mine: thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.
I consider hiking and backpacking to be a big part of who I am, and anyone who personally knows me can attest to this. Growing up, my parents often took me on day hikes and canoe trips, both locally and on family trips to the Adirondacks and Maine. It was during one of our trips to Maine where I first discovered what the Appalachian Trail was. I was roughly 11 years old, and my family and I were enjoying a meal at the Appalachian Trail Cafe. I had never heard of the trail up until that point, and my dad explained to me how there was a wilderness trail that spanned over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine, and every year people attempt to hike the entire length of the trail in one shot. The fact that there was one continuous hiking trail across the country was mind-blowing, and too much for my 11 year old brain to comprehend. The rest of our trip, all I could think about was the Appalachian Trail, and how epic it must be to walk the whole trail. The seed was planted.
As the years went on, I found myself losing my passion for the outdoors. Spending a beautiful summer afternoon inside playing Xbox was a day well spent in my book. Sure, I would go out and play football/basketball with friends, but hiking for the most part was out of the equation. Then one summer afternoon, right after my freshman year of college, my friend texted me and a couple other friends asking if we felt like joining him for a hike. I accepted the invite, and we hiked a short but steep 2 miles to the top of Anthony’s Nose, a rocky overlook close to the Appalachian Trail that overlooks the Bear Mountain Bridge and the Hudson River. I had a crazy thought while soaking in the view with my friends; hiking and being active outdoors was much more fun that sitting in front of a TV all day
I instantly re-caught the hiking bug, and the remainder of that Summer consisted of exploring the trails in local Harriman State Park. One of those trails was the Appalachian Trail, which ran roughly 18 miles through the park. It was at this time that the idea of thru hiking the Appalachian Trail began to creep into my thoughts. I never thought about it too seriously, until my friend and I decided to hike a 16 mile section of the Appalachian Trail through Harriman State Park. This would easily be my longest hike to date, and the hike took us roughly 8 hours. I enjoyed every minute of that first long hike; even when my legs began to give up on me during the last couple of miles. Throughout the hike I was constantly day dreaming of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, and wondered if it was something I could be able to do. Granted, I had never been backpacking at this point, but that feeling of freedom I felt during that long day hike has added fuel to the fire. After the hike I told myself that I would someday thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, I just had no idea how/when.
The following Summer, with the AT still on my mind, I purchased my first backpacking gear. My friend and I set out for our first ever backpacking trip on a hot July afternoon; a short, one night 6 mile loop in Harriman State Park. This first outing was a great learning experience for me, and we even ran into a thru-hiker who had tons of stories to share from her thru-hike. Since then, backpacking outings in the Adirondacks, Catskill Mountains, and other parts of New York have deepened my passion for backpacking, and further sparked my interest to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. My skills in the backcountry began to grow, and solo backpacking outings further instilled the confidence in me that I can, and should, thru-hike the AT.
Zach Davis, in his book Appalachian Trials, stresses the importance of knowing why you want to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. For me, timing is one of a few key deciding factors. For the past two years, every time I mentioned the idea of thru-hiking to my dad, he always responded that the best time to do it was right after college, before committing to a full-time job. I knew he was right, but I always told myself that college graduation was a while away, and I can make that decision then. Now that I am graduated, I had a serious conversation with my parents back in December about my desire to follow through with my dream of hiking the AT. I had their full support; and they agreed that now is the most ideal time to do this. I am done with school, and I complete my video editing internship in February, leaving me with the perfect window of opportunity to go for it, before committing to a full-time job. Am I going to continue to read and dream about the thru hiking the AT? Or was I going to take advantage of this perfect opportunity, chase my dream, and hit the trail? I didn’t have to think too hard to come to an answer. I know the trail isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but it’s now or never for me. I feel I am as physically and mentally ready now as I will ever be.
Of course, my love for the outdoors and the freedom that comes with backpacking is a huge motivational factor. I want to see things and have experiences that most people will never get the chance to see or experience in their lives. I know it sounds cliché, but you only have one life, and I don’t want any regrets in my life. I am looking forward to challenging myself everyday, and working everyday towards one main goal: reaching Katahdin. I know that it won’t be easy, as it shouldn’t be. For those that don’t know, only 20% of thru-hikers who start in Georgia actually make it all the way to Maine. I’m determined to beat these odds, one step at a time. I am more than ready for the long journey that lies ahead. To my fellow AT 2021 thru-hikers, let’s get it.
A quick note on COVID…
I feel I should briefly touch on the elephant in the room that is COVID. I know that the virus still poses a risk even with the vaccines rolling out across the country. This is why I will do my best in keeping myself, fellow hikers, and the AT communities as safe as possible by avoiding sleeping in shelters, wearing masks and limiting exposure when in town, and following all other COVID safety protocols to the best of my abilities.
That’s all for now, and thank you for reading my introduction post. I am looking forward to sharing my journey with you all!
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