Why I am hiking the Appalachian Trail

Why I am hiking the Appalachian Trail

A Bozo (me) who got stuck near a waterfall in Washington State

A cliché introduction post to start a thru hiking blog, but one that should always be done. After all, if you cannot humanize the blogger, then you can’t really get enjoyment from their journey, regardless of your desires to do that journey yourself. It’s also a great way to get my blog out there. Posting publicly will also force my commitment to the thru hike. Advice I got from thru hikers as well as from Appalachian Trials, the book written by the creator of The Trek, Zach Davis.

Who am I?

My name is David Howard. I am an environmental engineer based in Denver, CO. I graduated from Auburn University with a Chemical Engineering degree. Originally from Jacksonville, FL, I have been cursed by being a Jaguars fan. I love The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and most of the other great fantasy book series out there. I am a bisexual man with the most amazing boy friend ever. We have been dating for nearly three years now.

Growing up, I have always loved nature and going to the mountains. Learning about the Appalachian Trail, the AT, first at Camp Kanuga in Hendersonville, NC. AT Kanuga, I had my first backpacking trip on the AT. Since then, I have done backpacking trips on sections of the Appalachian, Florida, Colorado, and Continental Divide Trails. When possible, I do hikes, both solo and in groups.

What to Expect from My Blog

I tend to ramble from time to time, but I will do my best not to. Ultimately this blog will be a record as much to myself as to anyone who wishes to read along. I’m not one who has been much for journaling, but I know I will regret it if I don’t for this hike. I will try to catch my thoughts as well as a bunch of great pictures, posting when I’m in town or otherwise able. Some posts will be longer than others. Some will have better grammar than others. All will be from the heart.

What is the Appalachian Trail?

Most people reading this will know, or at least be able to infer, what the Appalachian Trail, or AT, is. The Appalachian Trail is a trail through the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. More specifically, the AT is 2190 (±10) miles of continuous walking path stretching from Georgia to Maine, or Maine to Georgia, I always forget which. The AT is

  • made famous for its difficult terrain and relative remoteness through the American East.
  • a trail made more famous thanks to the successful telling of the failure Bill Bryson’s thru hike attempt (The author of A Walk in the Woods, which is a treasure, don’t fight me on that).
  • a trail made famous thanks to the community who have made walking on it safer than living in the “real world”.
  • a Green Tunnel.
  • a walk from scenic view to scenic view.
  • a squeeze through rock faces.
  • the Appalachian Trail.

Why am I Hiking the AT?

It is tough to describe what is driving me to hike the AT. It is something I have always wanted to do even before I knew what the trail is. I have always loved walking and exploring nature. When in Indian Guides as a young lad of 5, I used to wonder in the woods on the camping trips. In Boy Scouts I would often explore the woods on my path to becoming an Eagle Scout. When I was 12, my family went to the Grand Canyon and I just started walking along the north rim of the Grand Canyon from our RV park.

This last one scared my mother half to death. My mom is like most mothers where the time between being scared half to death could be measured as predictably as a radioactive isotope. Raising three boys, I am pretty sure my mother’s half-life was measured in minutes.

Ultimately, I believe Paulo Coelho said it best in several lines from The Alchemist:

It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is.

The boy felt jealous of the freedom of the wind and saw that he could have the same freedom. There was nothing to hold him back except himself.

The alchemists spent years in their laboratories, observing the fire that purified the metals. They spent so much time close to the fire that gradually they gave up the vanities of the world. They discovered that the purification of the metals had led to a purification of themselves.

I could just copy pasta the entire book, but really, you should read it. Everyone should read The Alchemist.

Ultimately, hiking the AT is something I was meant to do. It is something I would regret not doing and resent anyone who pressured me not to do it.

My Plan for My Thru Hike

Start of the Hike

I plan to start my thru hike on 4/17, the anniversary of my dog’s passing. I loved Beetle Bailey more than anything. I am even considering giving myself the trail name of Beetle in his honor. A week before, I will put all my things into storage in Denver and work out where I will have my mail sent. I will then begin my pilgrimage by driving across country and dropping off my car before starting the 8 mile AT Approach Trail near Springer Mountain.

Cost

Not considering the opportunity costs of being out of work, it is estimated to be a trip that will take about $6,000 in expenses including gear (most of which I’ve already purchased), shuttles, hotels, etc.… I estimate it will take me anywhere from 4-6 months to complete, the longer it takes the more costly it’ll be, but I have saved up enough so I would not allow that to be a driving force of abandoning the trail.

Will I be successful?

Odds are I will not be, the trail has an incredibly high failure rate, ranging from 65-85% depending on where you look at the data. Failure ranges from mental fatigue to injury, desire to take a warm shower every night, or personal tragedy. I would bet this past year saw perhaps the highest failure rate thanks to COVID-19, although I do not know for sure.

 

I hope you all enjoy tracking my adventure, I know many people who have completed the AT and I have sought out their advice. I am more likely to be killed in the real world than on trial, so do not worry about me, I will have more of a reason to be worried about you.

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Comments 11

  • Avatar
    Aunt Kathy : Dec 23rd

    I will be reading your blog. If you think you should walk it I will support you.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Turtle Hiker : Dec 24th

    I look forward to reading your post. And I am also looking forward to reading the Alchemist.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    John the Wishful Wanderer : Dec 24th

    Although I have hiked parts of it, read 20-30 books, and enjoyed many Facebook hiking roups, I’ve only followed one person on their full AT journey, a good friend that I worked with several years ago. With that experience as a point of reference, I hope the virtual followers (including me)… even if strangers… help provide you encouragement (mental, emotional, and / or spiritual). Best wishes to you and happy trails!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    pearwood : Dec 24th

    David,
    Blessings on your way. I was hoping for March 2021 but 2022 is looking much more realistic to me now. I don’t want go with COVID-19 hanging over the trail community I would really like to be part of.
    Steve / pearwood

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Not what you want to hear : Dec 26th

    Covid makes any form of interstate travel, including thru hiking, much more dangerous. Be responsible and postpone a year so you don’t end up killing anyone.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      David : Feb 19th

      I know this is nearly 2 months after your comment, but I address many of these concerns in my most recent post. I will be doing my best to follow CDC guidelines while on the trail and do everything I can to prevent transmission.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Erica : Dec 26th

    Looking forward to reading your blog and following along!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    K. Moore : Dec 27th

    Kanuga Family! Lol
    I worked at Camp Bob. Loved every minute. Best wishes on your hike. You can do it!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Kimberly : Dec 28th

    My dream for years has been to walk the AT. You are lucky to be in a position to walk it. I will be reading your blog and pulling for you. You will be in the minority and complete it. Maybe you will inspire someone else to do it, also. In sharing your journey, you may inspire many to pursue dreams. Good luck to you! Beetle is an excellent trail name.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Robbie Steen : Dec 29th

    Hola hombre! I feel ya, mate. In fact, I may meet you as I’m pointing at the first week of April to depart from Springer. Doing all I can to prep over the next few months and feeling good. I like the Trail name Beetle. I’ve had two totally awesome labs that covered lots of ground with me and I lament that neither Delmy or Carla are here to take part. Hope everything goes as planned (for both of us). Hasta Abril. Rob

    Reply
  • Avatar
    heidi edwards : Dec 31st

    I live in utah and ever since last of the mohicans I’ve really found great interest! I like your desire to make a solid dream for your New Year good luck I’ll be reading your blogs.

    Reply

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