WHY 2,181 MILES?


A Little About Me And The Big Three

My Answers To Zach’s Soul Searching Questions

This seems to be the question on my friends and family’s mind when I tell them about my upcoming 2016 thru hike attempt of the Appalachian Trail. I find myself being able to answer this pretty easily. The question I frequently ask myself is, where in the world did this obsession come from? Since my early teen years I have been pretty adamant about completing this journey. I don’t know how, why, where or when I came to know about the AT but it has been something that has gotten into my mind and just stuck there. I think that those who have traveled this path probably can relate, to others it probably sounds kind of crazy. I’m at a crossroads in life. I am single, motivated, and pushed on by a sense of adventure that has never quite been quenched. I spend my collegiate years playing sports, which I excelled at and loved, but I never got that chance to go abroad to study or go off on a backpacking adventure after graduation. I have always been responsible. I have always (tried) to be an adult, to do things how I think they should be done. Continuing in school and forging a career in the fire service became my passion until a year ago when things came crashing down. I suffered a serious back injury, brought on by years of intense athletics and then 5 years of firefighting. I found myself, for the first time, down and out. I was diagnosed with a severely herniated disc and spinal stenosis. This meant intense episodes of back pain, including walking around (or trying to) at a bent over 90 degree angle for months at a time. My neurosurgeon finally decided it was time to have surgery, a discectomy, laminectomy, and coflex device placement (for the stenosis) later, I am feeling better than I have in years. I am pain free (for the most part), and feel like I can again live an active life that I so miss. I miss being competitive, I miss the challenge of pushing myself to the limit, I miss feeling like myself and losing myself in the process of something bigger than myself. SO, as recommended by Zach Davis, on our awesome site, I thought I would share my answers to his top three questions:

  1. I am thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail because… (this is your why) I am ready to find myself again. After struggling through a lot of my adult life with various demons, being frustrated with myself, my injuries, having to quit a job I loved, I have come to feel lost. I feel out of touch with myself. I want, no I NEED, desperately this time to myself to test my limits once again, to fall in love with Leah as a person out on her own. I desire to leave the “normal world” behind and become one with nature and myself. I want to know I can complete this journey while only depending on myself (well, and care packages from mom). I want to know I can save the money required for this journey (which is a lot) and plan successfully. I seek to be a part of the trail life, only worrying about basic necessities and escaping from the busy, bustling world of technology and talking heads we all are so used to. I could probably go on and on…and have in my own personal journal, but I think you all get the point. 🙂 
  2. When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, I will… (these are the personal benefits you’ll acquire upon reaching Katahdin) I will rest easy with the knowledge that I just completed the most difficult journey of my life mentally, physically and spiritually. I will come to appreciate daily comforts in a new way. I know when I complete this journey I will not look at the world the same way again. I will know why I wanted to hike this trail so badly, and what spiritual force drove me to do so. (I frequently feel that I am being compelled to complete this journey for some purpose other than just to walk)…no I’m not crazy, I think it’s more serendipitous than that.
  3. If I give up on the Appalachian Trail, I will… (these are the negative perceptions you’ll develop of yourself if you quit – harsh but effective) I will know that I will return. I will feel like I have let people down though for sure for I have shared in this crazy idea with a lot of friends and family. If I choose to quit it will be a huge defeat, however, if I am forced to quit (due to injury or other unforseen circumstances) I know that I will be back.

The Big Three

Zach’s questions were awesome. They really made me think and write in a focused way on my own inspirations for wanting to hike the Appalachian Trail. However, now I want to know more from our hiking community! Tell us what are your Big Three (and no I don’t mean shelter, pack, and sleeping systems)…I’m talking about sharing the three main things you feel you have gained, or the three main things you feel you will gain from your hike of the AT. Spirituality, camaraderie, seeing the country, escaping the real world…inquiring minds want to know! What’s YOUR Big Three?



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Comments 4

  • Nichole : Jun 23rd

    Hey Leah, fellow 2016-er here – can’t wait to hear about your prep and see you out on the trail next year!!

    • Leah Cornwell : Jun 25th

      Yay Class of 2016! 🙂 Are you hiking nobo Nichole?

  • Jamison McLean : Jun 25th

    Leah, I’m doing the Flip-Flop as well next year. Look forward to seeing you on the trail!

    • Leah Cornwell : Jun 25th

      Definitely Jamison! When are you planning on starting? Are you going solo?


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