Why Hike the Appalachian Trail?

Hey, all! Fortune Cookie here! Nice to meet you!

I’m super excited to be hitting the trail in about a month and, even though I’ve been talking about the trail to close friends and family for over two years and to anyone who will listen for at least a year, I’m still being asked a lot of ‘why’ questions.

The folks reading this might be interested in my answers, even though every hiker has their own reasons for committing to hike a long trail like the AT. If you’re considering a thru-hike, maybe some of my answers will ring true for you as well.

So, here are the top five why questions and responses about my upcoming hike.

“Why do you want to do this? It’s almost 2,200 miles!”

When I was in college I went on a two-week backpacking trip that had an immense impact on me. I went into it in a bad place mentally, but in those two weeks I learned so much about myself—a new self-confidence and inner strength put me into a new frame of mind.

That was 32 years ago. 

I had never heard of the AT prior to college. A couple of friends did it and came back with amazing stories. I put it on my bucket list and then on the back burner. I got married, got a job, had kids. Thirty years after graduating college, I finally began to plan in earnest. 

“Why are you hiking alone?”

I don’t really have a choice—someone has to stay home and keep the bills paid and cats fed, and my husband (trail name “Rollie”) is willing to do that! 

But seriously, I won’t be alone, per se. There are 36 people registered to start at Springer Mountain the same day as myself, so I’m sure to gain a trail family, or “tramily.” Rollie will join me for the first week and a week here and there when he can take time off from work. He’s also planning to meet me in Monson, Maine, to hike the 100-mile wilderness and summit Katahdin with me.

March and April are popular times for starting the AT, so I will be in a “bubble” of people that will thin out as time goes on and people leave the trail.

Why do you want to step away from life for six months?”

This has been a goal since college, so, I’m seeking to accomplish one of my life-goals.

I don’t see it as stepping away from life, but rather stepping into solitude, nature, self-reliance, simplicity, self-confidence, endurance, space to think, freedom.

“Why do the whole trail?”

Why not? Again, this has been a goal for three decades. I have two very understanding bosses who are willing to let me leave and come back to my jobs six months later. That’s huge just knowing I can come home and not have to look for work.

“Why did you choose to start at Springer Mountain?”

Starting north-bound (NOBO) from Georgia in March means I will experience the end of winter, all of spring and summer on the trail, and the very beginning of autumn in Baxter State Park. Plus, my work schedule is more conducive to time off from March through September. If I were to start at Katahdin and be south-bound (SOBO), I’d have to wait until at least June 1 to begin my hike and I’d be finishing up in late November. That doesn’t sound as fun to me.

Bonus “Why”

I had one dude ask me why I’m not hiking to raise awareness for a cause or funds for a charity.

Frankly, I don’t need that pressure. I’m hiking for me. 

A final thought…

I had hoped to send Dad postcards throughout my journey. We talked a lot about it. He’d shake his head and say he was amazed that I would be doing this, but he also said he was proud of my commitment. 

Back in 2021, Mom read some of the same books I was reading about the trail and she was also excited for me.

My dear friend Mark said I needed to bring bear spray so I’d be properly seasoned with pepper for a bear’s dinner. 

All three are gone now. 

Some people asked why I don’t wait to do this hike until I’m retired. In the 13 months between December of 2021 and January of 2023, I lost a dear friend and both parents. Life is too short to wait.

If you’re considering a thru-hike of any long trail, start planning. Set a date. Get on trail as soon as possible.

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.” ~ Hugh Laurie

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Comments 14

  • Kara : Feb 22nd

    Your words are so true, life is too short to wait. Sometimes I feel like the people that get it, get it. And the people that don’t get it, don’t need to!! I’m also starting in March and have a husband back home taking care of things. Happy trails, I hope to meet you out there!

    • Carol Fielding : Feb 22nd

      Kara, I hope to meet you on the trail! Do you have a trail name yet?

  • Sheila McCray : Feb 22nd

    It’s awesome that you have the opportunity to do something you’ve always yearned to do, most of us simply don’t have the time,or never TAKE the time. God be with you, and enjoy the journey!!

    • Carol Fielding : Feb 22nd

      Thank you, Sheila!

  • Roz : Feb 22nd

    Such heartfelt writing. I know the spirit and love from your parents and friend will be felt throughout the journey. Looking forward to following along and thank you for the reminder to just GO DO THE THING. 🙂

    • Carol Fielding : Feb 22nd

      Roz, indeed they will be with me. Thank you for that reminder!

  • Ruth Anne Collins : Feb 23rd

    Hoping to see you out on the trail! We are starting 3/23.

    • Carol Fielding : Feb 23rd

      Ruth Anne, awesome! I hope to meet you!

  • Michael Brown : Feb 25th

    Love your post and look forward to meeting you out there. I’m kinda in the same boat. Did a big hike (100 mile wilderness) with my dad in my early 20s and have spent 30 years wanting to do this. The past few years have been a wakeup call for me not to wait. I’m starting March 21 cause if I wait until retirement, I may never do this. Congrats on making a huge life decision and good hiking.

    • Carol Fielding : Feb 25th

      Awesome! Hope to meet you out there!

  • Maggie Rowe : Mar 23rd

    Carol, I am a longtime friend of your sister Linda’s, and just read about you starting your hike. My husband and I live in Waynesville North Carolina. Just about 45 minutes from GSMNP. When you’re hiking through our area, please feel free to reach out, if you need some trail magic. Will be traveling some next month, but if the timing works, we could meet you and give you a warm bed for a night.

    • Carol Fielding : May 11th

      Ha, I wish I had seen this sooner! Thanks so much for the offer!

      • Jim Benedict : May 11th

        My mother was Mary chaffee Benedict from Erie. I leave near Harrisonburg Va., about 45 min from AT (Route 33) if we are in town, we would love to connect.

  • Michael Beecher : May 29th

    I love the positivity Carol. I am planning for the AT in 2024. I might even steal your Hugh Laurie quote!


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