Why I Hike, and Why I’m Hiking the AT
Soon I will be on the Appalachian Trail. The moment I have been picturing in my head every day for three and a half years is finally a few days away. 2,192 miles of trail stretch all the way from Georgia to Maine, and I am going to cover it all on foot. It will be difficult, but what is important to me is that I am taking the first step and putting myself to the test by taking on this dauntingly lengthy challenge.
I always had trouble articulating the reasons why I want to hike the AT. I’ve given this question a lot of thought and want to share my reasons for hiking before I start the trail. My reasons change with time and I am sure they will continue to do so. This is how I am feeling now.
Dedicating my body and mind to a singular goal and seeing that goal through to completion brings me a satisfaction that is unmatched. The Long Trail. The Adirondack 46ers. The trail marathon. The 1,735 pull-ups in a day. Challenges bring me into the zone, a place where I reach peak focus. On long hikes, I feel this level of focus quite often. It is why I love to take on the steepest, toughest trails that I can find. When I am not in the zone, my mind is free to think about my life. I think about anything and everything.
Life’s complexities can be overwhelming. I used to have a very difficult time dealing with anxiety, and it caused me a lot of trouble. My anxiety let small bumps in the road turn into massive walls that consumed my thoughts and left me feeling trapped. When this happened, it was difficult to have a positive mind-set. I used to believe that my life would always be filled with stress and worry. It was (and still is) so easy to get trapped in a cyclone of negative thoughts that spiral out of control. Hiking helped me confront my anxiety. I used to fill my day with distractions because the idea of being alone with my thoughts was terrifying. Distracting myself was the only way to avoid letting my worries take control of my day. I was my own worst enemy. Now, because of hiking, I enjoy long days in the woods with nothing but my own mind to keep me company. Being in nature, feeling the success of completing a challenge, and spending time in a world that is disconnected helped me reach this state. My body settles into a rhythm when I am hiking. I listen to the woods, the sound of my breath, and the sound of my footsteps. I am totally present. I drink water from streams, I set up my tent and bed every night, and I carry everything I need with me every step of the way. It is as if the volume dial that controls life’s noise gets turned way down. Whether I am hiking up a steep trail and placing each foot with care so that I do not trip, or I am surveying the ground to find a good place to pitch my tent, each action I take has a clear purpose. I begin to reflect upon things with great clarity during these times and I am able to sort through my own insecurities. Hiking has given me the power to address my anxiety in a blunt and honest fashion. I am alone for hours and cannot hide from my thoughts. The regrets and mistakes that I have made in my life come to the surface. I face them with an honest and open mind. Taking the time to go through these bothersome thoughts brings me peace. Of course, I still get anxious. I always will to some degree because that is just life. And when life gets overwhelming, I know that hiking will always give me the space to think things over.
I have grown to love night hiking because it amplifies the hiking experience. I wake up in the early hours of the morning and set off to summit peaks before the first glow of day touches the horizon. It is scary to close the car door and be alone in the darkness with only a headlamp to illuminate the path forward. I get a sinking feeling in my stomach every time I enter the dark woods and my body starts telling me to go back home. When I start walking that feeling goes away. Every time I hike, it goes away faster, but it is always there. Taking on the challenge of night hiking allows me to push myself further into a state of discomfort until I feel used to it. Finding comfort in a situation that was initially too scary to consider is an incredible feeling, whether it be stepping out for a solo night hike or trying to walk over 2,000 miles on the AT.
Hopefully, that made sense and gives you an idea of why I have been dreaming of this for years. I cannot wait to be out on the trail and I have had the time of my life these last few years training my body and mind to take that first step from Springer Mountain.
Don’t be afraid to reach out with questions or a simple hello when I am on the trail. Give me a call or a text, and if you’re feeling ambitious, come out to hike with me for an afternoon or a night. I am the one taking this journey, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t come along with me.
Thank you for reading. It’s finally time to hike the Appalachian Trail.
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