Why I Will Tackle the Appalachian Trail

In 2019, I intend to spend six months hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. 2,100+ miles. A life-changing event. All that sounds far more grand than the daily reality of sleeping on the ground, showering infrequently, enjoying dehydrated soups for every dinner, and wearing one outfit, which is why, to keep myself motivated and accountable, I’m setting out my reasons to give the AT a go.

Hiking Is My 2019 Quest

In 2018, I decided I would read 365 books. (No, kids’ books don’t count. Yes, a short story collection counts as one book. As of mid-October I am ahead of schedule). 2019 seemed like the right year to attempt something completely different: a physical and mental challenge that would pull me outside my comfort zone. So much of life was structured for me through school, college, and work. I felt myself losing track of time and being surprised by how quickly the months passed. The Art of Non-Conformity and The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau are quick reads and helped illustrate to me that the time to take a big break is now and that the benefits would outweigh the fear. In 2019, I want to regain some of my control and choose to do something I will remember forever.

“Because It’s There.” – George Mallory

I have always remembered this quote by George Mallory, who attempted to climb Mount Everest twice and died on his third attempt. I’ve heard this sentence thrown around for any number of interesting expeditions, and it sticks with me. The world’s longest-maintained hiking path? Of course I have to try. Because it’s there waiting. I have thought about it ever since my first hiking trip, and until I make an attempt, it will keep lurking in my mind.

I’m Overdue for a Dose of the Outdoors

As someone living in Manhattan, it’s easy to see scrawny sidewalk trees and forget the real forest. I always feel calmer when I’m surrounded by nature. Instead of a weekend walk through Central Park to see some green, why not go all in and be surrounded for months?  (The Nature Fix by Florence Williams was on my 365-book reading list. It’s a great recent review on how much nature affects us and how some cities are trying to reclaim and increase our exposure to the outdoors).

A Lifelong Dream

In the early 2000s, my brother, father, and I did a weeklong backpacking trip in upstate New York. Here we are, looking clean and tidy, unaware of how the trip would unfold…

Yes, I thought this hat and outfit was a winning combination.

A sampling of things that went wrong:

  • We set up our tent on a dry streambed, which we discovered after four days of the rainiest weather recorded in the area. The little brook we crossed turned into a raging river chest deep. We were thrilled when the sun came out and took a picture to remember our excitement.
  • We dutifully trekked out in the storm to set out bear cans each night, and then we discovered as we hiked out that my brother had kept chocolate in his sleeping bag the whole time.
  • Our meal planning left something to be desired. Dinners were dry ramen. Sometimes with peanut butter. (Related: hard to use your stove in pouring rain.)
  • Dad tripped and hurt his leg a few hours in, so our pace was… leisurely.

And on the fourth day, the sun returned!

My father died in 2009. I learned not to do many things from him, and I hope we burned up all our bad backpacking luck during those days by Lake Placid. Ten years after he passed away, I hope my trip goes a little more successfully than that first week so long ago. At least I won’t be shocked by how much rain there is on the AT.

If Not Now, When?

I don’t think there is ever a convenient time to make a huge change and take months out of your normal routine. I decided on 2019 for several reasons. On the work front, I am an associate at the bank where I work (and will be for a few years), so I don’t need to stress about an imminent promotion target. I have no significant other/pet/kids to feel tied to, which makes planning easier. The longer I wait, the more tempting it will be to find more reasons to say no, or later, or not now. I know plenty of families, fathers, and mothers all make time to hike with their children, and I don’t expect to stop when I get older, but it seems easier and more explainable to take time off in my 20s. Plus, isn’t that what people expect from us millennials these days?

Time to Think and Reflect

Unless I block out time in advance, I find that my days rush by too quickly for me to think and create. I’ll have a great idea for a new project or experience and only revisit the thought months later. I hope that, during the less strenuous portions of the trail, I can spend some serious time pondering what else I want to accomplish. (Shooting for 10 percent reflection and 90 percent mental willpower to keep going.)

Build Perseverance

Six months of sleeping in the woods, being cold, eating only what I bring with me, and not showering too often will be an adjustment. I want to improve my perseverance and see if I can keep going even when I’d rather be at home with some hot tea and a comfy chair. No one is making me do this, and I have the resources I’d need to take a train back up to NYC, so I want to work on my mental fortitude and willingness to stick to the task I have chosen. During my 365-books challenge, there have been days when I did not want to read another page, and the cure was typically to find a better or more engaging book to read. On the Appalachian Trail, I can’t simply pack up and go walk somewhere else, so I will have to develop new ways to stay motivated. To start, I told my family they can’t let me quit during the first month for any reason. (Barring a medical emergency.) That should give me no choice but to keep moving ahead. Plus, if I can stick out six months of solo hiking, what else will I be able to achieve?

What Is Essential?

Minimalism and countering lifestyle inflation seem all the rage right now. Well, what better way to find out what you truly care about than by taking six months to  live outside and bringing one bag and one outfit the entire time? (Strangely, this has not been popular yet among the minimalist lifestyle bloggers.) I have talked to hikers who carry practically nothing (one pair of socks! half a toothbrush!) and live on junk food, others who carry enough food to create elaborate feasts, and still more who bring full-on video equipment and drones. There is no one correct setup for everyone, of course, but hiking the AT gives me a chance to decide what I absolutely do and do not want to carry. My loose leaf tea? In the bag. That camping pillow? I doubt it. Sunscreen? Definitely. Deodorant? No way. Paring down has helped me focus on what I care about and what I can do without, and I hope to keep that mentality both on and off the trail.

Of course, my main reason is to see if I can achieve my dream of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. I look forward to hearing stories from my fellow hikers and to meeting a group of people who are all working toward this amazing goal.

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Comments 3

  • Tater Swift : Oct 21st

    Unrelated to your impending hike (have a great hike!! It is an amazing experience, as I’m sure you’ve seen!), how did you manage your time to read 365 books in a year??

    Reply
    • Katharine : Oct 21st

      Thanks! That’s one of the first questions people ask me…the most common is “Wow, a book a day!” but in reality it’s around three during the week and four on the weekends. Since I knew the hike was coming up, I wanted to get in mental shape for getting up every day and doing something (even if I didn’t necessarily want to). To manage my time, a few things helped me a lot:
      – getting in the habit of reading every morning and every evening, even if it was just a page
      – no TV unless it’s amazing (i.e. I watched Game of Thrones but saved everything else for later)
      – signed up for the newsletters for my favorite websites, so I wouldn’t be tempted to spend time on my phone
      None of those habits were too hard to implement, and I bet if you thought through your days, you’d find spare time all over the place!

      Reply
  • Tim Andrew : Oct 24th

    nice st0ry,,, need any advice, emaiI me,,, g0t hurt at 1003 miIes,, starting again 4/2019 raised 6400,00 f0r make a wish

    Reply

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